UC Santa Barbara wins soccer title
Two years ago, UC Santa Barbara Coach Tim Vom Steeg watched in dismay as his team lost the NCAA men’s soccer final on penalty kicks to Indiana.
Two months ago, Vom Steeg was resigned to an indifferent 2006 season when his team was mired at 7-6 and seemingly going nowhere. He called the seniors together and told them they would all be benched unless they turned things around.
As far as motivation goes, the tactic proved flawless.
The Gauchos went on a surprising 10-1-1 roll that peaked Sunday when they upset UCLA, 2-1, at St. Louis to win the NCAA championship that had so narrowly eluded them at the Home Depot Center in 2004.
“Losing in a shootout in the national championship always sticks with you,” UCSB goalkeeper Kyle Reynish said Saturday after the Gauchos got past Wake Forest on penalty kicks after a scoreless overtime tie in the semifinals.
Twenty-four hours later, no shootout was needed. It took Santa Barbara less than three minutes to score the first goal, and the unseeded Gauchos never looked back.
It was only the second national championship for Santa Barbara, its men’s water polo team having won the first in 1979.
“For us this is a big deal,” Vom Steeg said. “This is a big deal for our town. It’s a big deal for our university.”
The final, played in subfreezing temperatures on a Robert R. Hermann Stadium field with snow piled around its perimeter, was only the second all-California championship game among the 48 NCAA men’s soccer finals. The first was in 2002, when UCLA defeated Stanford, 1-0.
Had UCLA won Sunday, it would have been the school’s 100th NCAA championship.
“That obviously was in the back of our minds,” Bruins Coach Jorge Salcedo said. “We would have loved to have been the program that achieved that, but I’m sure someone will soon.”
As well as UCLA played Saturday in routing Virginia, 4-0, in the semifinals, so the Bruins played badly on Sunday. They were out of sorts from the start, and were chasing the game from the moment Nick Perera gave the Gauchos the lead.
The early goal was important. Including Sunday’s victory, UCSB was 16-1 this season when scoring first.
Things might have been even worse for the Bruins had two other Santa Barbara shots in the first half not ricocheted off the left post after beating goalkeeper Eric Reed.
As it was, the Gauchos doubled their lead in the 60th minute on a well-executed counterattack down the right flank, with Perera providing the final pass to an unmarked Eric Avila, who scored.
“Yesterday, obviously, we had a very good day and today we had a subpar performance,” Salcedo said. “We didn’t perform well today. They got an early goal and were playing with a lot of confidence.”
Trailing, 2-0, with less than 12 minutes remaining, UCLA cut the deficit in half when Jason Leopoldo got around a defender on the left and fired a shot that went in off Reynish.
It was not enough for UCLA, which finished the year 14-6-4 to UCSB’s 17-7-1.
“We just didn’t have enough guys making plays today,” Salcedo said. “We had a great push at the end and just couldn’t find a way to score that second goal.
“We’ll go back and regroup and start to prepare for next year.”
Jones reported from Los Angeles. Times wire services contributed to this report.