Six team in Six Days: UCLA Men's Soccer Preview
To say the 2006 UCLA men's soccer team is a new-look Bruin squad would be an understatement. Third-year head coach Jorge Salcedo welcomes 13 newcomers to the 26-man squad, one of the largest and most talented incoming classes in recent history.
Returning from last year's squad that won its fourth consecutive Pac-10 Championship are all-conference honorees Eric Reed, Sal Zizzo, Brandon Owens and Brad Rusin, as well as fellow returning starters Greg Folk, Mike Zaher and Kiel McClung.
The incoming class, which was rated No. 1 in the nation by College Soccer News (UCLA's third top-rated class in the last four years), is remarkable both in size and stature. Of the 13 newcomers, seven are current or former U.S. Youth National Team players and eight are Youth or High School All-Americans. They join a team that already has seven other players who have been in the Youth National Team program.
These newcomers will be looking to follow in the footsteps of No. 1 MLS draft pick Marvell Wynne, Chivas USA starting defender Jonathan Bornstein and M.A.C. Hermann Trophy semifinalist Patrick Ianni.
'With the departure of several key members of our team last year, we will definitely need new players to step up and fulfill prominent roles within our team,' said UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo. 'If our team matures and improves as the season goes on, I think we can have a successful season, but it will take a lot of hard work, a lot of effort and, most importantly, selfless attitudes to achieve that goal.'
Team play will be a focus and a necessity with such a young squad.
'Our 2006 team is definitely a talented group, but, as always, the most important thing is for our group to be a team,' Salcedo emphasized. 'We certainly have great individuals, but with the incorporation of so many new guys, what is most important is for each individual to realize that the team comes first.'
Salcedo noted that the team's strengths lie in the midfield and in the team's technical ability. The Bruins are very deep in all midfield positions and have several players who are well adept at playmaking roles. Keeping possession of the ball will be a strong suit for the team.
UCLA had one of the best defenses in the nation a year ago, leading the nation in shutout percentage (0.70) and ranking in the Top 12 in goals against average (0.67). The Bruins did not allow a single goal at home during regular season play last year.
This year's defensive squad may be more of a question mark after the losses of Wynne, Ianni and Jordan Harvey, all of whom have gone on to play in Major League Soccer. In addition, three-year starter Brandon Owens is coming off an ACL injury, suffered in the spring. His return this season is still questionable.
'Our group of defenders is capable of reaching the same standard as last year's group, but it's difficult to say who amongst the defenders will step into those roles,' said Salcedo.
Salcedo certainly expects senior Kiel McClung to become one of the team leaders. 'His experience and his strong motivation going into the season should make him one of our key members,' Salcedo said. McClung had a standout rookie season in 2003-04, earning All-Freshman honors from College Soccer News and earning a spot on the U.S. Under-20 National Team. Injuries slowed his progress the last two seasons, but he is primed for a standout senior year in 2006.
Junior Mike Zaher will join McClung at the outside back positions. 'Our outside back positions have been vital to the way we have defended as a team,' said Salcedo. 'I expect Kiel and Mike Zaher to step up and fill a prominent role there.' Zaher, a former U-18 National Team player, played in 16 games with seven starts a year ago, netting one goal and two assists.
Sophomore Brad Rusin earned starting time last season en route to All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors and Top Drawer Soccer All-Freshman acclaim. 'Brad had a great freshman year and should push for a starting role once again,' said Salcedo. Rusin will see tough competition for that starting position from returners Sean Alvarado and Edwige Ligonde, as well as freshman Ryan White. Ligonde brings two years of experience in the program to the pitch. Alvarado is a two-time high school All-American, and White is a former U.S. Under-16 National Team player and a two-time NSCAA/adidas All-American. At 6-2 or taller, Rusin, Alvarado and White give the Bruins a huge size advantage in the back.
Freshman Chance Myers is possibly the most versatile player on the squad. He can play anywhere within the back four, as well as at midfield or at forward. The Parade and NSCAA All-American played with the U.S. Under-20 National Team at the Milk Cup in August and led his Thousand Oaks HS team to two CIF titles.
If Owens can recover from his injury in time, he will be a stabilizing force for this young Bruin squad. He is the most experienced player on the team, having started in 57 of 61 career games. Owens is a three-time all-conference honoree and former U-20 and U-17 National Team player. Others expected to see good minutes this year are former U-17 National Team player Patrick Rickards, Danny Suits and sophomore Mikey Meschures.
Salcedo lauds the midfield as one of the stronger aspects of the team. 'We have very capable players at each of the positions, and unlike last year, I feel like we have a couple of true playmakers that will make a difference in our offense,' said Salcedo.
Junior Greg Folk will be an integral part of this group as a defensive midfielder. The U.S. Under-20 National Team player started in 19 of 20 games last season and was one of UCLA's most consistent players. 'With Greg's experience of the previous two seasons, he, along with Kyle Nakazawa, Tony Beltran, Michael Stephens, and James Jaramillo give us various ingredients that will make us very solid in the midfield,' Salcedo noted.
Former Under-17 National Team starter Nakazawa was sought-after by professional squads but opted to head to Westwood instead. He led the U-17s in 2005 with 13 assists and also scored 10 goals. He has 21 career caps with the U-17s and is a three-time NSCAA/adidas All-American.
Beltran comes to UCLA via St. John's, where he played in 21 games with 10 starts as a freshman a year ago, scoring two goals with three assists. Beltran is a U-20 National Team member who joined Myers and Sal Zizzo at the Milk Cup in August. He was also a starter on the 2005 U.S. squad that won the Milk Cup. The two-time Parade All-American was the No. 2 prospect in the nation after his senior year at Claremont HS.
Stephens is a starter on the Under-18 National Team and a two-time NSCAA/adidas All-American. He was part of the U-17 residency program from 2004-06 and has played in various tournaments with the Youth National Team around the world, including Portugal and Slovakia this past spring and summer.
Jaramillo is a 2005 NSCAA All-American and adidas ESP all-star. The freshman from Orem, UT has played with many of his current Bruin teammates on the Region IV team since 2002.
Salcedo calls freshman Andrew Sinderhoff 'technically one of our best incoming players.' The All-American from Santa Margarita HS was the CIF Division I Offensive Player of the Year this past season after recording 61 points (18 goals, 25 assists). 'He will benefit from our daily environment, and I can see him one day soon being an important player in the attacking midfield position,' said Salcedo.
The Bruins have great athleticism in the outside midfielder positions with the likes of Sal Zizzo, Jason Leopoldo, Damon James and Stephens. Zizzo had a tremendous rookie season in 2005, earning national All-Freshman honors as well as Pac-10 honors as the Freshman of the Year and as a second-team all-conference honoree. He scored one goal with five assists and started 16 games. He has seen a good amount of action with the U.S. Under-20 National Team this year and helped lead the team to the finals of the Milk Cup for the second consecutive year.
Leopoldo was also on that 2005 U-18 Milk Cup squad with Zizzo, Folk and Beltran. The 2004-05 NSCAA/adidas Scholar-Athlete of the Year and Gatorade State Player of the Year saw action in 12 games a year ago, with two starts.
James made the most of his four games played a year ago, scoring his first collegiate goal at Loyola Marymount. With three years in the program, his veteran leadership will be called upon by the younger players.
The influx of newcomers to the midfield should not be an issue, as most of these players have played together, either with the U.S. National Teams or at UCLA. Nakazawa and Jaramillo enrolled at UCLA during the spring quarter of 2006 and received valuable training time with the returning Bruin players during the spring season.
'The group of forwards that we have on the 2006 team are all capable of scoring goals,' said Salcedo. 'I expect our front line to be dynamic, and with the athleticism they possess, they should be a constant threat to opposing teams.'
Last year's top scorer Kamani Hill will not enroll in school during the fall quarter but plans to return in the winter quarter and play next season. This leaves Maxwell Griffin as UCLA's top returning scorer. Griffin scored four goals with two assists in his rookie year and is expected to be an important player for the Bruins at the center forward position.
Leopoldo, Zizzo and Myers also give the Bruins options up front, as do freshmen Robert Georgiefski and David Estrada, who are both proven goal scorers who will challenge the returners for playing time. Georgiefski, from Austin, TX and formerly from Irvine, was the leading scorer for the Pateadores during their 2005 national championship season. Estrada is a prolific goal scorer from Alisal HS who scored a national-best 66 goals last year, including an incredible 11 in one game.
'Our depth up top should give us the opportunity to put pressure on our opponents throughout each game,' Salcedo noted.
UCLA has perhaps one of the best goalkeeping groups in the nation with returning starter Eric Reed and freshmen Brian Perk and Trevor Hunter. 'Each of them has a tremendous work ethic,' said Salcedo, 'They are all physically different and have their own style. I expect our goalkeeping to be one of the strongest positions amongst our team.'
Reed had an excellent junior season, earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors and third-team All-Far West acclaim. He ranked sixth in the nation in goals against average (0.60) and shots on goal save percentage (0.843) and posted 12 shutouts. He continued his domination in the PDL this past summer, earning Goalkeeper of the Year honors for posting a league-low 0.62 goals against average along with a league-best 10 shutouts. 'Eric Reed was one of the best goalkeepers in the country last year, and I expect him to have a similar season as last year, if not better,' Salcedo said.
Reed will be pushed daily by Perk and Hunter. Perk is a starter for the U.S. Under-18 National Team and was the 2005-06 Parade All-American Goalkeeper of the Year. Hunter is a big goalkeeper with excellent range who won a national title with the Pateadores in 2005.
The Bruins open the season with four straight games against teams that made the round of 16, including back-to-back-to-back road games against defending national champion Maryland on Sept. 1, five-time NCAA champion Virginia on Sept. 3 and 2005 NCAA finalist New Mexico on Sept. 8. In addition, UCLA will face five other teams that made the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
'Our schedule this season, especially early in the year, will help us gain experience and quickly make us realize who the players are that can play in important games,' said Salcedo. 'I think our schedule is one of the more challenging ones in the country, and as a coaching staff, and as players, we relish the opportunity to compete against some of the top teams in the country.'