LOS ANGELES — A season ago, the UCLA men’s soccer team was upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by unseeded University of San Diego. Then seeded as the No. 6 team in the tournament, UCLA gave up five goals in the second half to the Toreros on the way to falling in what would be one of the biggest upsets of the tournament
Head coach Jorge Salcedo and his Bruins made sure they didn’t suffer the same fate this season when UCLA toppled Elon University 4-0 on Sunday, Nov. 24, at Drake Stadium in Los Angeles.
The Bruins jumped early and often on the Phoenix, making sure any comeback effort would be a tall task. Scoring in the 8th, 21st and 31st minutes of the game, UCLA, the No. 1 team in the country, was out to prove why it was the top team in the country.
They did just that.
But this season’s NCAA Tournament team, Salcedo said, doesn’t resemble the team he took to the tournament a year ago.
We’re a very different team this year,” he said. “We limped into the playoffs last year with fatigue and injuries and this year is a completely different mindset. We’re in a much better spot.”
Salcedo also said the loss to San Diego was not harped upon in the week leading up to the contest against Elon.
“It was brought up a little bit,” he said. “But we’re different. We were extremely disappointed with the result last year, but there are no excuses.”
In the 4-0 defeat of the Phoenix, UCLA showed its strength in numbers with three different scorers scoring the three first-half goals. One factor, according to senior defender Joe Sofia, was the schedule down the stretch this year for the Bruins.
“Last season, we had a lot of knocks at the end of the season and we had five games in 10 days going into the postseason,” Sofia said. “This year we tried to take a few breaks going into postseason so we would be fresh and our legs would be ready.”
The way UCLA’s schedule was built this season allowed for extended breaks to get the team ready for the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins played on Nov. 1 and Nov. 3, then didn’t play again until Nov. 16.
The match against Elon Nov. 24 was the final November game for UCLA, as the Bruins take on the University of Connecticut Sunday, Dec. 1.
Before its final regular season game against San Diego State University, the Bruins had 13 days to prepare. Against Elon, seven days of prep while the Phoenix took on Clemson University just three days before the game in Los Angeles.
“This is definitely one of the perks of getting a bye,” said Elon senior midfielder Daniel Lovitz on UCLA’s extended breaks. “You work hard throughout the season to get that kind of status and you’re able to rest up before big games like these. They earned it.”
Against UCONN, the Bruins have another seven days to rest and prepare for Sunday’s 5 p.m. PST contest in Drake Stadium.
“We love the fact we get to prepare the whole week and get five days of training before we play them,” Salcedo said. “We’re taking Thanksgiving off but we’ll have the same training rhythm we had last week. We love taking our time in preparing.”
Connecticut advanced to the third round of the tournament after beating the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in penalty kicks.
“There’s a mandatory tape exchange so we’ll get their tape against UMBC and be able to really break them down and know all their tendencies and be ready to go,” Salcedo said. “Connecticut is a very good team.”
What makes the Huskies so tough, according to Salcedo, is UCONN junior goalkeeper Andre Blake. In 19 games this year, Blake has a .59 goals allowed average. He’s only allowed 12 goals on the year while making 30 saves.
“To me, they have one of the top goalkeepers in the country,” Salcedo said. “So we’ll have to be ready for that.”
Victor Chavez, a senior forward who scored twice against the Phoenix in the second round, was happy with the performance against Elon, but he said he knows because it’s a playoff game, anything can happen and the Bruins must get sharper.
“It’s a playoff game so it’s always a good game,” Chavez said. “This game against Elon, we scored the goals but we have to get sharper. We just have to go get ready for a third round game now.”