More than 50 games into their college careers, seniors on the Cal Poly men’s soccer team still get excited when talking about the Blue-Green Rivalry.
The Mustangs and UC Santa Barbara have developed arguably the biggest rivalry in college soccer during their twice-annual meetings in the Big West Conference.
The six combined matches over the past three seasons have been the six highest attended collegiate soccer games in the country, drawing bigger crowds than every NCAA Tournament match during that time.
A sixth consecutive sellout crowd of more than 11,000 is expected to fill the seats when Cal Poly hosts the Gauchos at 7 p.m. Saturday in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
“We look at this game as not only a big rivalry game for us, which it is,” senior defender Kip Colvey said, “but as a good opportunity to get three points and put ourselves in a position to win the conference.”
The Mustangs (7-3-3, 2-1-2 Big West) are coming off a difficult overtime loss at UC Davis on Wednesday and trail the Gauchos in the North Division of the conference standings by four points.
No. 13-ranked Santa Barbara (9-4-1, 4-1) also lost Wednesday, suffering a somewhat surprising 5-2 setback against Sacramento State that ended its five-game winning streak.
Despite that result, first-year Cal Poly head coach Steve Sampson said he believes “one of the best teams in the country” will be visiting San Luis Obispo on Saturday night.
“I think this game transcends everything,” Sampson said. “It’s probably the best rivalry and the best-attended rivalry in the country.”
The numbers suggest exactly that.
Over the past 16 games between the two schools, 13 have been decided by one goal or draw, and eight of the past 20 have gone to overtime. Fourteen of the 41 largest regular season crowds in NCAA history have been on hand for the Blue-Green Rivalry, all of those games coming in the past eight years.
When the Mustangs traveled to UC Santa Barbara last October, 14,345 fans showed up as part of the fifth-largest crowd to ever attend an NCAA soccer match. Since the start of the 2007 season, more than 164,000 fans have taken in the 18 matches between Cal Poly and the Gauchos — an average of more than 9,100 per match.
By comparison, the Mustangs are drawing an average of 1,672 fans during their five home matches this fall.
“They’ve all been really special games, even the times that the results haven’t gone our way,” senior midfielder Chase Minter said. “… I’ve been privileged to be a part of it.”
Minter, the 2014 Big West Conference midfielder of the year, is having another standout season for Cal Poly. Having scored four goals and handed out four assists, Minter leads the team in points (12), shots (30) and shots on goal (13).
Fellow seniors Matt Lagrassa (four) and Colvey (two) and sophomore Kaba Alkebulan (two) also have scored multiple goals this season. Both Minter and Colvey scored during the second half of Wednesday’s road loss, helping the Mustangs overcome their only first-half deficit in 13 matches this season.
“We came out and we attacked them, we created a lot of good opportunities and we were able to pull two back,” Minter said. “It was just unfortunate to not continue that through overtime.”
UC Davis’ three goals were the second-most Cal Poly has allowed in a match this season, going back to a Sept. 18 loss against UCLA (4-1). The Mustangs defense has been among the stingiest in the Big West this fall, and it will need to be in top form against high-scoring UC Santa Barbara.
The Gauchos lead the Big West and rank second in the NCAA with 29 goals, trailing only Clemson (31) in that category. Much of that offensive production stems from junior forward Nick DePuy, who leads the conference and is second in the country with 12 goals in 14 games.
DePuy has been chosen as the conference’s offensive player of the week three consecutive times, the first athlete in Big West history to do so. He has scored seven game-winning goals this fall — tops in the NCAA — and is eight goals away from breaking the Gauchos’ single-season record.
“I think we have to obviously pay very close attention to him,” Sampson said of the 6-foot-4, 190-pound DePuy. “But the one thing that he also does is he draws defenders that create opportunities for others. We have to play a complete game in order to get a result against Santa Barbara.
“They’re that good.”