Closest only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but the UCSB men’s soccer team came so close to getting a ringer in the 2004 College Cup on Dec. 2, it could almost hear the metal clanking.

With over 13,000 fans in attendance at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., the Gauchos battled Indiana University to a 1-1 tie through two overtime periods, forcing the national championship to be decided in a penalty kick shootout. The Hoosiers made three penalty kicks to defeat the Gauchos 3-2 and take the College Cup.

“At the end of the day you want [the players] to represent themselves well,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “Not even in my wildest dreams had I thought we could play that well against that team over the course of 110 minutes. So I thought it was a great performance.”

Vom Steeg opted to go with sophomore goalkeeper Kyle Reynish for the shootout. Reynish, who hadn’t played since Oct. 24, saved two Indiana shots.

UCSB converted on two penalty kicks, with Indiana senior keeper Jay Nolly making two saves and watching one shot sail high over the crossbar. Junior forward Mike Ambersley put in the winning penalty kick for the Hoosiers.

“What is most disappointing about the game is that it had to be decided on [penalty kicks],” Gaucho junior midfielder Nate Boyden said. “I thought that we played well. I thought we dominated. I thought it was our game to win.”

The Gauchos would never have made it to the shootout without the trusty foot of senior forward Drew McAthy. The equalizer came with just eight minutes remaining in regulation after a shot was deflected to McAthy, who put it past Nolly to tie the score at one.

The Hoosiers took the lead in the first half after controlling the midfield and pressuring the UCSB defense. A through ball passed to sophomore forward Jacob Peterson drew senior keeper Danny Kennedy off of his line. Peterson tapped the ball with just enough force to get it up and over Kennedy, putting Indiana up 1-0.

The second 45 minutes of play saw twice as many Gaucho shots and a tiring Indiana team. UCSB was plagued by an inability to find the back of the net. Although the Gauchos took 10 corner kicks and 10 shots, Nolly needed to make just two saves through 110 minutes.

“Someone tell me that we lost,” Vom Steeg said. “Obviously, it’s a very disappointed locker room. I guess it’s disappointing because I thought we played so well.”

Finding the back of the net wasn’t a problem for UCSB in making its way to the final. In front of 11,214 fans at Harder Stadium, the Gauchos put away Virginia Commonwealth 4-1, scoring three goals in the second half. That put UCSB into the College Cup, where it took on a young Duke team in the semifinals. After a McAthy goal just one minute into the game, the Gauchos rolled, shutting out the Blue Devils 5-0 and making it into the championship game against the Hoosiers.

Despite not winning the championship, UCSB did not go home empty-handed. Senior Tony Lochhead, Kennedy and freshman defender Andy Iro were all named to the College Cup All-Tournament team, while McAthy was named the College Cup’s most valuable offensive player.

After the match, the awards continued to pile up for the Gauchos. Lochhead earned an NSCAA Second Team All-American selection while McAthy was named to the NSCAA Third Team. College Soccer News thought better of UCSB, handing out First Team All-American selections to Lochhead and McAthy and a Third Team selection to Kennedy.

The Gaucho coaching staff got their due as well. Vom Steeg and Assistant Coach Leo Chappel have been nominated for the NSCAA Coach and Assistant Coach of the Year awards, respectively. Chappel was already honored with the first-ever NSCAA Regional Assistant Coach of the Year award for the West Region.

“I think as a university you need that one team to be able to break into the championship, into the College Cup, and we were that team for UCSB,” Kennedy said. “Even though we don’t have much of a past, hopefully we can build a future out of this.”