Senior midfielder Sahid Conteh took it upon himself to hold an impromptu players-only meeting before Thursday’s video session for the No. 18 UCSB men’s soccer team.
His tone was serious. His voice never cracked in delivering a strong message that seemed to come out of nowhere for tonight’s game.
“We all better take our preparation serious for (tonight’s) Cal Poly game,” he barked. “There’s no screwing around, no partying tonight, no anything like that. This is Cal Poly, and for some of you, this will be a new experience with a huge crowd.
“We better be ready.”
Conteh spoke from experience.
He scored one of the Gauchos’ two goals in their 2-0 win over the Mustangs at Harder Stadium last season. It was a victory that followed a 1-0 loss by UCSB at Cal Poly earlier in the season.
Conteh is one of the Gauchos who knows what the Blue-Green rivalry match at Harder Stadium is all about in terms of the crowd and the atmosphere. More than 7,300 people attended last season’s game at UCSB.
Two years ago, 10,293 attended the game at Harder Stadium, which was slightly less than the 11,242 that showed up for the 2016 match at UCSB. It’s a wild, electric environment when the two teams get together — whether it’s at UCSB or Cal Poly. The Mustangs have sold out Spanos Stadium for years when the Gauchos come to town, drawing more than 11,000 per game.
Tonight, another huge crowd is expected at Harder Stadium for the kickoff at 7 p.m. Conteh made it clear to his teammates that the crowd — which will consist of a few thousand Gaucho students — can definitely make a difference in their favor if they are ready to play.
“It’s Cal Poly … and it’s a different game every time we play them,” Conteh said. “You never know what’s going to happen. It’s a soccer game.
“We can’t downplay any team at this point … because every team we play is going to be gunning for us, including Cal Poly.”
UCSB enters tonight’s match on a seven game unbeaten streak, which has helped produce a 6-2-2 mark.
The Mustangs (4-3-1) are also playing well, having gone 4-1-1 over their last six games. Although this is not a conference game between the two conference foes, Gaucho coach Tim Vom Steeg says it’s as important as any game his team will play this season.
“It’s a game that’s always circled on your calendar, and we’re excited to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s obviously a highlight for players to play in a game like this, and ultimately what really matters is the result.
“The result will come from us playing good soccer and doing the right things, and that’s what you can’t lose sight of as you talk about all the other things around the game.”
When the two teams get together again in San Luis Obispo on Nov. 2, that one will count in the Big West Conference standings.
UCSB is hoping to have two of its best defenders back for tonight’s rivalry game. Left center back Hunter Ashworth and right back Noah Billingsley have been playing with their New Zealand U23 team for the better part of a month, and they are expected to land at LAX at around noon today and be in Santa Barbara in time for kickoff.
UCSB desperately needs its two captains back, as the team has been decimated by injuries to its back line and defensive midfield.
“The way we’ve lost players, they’re basically stepping in for players who aren’t able to play,” Vom Steeg said. “I have no idea what their condition will be. I don’t know how tired they’ll be (from a long flight).
“I do know that they’re both experienced players. They’re both talented players. I think that players like those two, who have done international travel and competed at a very high level, the expectation is that they can manage themselves on the field.”
UCSB is led in scoring by Australian forward Will Baynham and French midfielder Thibault Candia. Both have four goals.
Senior forward Rodney Michael, who led the Gauchos in scoring last season with seven goals, has scored one in each of UCSB’s past two matches — a 3-3 draw against then-No. 1 Stanford, and a 2-2 draw at then-No. 25 San Diego.
Cal Poly, which is an excellent defensive side — having limited its eight opponents to just eight goals, while scoring 12 themselves — are led by junior midfielder Emmanuel Perez, who’s found the back of the net seven times.
UCSB officials are encouraging fans to get to tonight’s match as early as possible with a large crowd expected.