After dominating the competition all year, the six-time repeating champion men’s club soccer team lost its swagger near the end of the year and failed to win another national championship.
The Gauchos (11-2-3 overall) still posted a successful season, but the team felt it was capable of much more.
“We were definitely the best team in the tournament,” junior goalkeeper Joel Katz said. “You win some, you lose some. It’s the way soccer goes.”
Santa Barbara opened up the tournament against Baylor. They won that game off a goal by senior forward Zach Smith. Their next game was against the very formidable Penn State. UCSB would be held scoreless throughout the duration of the game. However, their incredible defensive play held Penn State scoreless as well, thus earning a tie. After the group pool play, the Gauchos had the necessary amount of points to advance on to the round of 16, where they would meet Colorado.
The game commenced between these two teams, and everything seemed to be going Colorado’s way. An early corner and a throw-in caused madness in the box, and the Buffaloes capitalized, putting the Gauchos down 2-0 early on.
The Gauchos stopped the bleed, but still trailed 2-0 heading into half time. During the break, Head Coach Randy Eskilson gave a speech saying someone needed to step up. Hungry to score, the entire UCSB team, including the defense, pushed up on an offensive attack to open up the second half. Their attempt was unsuccessful, and the push left them vulnerable to the counterattack. Katz was soon forced to take on the Colorado forward one-on-one, and couldn’t make the highly difficult stop. Colorado went up 3-0.
Flustered by the large deficit, junior forward Nick McEachin was the Gaucho to step up. McEachin, the Gauchos leading scorer all year, had two goals for Santa Barbara to cut Colorado’s lead with 10 minutes left to play. In the remaining 10 minutes, UCSB had several chances, but none came to fruition and their comeback wasn’t enough.
“We came out in the second half and played well,” junior defender Roman Stahl said. “[It’s] pretty hard to come back from a 3-0 deficit.”
When the Gauchos walked off the field and looked up at the scoreboard after the 90 minute game, they saw a sight they had only seen once all year: a loss. Their season was over and their chances at a national title were gone. Despite the tough loss, the team is already looking towards the next season.
“We’re already optimistic about next year,” Katz said.
There is no shaking this team’s confidence and they seem to be in good shape heading into next year with their two leading scorers, McEachin and Rolando Mota, returning. Their defense will be lead by Stahl, and they are returning and both goalies, Katz and sophomore Chris Harris will be returning.
However, some seniors will be missed, including Smith and forward Corey Vermillion, defenders Johnny Walker and Matt Berson, as well as midfielders Amir Kazemi and Armando Flores.
However, if a fresh crop of new players can revive this team, UCSB may be leaving next year’s national tournament with some fresh hardware. Until then, it’s back to sweating and hard work in order to make their aspirations work out.