Penalty-kick shoot-outs deciding the outcome of a soccer match can bring out the worst in somebody — we heard you, Hope Solo — but when the Under-18 Boys National Championship came down to PKs last month, it brought out the best in Lalo Delgado, the strapping goalkeeper of the Santa Barbara Soccer Club.
Santa Barbara’s shoot-out with FC Golden State was tied 3-3 after the teams played to a 1-1 deadlock in the title match at Frisco, Texas. “I kept my cool because my team was making their kicks,” Delgado said. “I wanted to win for my brothers after they ran in that horrible heat.”
Delgado dove to his left and stopped Golden State’s fourth attempt. Francisco Arroyo then stuck the ball in the back of the net to give Santa Barbara a 4-3 edge, and Delgado smothered another shot to clinch his team’s third national championship.
“This one was our most emotional win,” Delgado said. “We really, really wanted it.” The team, which has had the same core group of players for the better part of a decade, won its other titles in 2012 (U-14) and 2013 (U-15). The next two years, they lost in the semifinals. “It was painful seeing other teams win,” said Tim Heiduk. “This championship brought out a lot of tears and people hugging each other.”
Heiduk was unable to play because of a broken foot, but he flew to Texas to be with the team. “Tim’s a good leader; he and I rallied the troops,” Delgado said. “Coach wants us to be on our best behavior. We stayed away from junk food, stayed away from the pool.”
Delgado won the Golden Glove award as the tournament’s best goalkeeper, and defender Juan Pablo Alvarez, a fellow Carpinteria native, took home the Golden Ball. “He hits the ball with power and precision,” Heiduk said of Alvarez. “He scored on a beautiful free kick in the semifinal.”
The head coach is Rudy Ybarra, whose dedication to the game has been a unifying force in the Santa Barbara area. It comprises one of the smaller populations in the youth soccer universe but turns out teams that consistently outplay the big metropolitan aggregations. Ybarra made his name as a Santa Barbara High striker in the 1970s and later played professionally.
“He’s been with some of us since we were 9,” Heiduk said. “He teaches little details on the technical side. As we get older, our dribbling and passing are technically sound.” Alvaro described Ybarra as “a role model, my second dad.”
Ybarra has exchanged ideas with other coaches, including UCSB’s Tim Vom Steeg and Westmont College’s Dave Wolf. He recently joined Wolf’s staff. “It’s going to be a fun adventure,” he said about this Saturday night’s exhibition game at UCSB. Delgado is in Westmont’s freshman class, while Heiduk is a sophomore with the Warriors.
Alvarez flew to Mexico last week on his 18th birthday to begin a professional career with Irapuato FC. He intends to rejoin his friends next summer. “We’ve got one last championship to win, the U-19,” he said. That would put their names on the James P. McGuire Cup, the oldest youth sports trophy in the nation. Winning it would also make these Santa Barbara boys the only team to win four national championships.
RIO RESET: About Solo and the U.S. women’s soccer team: Their exit from the Rio Olympics after losing a shoot-out to Sweden was disheartening, but the goalkeeper showed abysmal sportsmanship by calling the winners “cowards.” She was not paying attention two years ago when Steve Coburn spewed sour grapes after California Chrome lost its Triple Crown bid. He asserted the handlers of the Belmont Stakes winner, Tonalist, “took the coward’s way out.” Coburn later apologized.
Meanwhile, many other Americans are taking care of business in Rio. Of special interest is the women’s water polo team, which includes three players from our area. Kiley Neushul could not have had a more auspicious debut, scoring the team’s first goal in the opening victory over Spain. She also scored on a dazzling spin move and driving shot against Hungary. Sami Hill saw action in the goal, saving all three Hungarian shots in the final minutes of an 11-6 win. Kami Craig, aiming for her third Olympic medal, continued to be a force in the center. She opened the quarterfinal against Brazil with a slam-dunk goal, and she occupied the defense as eight other players — twice including Neushul — added goals in the 13-3 victory. Barring an upset in their semifinal rematch with Hungary, the U.S. women will be playing Italy or Russia for their second consecutive gold medal Friday, August 19.
Over at the track stadium, U.S. heptathlon champion Barbara Nwaba of the Santa Barbara Track Club struggled in her first Olympic experience, but she finished strong and wound up in 12th place, which was her ranking coming in. “She competed with everything she had,” said her coach, Josh Priester. The drawn-out schedule made it tough, he said. “It’s not your typical meet where you just get to go from one event to the next. There were hours and hours between events. The fatigue factor is off the charts.” Canada’s Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who has trained in Santa Barbara with Nwaba, managed to grind out a bronze-medal performance. “She was a good fighter,” said Harry Marra, who coaches Theisen-Eaton and Ashton Eaton, the favorite in the decathlon. “That is what the multis are all about. Keep coming back in each event.”
MORE CHAMPIONS: The 805 Santa Barbara Water Polo Club may have future Olympians in its ranks. At the National Junior Olympic Championships at Stanford, the club won titles in the girls 16U and 14U divisions. Two other teams, 12U and 18U, advanced to the semifinals. Cathy Neushul was a coach of both championship teams, and Ryann Neushul was MVP of the 16s — that’s Kiley’s mother and younger sister, respectively.
Kayla Day, Santa Barbara’s 16-year-old tennis phenom, reached the girls semifinals at Wimbledon this summer, but she won’t be playing the juniors at the U.S. Open because she earned a wildcard entry in the grown-up show at Flushing, New York. That was Day’s prize for winning the USTA Girls’ 18s National Championship in San Diego. She defeated Nicole Frenkel of Massachusetts, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.
GAME OF THE WEEK
8/20: College Men’s Soccer: Westmont at UCSB: This annual exhibition game kicks off a new season and celebrates what Westmont coach Dave Wolf calls “the best college soccer town in America.” Wolf’s Warriors will be going up against two of the best players in the country, Gaucho striker Nick DePuy (an NCAA-leading 15 goals last year) and midfielder Kevin Feucht. 7:05pm. Harder Stadium. $8-$10. Call 893-UCSB (8272) or visit ucsbgauchos.com.