SBSC U16s, U18s vie for national titles; U16s seek three-peat

The Santa Barbara  Soccer Club's boys Under-18 team is making its U.S. Youth Soccer National Tournament debut.

The Santa Barbara Soccer Club’s boys Under-18 team is making its U.S. Youth Soccer National Tournament debut.

There are only four teams in the history of the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships to win three straight titles. The Santa Barbara Soccer Club’s boys Under-16 White will try to become the fifth team to do it.

The U16s and the club’s U18s are in Germantown, Md., this week for the national tournament. The event brings together the boys and girls age-group division champions (from U13s to U19s) of the four U.S. Youth Soccer Regions as well as winners of the USYS National League.

Group play begins Tuesday. The top two teams in the two four-team groups advance to the semifinals on Saturday. The winners play for national titles on Sunday.

Both Santa Barbara teams are coached by former professional player and former Santa Barbara High boys coach Rudy Ybarra.

Santa Barbara’s U16s are trying to join Central Valley Mercury (CA-N), Arsenal FC (CA-S), Dallas Texans Red 88 (N-TX) and Real So Cal (So Cal United) as three-peat national champions.

It won’t be easy, as they’ll be facing teams that will have revenge on their minds.

Santa Barbara will battle against two clubs they defeated in the previous two national finals, Dix Hills, N.Y.(2013) and Sunrise Elite, Fla. (2012). The other team is the group is Chicago Magic Preacademy of Illinois.

In an interview with U.S. Youth Soccer, Ybarra said the pressure of playing in tight games doesn’t seem to bother his players.

“When they play in these close games, I don’t sense that they feel the pressure anymore,” Ybarra said. “They believe in themselves and understand their responsibilities. They have been in so many close games, and their maturity as a result is what makes them so special.”

Brandon Sanchez scored six goals to lead the team to the Region 4 title in New Mexico. Two years ago, he was named to the Best XI and was the Golden Ball winner at the national tournament.

Chairat Puengrod and Sahid Conteh are back after earning Best XI honors at last year’s finals. Puengrod, Tim Heiduk and Edward Delgado were Best XI honorees in 2012 and Delgado was named the Golden Glove Award winner that year.

Santa Barbara’s U18s are making their national tournament debut. The team includes Gatorade National Player of the Year and UCLA-bound Abu Danladi, Cate standout and UCSB commit Geoffrey Acheampong, Santa Barbara High grad and Channel League Player of the Year Pepe Barron, San Marcos grad and Seattle University recruit Robbie Landeros and Dos Pueblos star Julio Rubio.

Forward Miguel Pardon of Santa Maria and Pioneer Valley High was a key player for the team in the Region 4 tournament. He scored eight goals, including four in the final.

Team manager Jesus Landeros told that the team is ready for the challenge of playing against the best teams in the country.

“The coaches know that we can play with anybody and the boys know that they can take care of business against anybody,” he said. “They’re as good or better than anybody that’s out there. “We’re going into [each] game expecting to beat whatever team is lined up to play with us.”

In group play, the U18s face Lehigh Valley United of Pennsylvania, CUP Gold 95/96 of Ohio and Scottsdale 96 Blackhawks of Arizona.