December 3, 2006

Gauchos Complete Amazing Run to Earn Program's First NCAA National Championship, Defeat UCLA 2-1

Dec. 3, 2006

Box Score |  Photo Gallery 

ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Playing in its second College Cup Championship in the last three years, the UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team won its first NCAA National Championship, the second in any sport in the school's NCAA Division I history, with a 2-1 victory over UCLA on Sunday.

UCSB had had virtually no success against the Bruins throughout the years. Entering the match, the Gauchos had defeated UCLA just once in 32 meetings, on Oct. 30, 1982, but they picked a great time to end the drought. It was the school's first National Championship since 1979 when the men's water polo team won. The win also helped the program overcome the disappointment of losing to Indiana on penalty kicks in the 2004 College Cup title match.

Santa Barbara finishes the season with an 18-7-0 record, including a perfect 6-0 mark in the NCAA Tournament and an 11-1-0 record since opening the season at 7-6-0.

"This is as exciting as it can be," said UCSB head coach Tim Vom Steeg. "People can talk about a National Championship, but you don't really realize what it's like until you're out there. It was thrilling for a lot of reasons, but more than anything, I just love the way be played today."

As they have done in three of their NCAA Tournament victories this season, the Gauchos struck first and it was a familiar face who put it in. At the 2:12 mark, sophomore forward Nick Perera gave Santa Barbara an early 1-0 lead when he slipped a low ball off the left post and in past Bruin goalkeeper Eric Reed after collecting a cross from junior midfielder Tyler Rosenlund in the box.

Perera gave the Gauchos an early lead in their 3-1 win over No. 3 seed SMU and scored on the first shot of the game again three days later at Old Dominion. The goal was the team-leading seventh of the year for Perera and the first the Bruins had allowed in over 160 minutes of play. Entering Sunday's match the Gauchos were 15-1 this season when scoring first. Senior goalkeeper Kyke Reynish, playing in his final game in the blue and gold, made that stat hold true.

"Kyle played three years behind Danny Kennedy," Vom Steeg said. "He had to sit and wait for his time. Kyle learned a lot during the three years and we have had a great deal of confidence in him. Over the past 10 or 12 games, Kyle has really grown as a goalkeeper. About 10 games ago, I threatened to make him no longer a goalkeeper. He was part of the big turnaround for us. He knew he had to be part of the solution when we were 7-6. Kyld did his thing."

Perera had an opportunity to put UCSB ahead 2-0 minutes later when senior co-captain Bryan Byrne fed a great ball forward in between two UCLA defenders. Perera caught up with the ball in full stride and went to his right. After Reed charged on the play, the native of Madrid, Spain fired past the keeper, but his shot bounced off the left post.

Rosenlund had yet another chance to give the Gauchos a two-goal advantage when he slipped past the Bruin backline, but his shot hit the left post, as well.

UCLA's first opportunity of the afternoon came in the 19th minute when defender Brad Rusin got a head on a ball off of Mike Zaher corner kick, but Reynish continued his excellent play and leaped up for the save. Zaher had another look from the top of the box three minutes later but it sailed high.

The Gauchos held an 8-3 shot advantage at halftime and clearly out-played the heavily favored Bruins in the first 45 minutes of play. While UCLA did have its opportunities, the Santa Barbara backline consistently cleared the ball out of the box and held the Bruins' talented front at bay. Reynish needed just one save to hold the Bruins scoreless at the break.

UCSB continued to attack in the early stages of the second half. In the 55th minute, a Byrne shot was deflected and the rebound went to senior midfielder Eric Frimpong, who got a good foot on the ball from the top of the circle, but Reed was there for the save.

The Gauchos took a 2-0 lead at Rosenlund cleared a ball out of the Bruin backfield up for Byrne on the right wing. Byrne, showing his incredible speed, dribbled up and turned inside before centering for Perera. Perera slowed up and fed a trailing Avila to his left. With Reed scrambling to recover his position, Avila chipped it in the left portion of the goal for his team-leading eighth goal of the season.

The Bruins first shot of the second period came 18 minutes in when Zaher shot up and over the wall on a free kick. Reynish, happy to see some action, was there for the routine save. Midfielder Tony Beltran had a look five minutes later, but he too sent his shot high.

Even with the 2-0 lead Vom Steeg refused to sit on the ball. With a makeshift backline of juniors Andy Iro and Greg Curry, along with sophomore Alfonso Motagalvan - who started for just the seventh time this season in place of banged up Brennan Tennelle - playing well all day, the Gauchos continued to push offensively.

Rosenlund had an excellent chance to give UCSB a commanding 3-0 lead in the 74th minute when he got through the Bruin defense with the ball at his feet, but Reed rushed the ball and corralled it before Rosenlund could get the shot off.

UCLA got on the board in the 79th minute when Beltran fed a rushing Jason Leopoldo just inside the six-yard box. Leopoldo punched it in over an out-stretched Reynish to cut the deficit in half and rejuvenate a Bruin squad that had been looking to get going all day.

The Bruins nearly tied it up when Kyle Nakazawa's free kick from the left side got through everyone in the 86th minute. Defender Sean Alvarado raced to get a foot on the ball before it went out of play, but he could not get enough of it to send it towards the net and the rest was history.

UCSB defender Andy Iro, the 2006 All-College Cup Most Outsdanding Defensive Player, when the Gauchos lost in a penalty kick shootout to Indiana, was ecstatic to win in 2006.

"2004 was real disappointing but this year's win was more than a win for me and the team," he said. "A lot of people back home were willing us on. A lot of guys and coaches have come through the program that we tried to build. So this is just a culmination of all of that. So much effort has gne itno it before this."

Perera was named the All-College Cup Most Outstanding Offensive Player after scoring the game-winner against the Bruins.

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