The UCSB men’s soccer team’s 2006 national title gave every player involved a career boost, and perhaps no player benefited more from the run than senior forward Bryan Byrne.
The Irishman was rewarded for his stellar career and solid College Cup performance when the New England Revolution drafted him in the third round of the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.
“It’s a good opportunity for me, especially with New England,” Byrne said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to improve my game over there.”
After finishing second on the squad with 18 points on six goals and six assists in 2005, the co-captain led UCSB with 10 assists as a senior and chipped in with three goals. It was Byrne’s cross into the box to sophomore forward Nick Perera in the championship match that lead to sophomore midfielder Eric Avila’s championship-winning goal, which was by far the biggest goal in Gaucho history.
“He can be a great professional,” Assistant Coach Neil Jones said. “He has got all the tools you need at the next level. His pace and passion and work ethic are second to none.”
Known for his amazing speed, Byrne proved during the NCAA Tournament that he can be an unstoppable force. Even when defenders knew what was coming, he repeatedly showed he could get the ball to the goal against anything the opposition threw at him.
Byrne’s contribution of one goal and four assists made him one of the leading offensive forces in the tournament. But his impact on the game can’t be completely told by his statistics.
When UCSB held late-game leads and wanted to milk the clock, they gave the ball to Byrne and let him and his speed keep the ball from the opposition. He excelled at holding the ball near the corner flag and knocking it off of the defender, and was one of the team’s best at drawing fouls.
“At the MLS level you need to be physical and very technical and he has both,” Jones said. “He has a chance to be successful because he has such good vision.”
All of Byrne’s success has earned him a change from Santa Barbara’s sunny beaches to New England’s snowy streets. Upon arrival he will be reunited with former Gaucho Tony Lochhead, one of the leaders of the 2004 squad’s run to the championship match.
“I’m not going to like the cold, but it’ll be fun,” Byrne said. “It might be a little more like home since there is a huge Irish population. I got along really well with Tony when he was here and he’s a good guy, so I’m looking forward to hanging out with him.”
Most students are anxious around graduation as they ponder their future, and athletes are no different. Despite the impressive end to his career and his Irish heritage, Byrne’s future was headed in a different direction in the days leading up to the SuperDraft.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I graduated,” Byrne said. “I had a job here in Santa Barbara and was set on starting that, but got a call before the draft from [Revolution Head Coach] Steve Nicol and asked if I’d be interested. They said they were serious about me being a contributor to the first team.”
Although he hails from Ireland, the possibility of playing outside of the United States is definitely something that appeals to Byrne. But the talent level of European fœtbol and American soccer is quite different and the Irishman decided to take a more conservative approach to his future.
“When I went home at Christmas I had a few offers and I could always go back and play in Ireland,” Byrne said. “For now I’d like to stay and play in the States, and if I can prove myself here, then we’ll go from there.”
Regardless of his future, Byrne will be remembered as one of the best in Gaucho history and when the 2007 season rolls around, that blue blur streaking down the sideline will be sorely missed.