Defending NCAA Champions Kick Off 2003 Soccer Season

Aug. 25, 2003

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This Week - The UCLA men's soccer team (18-3-3 in 2002, ranked No. 1 in the pre-season by the NSCAA/adidas) will begin defense of its NCAA Championship at the Cal State Fullerton Soccer Town Classic this weekend. The Bruins will open on Friday, Aug. 29 against No. 16 Penn State (16-8-0 in 2002) in a rematch of the 2002 NCAA quarterfinals, which UCLA won 7-1. On Sunday, Aug. 31, UCLA takes on Ohio State (11-7-1 in 2002), last year's Big Ten runner-up. Both games will take place at Titan Stadium at 5:00 pm PT. UCLA is the defending Soccer Town Classic champion.

UCLA In Season Openers - The Bruins hold a 30-3-3 all-time record in season openers and have won 13 of their last 14 season-opening games. This is the seventh time UCLA has opened the season at Cal State Fullerton's Tournament, and the Bruins have a prefect 12-0-0 all-time record in the tournament.

Scouting The Nittany Lions - Penn State returns seven starters from its 2002 squad that advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals before falling to UCLA. Among the returners are 2002 Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Year Chad Severs, who led the Big Ten in goals scored (17) and points (37). Freshman Simon Omekanda was rated the No. 8 recruit in the nation by Soccer America.

The Series - UCLA leads the all-time series against Penn State, 2-0-0. Last year's quarterfinal game was historic, as UCLA set a school record for most goals scored in an NCAA Tournament game. Forward Cliff McKinley tied the NCAA Tournament record for most assists in a game with three, and Matt Taylor recorded his first career hat trick and added two assists.

Scouting The Buckeyes - Ohio State was dealt a blow in the off-season when All-Big Ten selection Justin Cook suffered an injury in May that will keep him out of the 2003 season. However, coach John Bluem returns six players who started at least eight games in 2002, including Sammy Tamporello (10 points) and Kevin Nugent (eight points). Goalkeeper Chad Brown posted a conference-best eight shutouts in 2002. The Buckeyes lost 5-0 to fifth-ranked SMU in the College Cup Preview exhibition match last Friday. This is the first meeting between UCLA and Ohio State.

Bruin National Teamers Should Return For Opener - UCLA's national team players Brandon Owens (U.S. Under-17s) and Patrick Ianni (Under-20s) should return in time to participate in the season opener. Owens is joining his Bruin teammates for the first time this week, having missed pre-season training while in Europe for the World Youth Championships. The U.S. was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Brazil on Sunday. Ianni caught the beginning of pre-season training before departing with the U-20s for the L'Alcudia International Tournament in Spain. The tournament concludes on Aug. 27. The U.S. won its first game against Egypt, 3-0, on Aug. 21 then tied Russia 1-1 on Aug. 23. Ianni saw action in the Egypt game.

2003 Season Outlook - UCLA returns seven starters from its NCAA Championship team, including College Cup Offensive MVP Aaron Lopez (four goals in 2002, including the game-winner in the championship game) and College Cup Defensive MVP Zach Wells (0.76 GAA, seven shutouts). Also returning are Major League Soccer prospects midfielder Adolfo Gregorio (nine goals, 24 points), forward Matt Taylor (team-leading 12 goals and 32 points) and defenders Leonard Griffin and Tony Lawson.

Head Coach Tom Fitzgerald - NSCAA National Coach of the Year Tom Fitzgerald enters his second year as UCLA head coach. Fitzgerald has established lofty standards for himself at UCLA, becoming the first NCAA Division I coach to win an undisputed national championship in his first year with the program. He also became just the third coach to win NCAA titles in both Division I and Division II. Fitzgerald coached the University of Tampa to the NCAA Division II title in 1994.

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