The rivalry between the UC Santa Barbara men’s soccer team and Cal Poly will be renewed at Harder Stadium on Saturday, as the Gauchos look to stay atop the Big West standings while the Mustangs try to regroup from their latest loss against Sacramento State (4-0) and the sudden retirement of head coach Steve Sampson due to health concerns.
The Gauchos come into their final regular-seaon home match boasting a record of 9-2-4 overall and 4-0-2 in the Big West. Their 14 points give them a one-point lead over CSUN and a two-point advantage over Cal State Fullerton.
Cal Poly limps into Harder Stadium with records of 1-11-3 and 1-3-3.
But records mean little when the two Central Coast rivals meet. UCSB is expecting a crowd of around 10,000 on Saturday.
Five of the top 10 best-attended matches in the history of college soccer have been the UCSB-Cal Poly match at Harder Stadium. The average attendance of their clashes is 13,800. All five of those matchups have been since 2010, as the rivalry picked up steam.
In total, their rivalry has drawn 27 of the top 64 regular-season crowd figures in NCAA history.
The big, rowdy, tortilla-throwing crowds ramp up the energy and emotions on the field.
“What I think about Saturday is you have to keep your emotions in check. You still have to play soccer out here,” UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said of the contest against Cal Poly.
“Getting a goal early is huge because then it gets everybody into the game and then this thing can snowball, but the longer Cal Poly stays in, the longer it takes us to get that first goal, then it can be one of those games where you can be frustrated. Everybody’s got all this anticipation and you want to do well, and it’s senior night and there’s a lot going on on Saturday.
“So, what we have to do is, we have to remain focused.”
Cal Poly will be without Sampson as he announced on Oct. 18, that he was stepping down and retiring due to health reasons. Associate head coach Billy McNicol has taken charge of the team.
In a statement, Sampson said after speaking with his cardiologist, primary care physician and family he had come to the decision to retire.
“I’ve always prioritized to my players the importance of physical and emotional health over everything else. It’s time to take a bit of my own advice,” he said.
His departure comes ahead of Cal Poly’s biggest challenge, as the Mustangs have won just once at Harder Stadum in the last 22 years.
Moreover, the Gauchos have not conceded a goal through all six of its Big West matches and has had nine clean sheets this season.
“Our defense has been the case for us this whole conference season. It’s been Leroy (Zeller, goalkeeper), it’s been our defense. It’s no small feat what we have accomplished,” Vom Steeg said.
UCSB has not lost to Cal Poly in its last six contests, pulling out a win in five of those matchups, including a nonconference meeting this year on Sept. 21. The Gauchos pulled off an amazing 2-1 victory on the road thanks to 90th minute header from Salvador Aguilar.
Cal Poly forced a scoreless draw at home last season, but the Gauchos lead the Division I series, 30-15-9.
Still, that doesn’t mean the matchups have been lopsided. In the last 28 matches, 21 have been decided by one goal or in a draw.
“Saturday is our final home game. We know if we can pick up a win, we have our final two games on the road and, if we find one more there, we can secure our spot (as top seed for the Big West Tournament),” Vom Steeg said.
Santa Barbara has been without the powerful Aguilar, who suffered a torn ACL against Stanford on Sept. 24, just three days after his winner against Cal Poly.
But the Gauchos are getting some players back, Vom Steeg noted. Nemo Phillipp, a tremendous forward with speed that will provide added firepower, returns after serving a three-game, red-card suspension.
“He will be one more piece up front that can help us and he’s not a guy that’s gonna get unsettled with a lot of people here, so we’re looking forward to Saturday,” Vom Steeg said. “Our offense has been by committee a little bit since our injuries, but we are trying everything we can.”
Finn Ballard McBride has provided most of the goal scoring recently.
The junior forward added another two goals to his stat sheet in Wednesday’s 3-0 win against UC Davis. He leads the team with 10 on the season, seven of which have been scored over the last six games.