Santa Barbara SC White (CA-S) will head into the 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championships with a tough road ahead in its effort to defend its 2012 title. The transition from the Under-14 Boys group to the Under-15 level means the field doubles with the addition of four teams from the US Youth Soccer National League
To say that Santa Barbara is heading into a high-pressure situation would be an understatement, but pressure is something Santa Barbara is used to. The 2012 Region IV Championships alone are a prime example, when Santa Barbara won all six of their games by one goal, including five 1-0 victories.
"The competition in these tournaments is very tough, and I think they showed a lot of character," said Santa Barbara head coach Rudy Ybarra of his team. "Of the four aspects of the game, the most important to conquer is the mental aspect. Our boys have shown they are mentally ready."
If one-goal matches aren’t enough pressure, Santa Barbara has made a habit of taking games to penalty kicks. Santa Barbara defeated Sunrise Elite (FL) in the finals of the 2012 National Championships in that fashion and it won both the semifinals and finals of the 2013 Region IV Championships in penalty kicks.
"When you play in tournaments of this nature, sooner or later you are going to have to shoot penalty kicks. We practice them after every training session," said Ybarra. "We make it a challenge for the players, and it raises their comfort level."
Santa Barbara employs an unorthodox approach to penalty kicks. Instead of using his usual goalkeeper, Eduard Delgado, Ybarra turns to his back-up goalkeeper and defender, Eric Contreras.
"Both of our goalkeepers were developed as field players," said Ybarra. "It was actually Eduard who noticed Eric’s ability to guess the right way. The two get along great."
Santa Barbara will have its hands full at the 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championships. The team Santa Barbara defeated in the national finals, Sunrise Elite, is fresh off a 7-0-0 record in the National League, a US Youth Soccer Region III title and a 2013 Dallas Cup Championship.
Sunrise, along with six other teams, will be gunning to take down the defending champs. Despite all of this, Ybarra remains confident.
"This team has so much group continuity; they are a family on and off the field. They look at soccer in a serious manner, because they know there will also be life experiences on the field," said Ybarra.
"This group is a pleasure to coach because they really care and work for each other. We have won three regional championships and three state championships. They aren’t egotists, and they know how to handle the pressure."