Put the country on notice. Santa Barbara has itself a national champion.
After a grueling semifinal match against Wake Forest that caused the Gaucho coaching staff to scramble for a lineup, the UCSB men’s soccer team defied the odds like it has done all season long, defeating #8 seed UCLA 2-1 in the College Cup final. The Gauchos (18-7-0 overall) became the first unseeded champion since 2000 and finished its magical campaign by winning 11 of its final 12 matches.
“It was more than just a win,” junior defender Andy Iro said. “A lot of guys and coaches came through here and this is a culmination of all of this.”
Sophomore forward Nick Perera put the Gauchos on the board early for the third time in the postseason, netting the match’s first goal in the third minute. Junior midfielder Tyler Rosenlund beat his defender to the goal line and his pass into the box found Perera wide open in front of the Bruin net for an easy chance.
The Santa Barbara offense didn’t let up as All-College Cup Most Outstanding Offensive Player Perera and Rosenlund each banged a shot off the post later in the half, but it wasn’t until after the intermission that the squad managed to break through again.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, senior forward Brian Byrne – playing in his final collegiate match – found himself with the ball and used his trademark blazing speed to carry it down the right sideline. After blowing by the Bruin backline, the Irishman crossed to Perera in the center of the box, who then played it to his left to sophomore midfielder Eric Avila trailing the play. Avila blasted the eventual game winner into the left side of the net.
“Last game I didn’t do so well,” Avila said. “Today I was waiting for that one chance and when Nick [Perera] passed me the ball, my eyes got big.”
But the UCLA (14-6-4) offense, which had tallied 16 goals in its previous five matches, was not about to go quietly and finally broke through in the 79th minute. Sophomore midfielder Jason Leopoldo beat senior keeper Kyle Reynish after receiving a pass in the six-yard box.
The Gaucho defense, led by All-College Cup Most Outstanding Defensive Player Iro, withstood the final 10 minutes unscathed to earn UCSB’s first national championship since the men’s water polo team took the crown in 1979. After his incredible performance against Wake Forest in the semifinal, Reynish made several key saves late in the match to preserve the victory.
“Kyle [Reynish] had to sit three years to wait for his time,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We knew that when he took over [for All-American Danny Kennedy] not a lot would be missed.”
Sophomore defender Alfonso Motagalvan played a crucial role for the Gauchos after junior midfielder Brennan Tennelle was deemed unable to play prior to the final match, blocking a shot on the goal line with his body in the second half.
The squad overcame cramps and a double overtime match the day before to put together one of its best performances of the season.
“We had a very difficult game yesterday and for the guys to play with that energy today is remarkable,” Vom Steeg said.
In mid-October, the squad stood at 7-6 as it was looking toward next season. Now the Gauchos are on top of the college soccer world.