Hostile crowds await Cats in California

Sandy beaches and ocean waves await the UK men’s soccer team as they travel to California for the Loyola Marymount Invitational, but not everything will be sunny for the Cats.

UK will fly to California to face No. 9 UC-Santa Barbara on Friday night, and then will make the trip to San Luis Obispo, Calif., to face the Cal Poly Mustangs on Sunday.

“It’s going to be a different experience for our guys,” UK head coach Ian Collins said. “We’re going into a nice, hostile environment where Friday we’ll probably play in front of six or seven-thousand fans. They throw stuff at you and call you names, and I think that’s great. I think that the guys will really enjoy that, and obviously they will be two, very good, hard games.”

Friday’s game in Santa Barbara starts at 11 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally on the FOX Soccer Channel. To add to the exposure, Harder Stadium holds approximately 15,000 people.

“I think it’d be a great experience for our players to play in two tough environments,” Collins said. “Friday will be the first time we’ve ever played on FOX Soccer Channel live that goes across the country, so we had an opportunity to do that, and I thought overall it would be a great experience for our players.

“The level of competition is very hard,” he said. “It’s also very hard I think for teams from the East Coast, which I guess we’re considered, to go out West and win, so it’s going to present a lot of challenges. But I think as the season goes on this team will get better, and I think it will hopefully be a pivotal part of our game.”

The only other time that UK has traveled to California for a tournament in its 17-year history came in 1998 when the team traveled to Fullerton for the Cal State Fullerton Classic. They lost 2-0 to Cal State Fullerton and 1-0 against San Diego.

Although no players on the UK team are from California, for senior midfielder Bingy Lara, it’s like coming home.

“I grew up out in New Mexico, so I played out in California a lot growing up, and it’s going to be good going back and seeing people I’m used to,” Lara said. “It’s kind of different over here on the East. To go back there and play at sea level, it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”

UC-Santa Barbara was picked to win their sixth Big West title, while the Mustangs were picked to finish third. The Gauchos have one Olympian on their team in sophomore defender Michael Boxall, who traveled to Beijing to play in the 2008 Olympic Games for New Zealand.

“They’re a great team, definitely. In our conference especially, everybody’s really, really good, so to gain some early, good competition is vital for success this year,” Lara said. “It’s good to play teams like in our UK Invitational tournament, but when we go out there, it’s a whole different ballgame for sure.”