Call it Dons domination.
Playing on the big stage in front of a huge crowd, Santa Barbara High’s boys soccer team put on a dazzling performance to cap an incredible season.
The Dons scored three goals in a 10-minute span in the first half and controlled the tempo from start to finish to overwhelm crosstown rival Dos Pueblos 3-0 in the CIF Division 2 championship match before an estimated 8,000 fans at UCSB’s Harder Stadium on Friday.
The title is the school’s sixth in soccer and its first since 2001.
And it was done with style. Taking advantage of the wider field space, the top-seeded Dons (29-0-1) played their possession game to near-perfection, spraying the ball all over the field and having the underdog Chargers chase them.
“For us, this field suits us incredibly,” Santa Barbara coach Todd Heil said. “We were able to knock it, we were able to possess it, we were able to get ourselves in one-on-one situations, where we can take advantage (of the space) instead of being at a place like DP, where it’s tight and they can close us down and make it very difficult. It’s hard to make it difficult on a big field like this.”
From the early moments of the game, it was apparent that Dos Pueblos was going to have a difficult time trying to contain Santa Barbara and keep it off the scoreboard. The Chargers (15-6-7) were able to do that in their Channel League match at DP, holding the Dons to a scoreless draw — the only blemish on their sterling record.
But with too much space to cover and the Dons’ passing game in sync, the Chargers were unable to pack in their defense and play for the counterattack.
“The field certainly changes things.” DP coach Tovi Eliasen said. “It was bigger than ours. Ours is tiny compared to this. It’s certainly an adjustment for the guys.”
In the ninth minute, the Dons’ Jesse Gonzalez broke free in the middle and blasted a shot that rattled the cross bar. Moments later, Gonzalez crossed the ball into the penalty area and Luis Santana just missed connecting on a diving header.
“All the space was great.” said Gonzalez. “We had to keep them out wide. That was the game plan, keep the ball wide and get crosses off. Luckily we were able to do it and get some goals off of those crosses.”
Christian Pardo got free on the right side of the box, turned and fired a shot that was deflected wide of the far post. That set up the corner kick that led to the first goal.
Dos Pueblos was unable to clear Alex Santana’s kick into the box and the ball wound up on the chest of Santa Barbara fullback Brian Joseff. He knocked it down and booted a bouncing shot that snuck under the arms of a diving Charger goalkeeper Chris Castillo in the 22nd minute.
It was Joseff’s first goal of the season and Santa Barbara’s first goal in the first half of a playoff game since its 9-0 first-round romp over Littlerock.
The Dons would score again eight minutes later. An unmarked Joseff, the left fullback, crossed the ball to the far post, where Pardo astutely headed it across to Fernando Alvarado, who popped it into the net with his knee.
“We had trouble marking in the back,” Eliasen said. “They had a lot of guys forward. I thought we were probably a little bit too slow to get on to our marks throughout the first 30 minutes of the match, really. They created a lot of problems with their really good possession. It was tough to mark everywhere, but I thought we made some good corrections in the second half.”
Right fullback Spencer Pritchard stunned the Chargers in the 32nd minute with the third goal on a blistering left-footed volley. The play started with Pardo throwing the ball in to Tyler Schleich at the near post. Schleich flicked it out to Pritchard who hit it first-time into the back of the net for his first goal of the year.
“That was amazing, me and BJ scoring our first goals of the season,” Pritchard said. “We just stepped it up.”
“That was very unexpected, getting our two outside backs scoring goals, nice goals,” said Gonzalez.
“BJ and Spencer both have tremendous shots, it’s just they play on the back line so you don’t get to see it as often.” Heil said. “It’s great, Spencer gets his first goal and BJ gets his first goal, and you get at the perfect time, in the finals. It’s tremendous.”
The scoring onslaught was just what Heil wanted to see from his team.
“We really wanted to come out and make a statement,” he said. “It was not something that we worried about if we didn’t score, but it was something we really felt if we got a goal in the first half we’d really get it going.”
Heil said there was a purpose in his team’s fast start in the match.
“There was a lot of talk going around about the underdog and stuff like that,” he said. “But, all respect to DP, we were on a mission and we wanted to prove a point tonight. And I think the boys came out and proved that in the first half.”
The Dons kept the pressure on in the second half. In the 68th minute, Pardo turned on a ball and ripped a shot from 18 yards, but Castillo made a brilliant play, reaching high to block the zinger over the cross bar.
Rodrigo Perez came close to scoring for DP in the 73rd minute, but this wasn’t the Chargers’ night as his shot from 20 yards sailed over the cross bar.
Despite the loss, Eliasen said it was great to be part of such a tremendous event and his team deserved to be here.
“They worked to hard to be here and they deserve a night like this,” he said. “It feels like a Champions League night. It’s amazing. They deserve to be happy about this night, despite the result.
“To make it this far, it’s unbelievable. No one ever thought we’d be in this spot. And we earned our right to be here. Our guys have been playing wonderful soccer and we got a glimpse of that in the second half. It was not a complete game. I think if we don’t give up those little bit softer goals early on, who knows what happens. Maybe we get into it in second half and make a game of it.”
For the Dons, it was a magical night that will be treasured forever.
“It was electric, it was amazing, it pumped us up,” said Gonzalez of the atmosphere. “It was the best moment. I think the crowd helped us out. Everyone was excited to get out here and play in the first half. It helped put it away in the first half.”
“Tremendous,” Heil said of the crowd that kept streaming in at halftime. “I felt like I was watching a UCSB men’s game in the playoffs. The number of people that came out for this game was just tremendous. It just shows how much soccer is loved in this town. For all these people to come out and support these two high schools is tremendous.”
Both teams move on the CIF regional playoffs on Tuesday. The pairings will be announced Sunday.