Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara are no strangers when it comes to setting records.
More than 200,000 spectators have witnessed the Blue-Green rivalry since the start of the 2007 season. The last four years have yielded the eight highest attended collegiate soccer games in the United States, outranking every NCAA tournament and College Cup contest. Once again, that atmosphere didn’t disappoint in the rivalry game’s latest installment, a 2-1 UCSB win on a rainy Saturday night at Alex G. Spanos Stadium that was played in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 11,075 — the seventh sellout for a men’s soccer game in school history.
“It’s the showcase of the entire country,” Cal Poly head coach Steve Sampson said after the game. “The fan support by both schools, the quality of the games that generally take place during what we call ‘darbies,’ you know it’s special, and tonight was no exception.”
What all those fans witnessed was a young Cal Poly squad, featuring 11 true freshman, learning how to play in big games. Cal Poly freshman midfielder Christian Enriquez scored his first goal of the 2016 season midway through the first half to give the Mustangs a brief 1-0 lead.
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“It feels good because we already had the advantage with the fans, and so we were already hyped up from that,” he said. “And then scoring the goal in the first half gave us more confidence to keep going and gave us more confidence for each individual to do their thing.”
Cal Poly’s captain and senior forward Justin Dhillon, the Big West’s second-leading goal scorer with seven goals, is seeing growth within the group on a day-to-day basis.
“I think we’re getting better every year,” Dhillon said. “The freshman coming in always are making bigger and bigger impacts. Christian and Kenny (Higgins) I think played the whole game. The young guys are really stepping up, and every year we’re getting a better and better recruiting class. I think the future looks really bright here.”
Entering Saturday’s game, the Mustangs featured the tightest defense in the Big West, having only conceded 17 times through the last 12 matches. UC Santa Barbara however, came in unbeaten in its last five matches as the Big West’s highest-scoring program with 25 goals and three of the conference’s top five leading scorers.
Kevin Feucht’s conference-leadinng eighth goal of the season, a penalty kick late in the second half, proved to be the difference.
“The thing is, we had one more shot than they did; we had five shots on goal to their three,” Sampson said. “We had as many, if not more, corner kicks than they did. We had two or three opportunities in the last 20 minutes where their goalkeeper had to make great saves. I think there are little details obviously that we need to work on, a little bit more precision here and there.”
Despite defeating UC Santa Barbara in six of the seven previous years, the Mustangs were unable to mount a late rally in the eventual loss.
“I cannot fault these guys today for their effort,” Sampson said. “But we get another shot at these guys a week from now at their place, so we hope to pay them the same favor that they paid us tonight.”
Regardless, it was a night to remember for those in attendance, on and off the field. Dhillon, who Saturday night played his final Blue-Green rivalry game on the Mustangs’ home field, said his favorite Blue-Green memory was scoring the opening goal against the Gauchos in front of a sellout crown of 11,075 in 2013.
“Honestly, I don’t think the emotions have hit quite yet,” he said. “I think maybe it’ll hit after the next one or after the season is over. I wish I can have one more year. It’s tough to say goodbye to this.”