When Rudy Ybarra returned to coach Under-18 Santa Barbara FC White (CA-S) after two years away, he had high expectations for the team.
Ybarra, who coached a younger Santa Barbara side to two straight National titles, saw talent in the Under-18 squad. With a few tactical adjustments and an added “championship mentality,” the coach said his team could have all the necessary components to reach that same milestone.
It turned out he was right, as Santa Barbara took advantage of its opportunities to defeat Lehigh Valley United 95 (PA-E), 3-0, in the Under-18 Boys final at the 2014 US Youth Soccer National Championships, presented by the National Guard.
“I told them at the beginning of the season at the first practice, ‘I expect you to be the National Champion,’” Ybarra said. “They all looked at me, and I said, ‘Guys, we can do it. We’re just as good as anybody in the country. We just have to get better at certain things.’”
The Cal South side listened to Ybarra and worked hard to put itself in position to take the title with an early goal Sunday against LVU. After a player was brought down in the box, Geoffrey Acheampong tucked his 14th-minute penalty kick inside the right post to give Santa Barbara a 1-0 lead.
Miguel Padron doubled the lead early in the second half when he volleyed a shot to the far post. Seconds later, Gatorade National Boys Soccer Player of the Year Abu Danladi got behind the LVU defense and slid a shot past the keeper to extend the lead to 3-0.
Before the Cal South side managed to add the two insurance goals, Lehigh Valley dictated the game and produced several great chances of its own. If not for Santa Barbara keeper Robert Soto, the Pennsylvania side — which won, 2-1, in a matchup between the two during group play — could have taken a one or two-goal lead into halftime.
“The goalkeeper has his responsibilities, just like any other player on the field,” Ybarra said. “I think Robert was right on today. He was a player you could call the man of the match. He kept us in the game. He played fantastic and did his job.”
Immediately following Santa Barbara’s opening goal, Soto did well to smother a point-blank effort from LVU’s Colby Thomas. Lehigh’s Gabriel Tagliamonte came back five minutes later and sent a perfectly-placed shot to the far post that forced Soto to make a fully-extended diving save to protect his side’s lead.
Soto said he felt he could play better after the first two games of the Championships, and he was happy he responded with a pair of solid performances in the semifinal and final to help his team claim the title.
And while the side was thrilled they captured that elusive National title in their Under-18 season, the coaches and players had one message during their celebration.
They’re not done yet.
“Our goal is to get this group back next year,” Ybarra said. “We’ve already talked about it as a group. We’re planning on entering the California State Cup at U-19 because we want to come back and win that granddaddy of them all — the McGuire Cup.”