The Santa Barbara club soccer team repeated its winning ways this past weekend as it won the University of California Irvine Cup. Having ended their last season in the second round of the playoffs, the Gauchos were eager to reestablish their reign of dominance over the west coast.
Having already scrimmaged the UCSB Division One soccer team this spring, and winning 1-0 off a goal from junior forward Nick McEachin, the team was extremely confident and would look to roll over the competition.
The Gauchos opened up the tournament by beating Cuesta Junior College 3-0 off goals from sophomore midfielder Rolando Beltran, McEachin and junior midfielder Jordan Kaplan. Next, the Gauchos went on to face the Stanford Cardinal, where they again won thanks to a goal from Nick McEachin. UCSB closed out day one with a perfect 2-0 record.
Day three commenced with the Gauchos facing the Fresno State Bulldogs. Santa Barbara pulled off another nail-biting 1-0 victory with the lone goal coming on another Kaplan score, sending the team into the semifinals to face heated rival UC Berkeley.
The semis were tough from the start. UCSB conceded their first goal of the tournament, and the spring season, and headed into the half down 1-0. But the Gauchos would not be down for long. Senior midfielder Amir “The Prince” Kazemi launched a goal to tie the game and bring the game into overtime. In the extra period, McEachin bailed the Gauchos out by nailing the game-winner to send Santa Barbara into the finals.
“After beating the D-1 team in a scrimmage, we were confident [we could make it to the finals],” junior goalie Joel Katz said.
After playing four games in two days, the Gauchos knew the finals would be no walk in the park, especially against the very formidable UCLA Bruins.
The finals matchup was a hard-fought battle from the beginning, with neither team refusing to let up. By the end of the full 90 minutes, the game was still level at 0-0. In overtime, neither team could muster up enough energy to score, leaving the game up to penalty kicks.
With two keepers that alternate halves in every game, Head Coach Randy Eskilson had a tough call in deciding which stopper to put up against the Bruin penalty kicks. Katz, the team captain, took no time to throw his name into the fire.
“Our coach asked who wanted to go in [goal] and I said ‘This is me. I got this.”‘
With every kick, the suspense slowly lifted as the Bruins squandered their chances while the Gauchos took advantage of theirs. After the Bruins made their first kick to go up 1-0, UCSB sophomore forward Kyle Mcathy responded by blasting a goal to tie the score at 1-1. Next, Katz made an incredible leaping play to stop a Bruin goal before sophomore midfielder Rolando Mota’s ball found the back of the net. Down 2-1, the next Bruins shot missed the frame, setting up Kazemi’s final shot for the Gauchos to bring their lead to 3-1. After a third consecutive stop by Katz, the Gauchos were crowned UCI Cup Champions.
After a terrific 6-0 spring, including a win over the highly touted UCSB Division One team, the Gauchos are back on top as the dominating power in the western region.
“[This] still shows were the most dominant team in the league,” McEachin said.