In another match with questionable calls from the officials, the #17 UCSB men’s soccer team was able to squeeze past #20 Old Dominion on the road in the Sweet-16 leg of the 2006 NCAA playoffs.

Although the match contained two yellow cards, 21 fouls and three penalty kicks, the Gauchos (15-7-0 overall) ousted the Monarchs (14-6-2) 2-1, en route to their second Elite Eight appearance in three years.

“When we were at 7-6 [earlier in the season] our coaches were like, ‘Here on out, if we lose any more, the seniors are going to have to step aside and let players who will be here next year get more time in,'” senior midfielder Bryan Byrne said. “So since then the pressure has been off. Nothing has really been expected of us and we’re just playing for whatever we wanted to play for, like if we wanted to go whole way. But we know that when we play to our peak, we are the best team in the country, and we saw that in the first round and then we really came together with the win over SMU.”

UCSB jumped on the board with the first shot of the night at 6:11, as sophomore forward Nick Perera netted a goal in the left corner past the ODU goalkeeper, freshman Evan Newton. Junior defender Andy Iro passed the ball over to sophomore midfielder Chris Pontius, who jumped over a Monarch defender to head the ball in Perera’s direction.

Minutes later, Old Dominion took advantage of an opportunity when senior midfielder Jared Kent launched a corner kick to freshman midfielder Alex Silver, but with a quick header, senior goalkeeper Kyle Reynish preserved UCSB’s one-point lead. In the 28th minute, Kent had another opportunity, which Reynish shot down again.

In the 57th minute of the game, the Gauchos gave the green light for Monarch senior midfielder Ross Mackenzie to come in for a penalty kick, as UCSB committed a handball penalty off a corner kick. Mackenzie’s shot veered to the right past Reynish, yet was still able to find the net for the equalizer.

With the score knotted at one, the Monarchs committed a foul three-and-a-half minutes later, which put the Gauchos on top for the rest of the night. With the ball in the air, sophomore midfielder Eric Avila went up to connect but had his legs kicked out from under him by a Monarch defender.

Avila then shot a penalty kick that was stopped by his former roommate from the Under-17 National Team, Newton. Without any hesitation, Avila followed his shot with another to push the Gauchos up for the game-winner with 60:48 on the board.

Avila, a sophomore, leads the team with seven goals this season, five of which have come in the last nine games.

“I think we’re a different team this year [than the runner-up squad of 2004]; we’re more of a playoff team this year,” Byrne said. “Even during the regular season, most of our games we either won or lost by one goal. We didn’t have any ties this year and that’s what a playoff team is all about. We have a lot of younger players than the team that went to the Final Four in 2004 … but this is a fresh group of people who I think are a better quality.”

In the remaining 30 minutes, the Monarchs kept control of the ball. However, ODU was unable to tie the score for a second time, despite a second penalty kick. With just five minutes left in the match, Monarch senior defender David Horst was fouled by Reynish in the box. Again, Mackenzie had an opportunity to even the score for him team, but unlike earlier in the match, Reynish was able to make a diving stop to seal the Gauchos’ victory.

With Northwestern’s 2-1 victory over UNC Greensboro yesterday, the Gauchos are scheduled against the Wildcats at Harder Stadium this Saturday at 7 p.m.