Last year I saw the video on YouTube of the UCSB students marching through Isla Vista with a soccer goal after the Gauchos won the NCAA National Championship and thought to myself, “gee, I guess I should’ve gone to a game this season”. But despite the fact I knew that their team was good, I didn’t understand the level of student support that Gauchos soccer received. Soccer at most schools, even if the team is really good, doesn’t get much student support and usually isn’t something to go out of your way to attend. That isn’t the case at UCSB, as I heard one student say on Saturday night “we don’t have football, our basketball team usually sucks….this is kind of our thing.”
So I finally took in my first Gauchos soccer game this past weekend when they took on Central Coast rival Cal Poly. Earlier this season, the Mustangs beat the Gauchos 2-1 in front of a crowd of over 7,000 up in San Luis Obispo. Even though both teams are good and it’s a pretty fierce rivalry, if Poly wouldn’t have won that game, Saturday’s game might have just been a little better than average crowd-wise. But that game really fired up the faithful on both sides and despite cold, foggy conditions, 8,100 rabid soccer fans packed into Harder Stadium and created an atmosphere for collegiate soccer that I had never experienced or ever expected.
My first inkling of what I was in for was when I arrived to campus and found that there wasn’t a parking spot anywhere near the stadium. I had to drive around for a while and finally found a parking garage where most people had retreated to park. After a much longer walk than I expected, I finally arrived at the stadium a few minutes after the listed game time only to find a ticket line that stretched all the way across the south side of the stadium. I really didn’t think I’d make it in before halftime when I first lined up, but I’ve got to give credit where credit is due and compliment the ticket booth for making that line move very quickly. I only ended up missing a couple of minutes. It helped that all seating is general admission so people couldn’t stand there and mull over their seating options.
Once inside, I took a seat behind the Cal Poly student section only because it was at the end of the field that the Gauchos were on offense. The Mustangs dominated the first half and scored a beautiful goal that silenced the Gaucho crowd and let the Poly students puff out their chests and have their moment of superiority for at least a few minutes.
During halftime I moved around to the other end of the stadium, again to be close to the goal that UCSB was shooting and to be much closer to the Gauchos student section. I’m sure glad that I did because not too long into the second half the Guachos scored their first goal and the place went absolutely crazy. Then, minutes later, they took the lead and Harder Stadium exploded into joyous celebration. I’ve been to a lot of sporting events. I have seen touchdowns, I have seen last second shots, I have seen a lot. But I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a crowd collectively lose their minds the way they did after that second goal. It was incredible, serious goose bump kind of stuff. Not too long after that, the Gauchos added their third goal and I found myself jumping up and down and high-fiving strangers.