Brandon Sanchez scored the go-ahead goal in the second half, and the Santa Barbara Soccer Club’s Under-14 White boys team rallied for a 3-1 win over Vardar 98 of Michigan in the opening match of the United States Youth Soccer National Championships in Rock Hill, S.C. on Wednesday.
The tournament brings together six boys and girls age-group champions from four regions in USYS.
Santa Barbara fell behind early in the second half as Vardar, the Region 2 champion, scored on an Evan Dennis set piece that ricocheted off the cross and into the net at the far post.
Chairat “Lucky” Puengrod scored the equalizer for the Region 4 champions, beating the Vardar goalkeeper from 20 yards with a left-footed shot to the far post. Benji Garcia got the assist.
Sanchez put Santa Barbara into the lead when he finished a right-footed shot from the right side from 14 yards out. Jules Pasco assisted.
Garcia added an insurance goal on a penalty kick after Vardar’s goalkeeper took down Francisco Arroyo in the penalty box.
Coach Rudy Ybarra singled out Sanchez as the man of the match, and he lauded the midfield play of Carson Vom Steeg and Tim Heiduk.
“They played solid and controlled the tempo of the match,” Ybarra said.
Santa Barbara will next play Region 1 champion Bethesda, Md. on Thursday. The team will complete round-robin play on Friday against Sunrise Elite of Florida, the Region 3 champion and the No. 1 team in the Top Drawer U-14 national rankings. Sunrise defeated Bethesda 3-1 on Wednesday.
The top two teams after round-robin play meet for the national championship on Saturday.