Men's Soccer Opens 2007 Season With Saturday Exhibition At NC State

Aug. 21, 2007

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This Week -- The UCLA men's soccer team (ranked No. 1 by Soccer America, College Soccer News and CSTV in its pre-season polls) will travel to Raleigh, NC to face North Carolina State in an exhibition game on Saturday, Aug. 25 at 4 pm ET. Live stats will be provided at North Carolina State's website, gopack.com.

In The Rankings -- The Bruins are pre-season ranked No. 1 by Soccer America, College Soccer News and CSTV. The NSCAA/adidas Coaches' Poll has UCLA ranked No. 2, while Top Drawer Soccer picked UCLA No. 3.

Scouting The Wolfpack -- North Carolina State went 6-10-1 a year ago and returns its top two leading scorers in Alan Sanchez (8g, 1a) and El Hadj Cisse (6g, 2a). The Bruins and Wolfpack have only met two previous times, with UCLA coming out victorious in the 1990 NCAA semifinals in penalty kicks and in 1995, 1-0 in overtime at the Duke Tournament.

About The Bruins -- UCLA enters the 2007 season with the purpose of improving upon last year's showing. While improving upon a performance that brought the Bruins all the way to the NCAA title game might seem like a heady task, the pre-season No. 1 Bruins have a deep and talented squad that features 22 returning players, including 17 with starting experience. Leading the charge are the team's top two goalscorers from last year - sophomore forward David Estrada (12g, 4a) and junior midfielder Jason Leopoldo (8g, 5a). Also back to kick-start the offense is junior forward Maxwell Griffin, who was leading UCLA in scoring with five goals before going down in the eighth game of the year with a knee injury. UCLA's midfield looks strong once again with the return of Leopoldo, second-leading assist man Kyle Nakazawa (4g, 8a), U.S. Under-20 National Team starter Tony Beltran and 2006 UCLA Rookie of the Year Michael Stephens (2g, 3a).

Defensively, three of the four starters from 2006 return, including All-Far West and first-team All-Pac-10 honoree Mike Zaher, Pan Am Games team captain Greg Folk, and two-time All-Pac-10 selection Brad Rusin. In addition, the Bruins return the services of veterans Brandon Owens and Edwige Ligonde, who both missed the 2006 season due to injury, and Pan Am Games starter Chance Myers. There is no drop-off in goal despite the loss of three-year starter Eric Reed. Taking over between the pipes is U.S. Under-20 National Team goalkeeper Brian Perk, who lost just one game in seven starts last season as a 17-year old freshman.

In addition, UCLA adds six newcomers, including freshmen Kyle McAthy, Fernando De Alba and Brian Rowe and junior transfer Tomer Konowiecki from American University.

Zaher Named To Pre-Season All-America Team -- Senior defender Mike Zaher has been named a third-team pre-season All-American by College Soccer News. Last season, Zaher was a first-team All-Pac-10 and third-team NSCAA All-Far West selection. He led the Bruin defense to three post-season shutouts, including a 4-0 semifinal victory over fourth-seeded Virginia and was voted the team's Defensive MVP. Offensively, he scored two goals with three assists for seven points, and he ranked second on the team in minutes played with 2,165.

Injury Updates -- The pre-season injury bug hit the Bruins again this year, although to a much lesser degree than last year. David Estrada underwent foot surgery this week for a fractured metatarsal that will put him out for 2-4 weeks. Freshman Fernando De Alba suffered a dislocated knee and will also be out 2-4 weeks. Sean Alvarado and Edwige Ligonde are also recovering from pre-season surgeries. Alvarado (knee) is expected to be out another four weeks, while Ligonde (leg fractures) is expected to be out 6-8 weeks.

Bruins Go International In Off-Season -- Several members of the UCLA squad spent their summer representing the U.S. in international tournaments. Junior midfielder Tony Beltran and sophomore goalkeeper Brian Perk, along with former Bruin Sal Zizzo, helped lead the U.S. to the quarterfinals of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Canada and posted big wins over Brazil, Poland and Uruguay. Beltran had the game-tying assist in the 6-1 win over Poland, and Perk came up big with seven saves in the 2-1 overtime win over Uruguay in the round of 16. In addition, senior defender Greg Folk, sophomore defender Chance Myers and sophomore midfielder Michael Stephens played for the U.S. at the Pan American Games in Brazil. Folk was the team captain, and Myers and Stephens started in all three games for the U.S. Earlier this month, Perk and Stephens traveled to Japan with the U.S. Under-18 National Team for the SBS Cup.

Zizzo Parlays World Cup Success Into Pro Contract, Full National Team Call-Up -- After his successful showing at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in July, Sal Zizzo signed with Hannover 96 in the German Bundesliga, forgoing his final two years of eligibility at UCLA. Not long after signing with Hannover, Zizzo received a call-up to the full national team and is on the team's roster for a friendly in Sweden on Wednesday, Aug. 22. Zizzo will be joined on the U.S. roster by four other former Bruins - Kamani Hill, Jonathan Bornstein, Benny Feilhaber and Carlos Bocanegra.UCLA Selected No. 1 In Pac-10 Pre-Season Poll -- For the sixth consecutive season, UCLA has been picked to win the Pac-10 men's soccer title by the league's coaches. Defending Pac-10 champion California finished in a second-place tie with the Washington Huskies in the poll, three points behind UCLA. Rounding out the poll are Stanford, San Diego State and Oregon State.

A Look Back At Last Season -- Despite enduring a difficult series of challenges throughout the regular season, the UCLA men's soccer team persevered, advancing all the way to the NCAA Championship game. Not only did the Bruins have to play arguably the most difficult schedule in the nation, with 12 regular season games against NCAA Tournament teams, but they had to do it without several key players who were out due to injuries and with a mainly under-class team. The Bruins started the season without injured veteran defenders Brandon Owens and Edwige Ligonde, lost freshman forward Robert Georgiefski in the first exhibition and then leading scorer Maxwell Griffin in the eighth game of the season, and had star midfielder Tony Beltran out for a month with an ankle injury. Despite the obstacles, UCLA still managed to finish the year 6-2-2 in its last 10 games and earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

After a first-round bye, the Bruins steamrolled past its first two opponents, downing both Harvard and Clemson with identical 3-0 scores to advance to the quarterfinals at top-seeded Duke. The Blue Devils took a page from the Bruins' own playoff book, scoring early to put their opponent on its heels. Duke scored just 25 seconds into the match and again in the 20th minute. But UCLA chipped away at the lead, with Jason Leopoldo netting a goal just before halftime. Sal Zizzo, who scored three goals in the first two playoff games, again came through offensively, scoring the game-tying goal in the 78th minute and the game-winner just 30 seconds into overtime to lead the dramatic 3-2 comeback win.

The Bruins made their 12th College Cup appearance and looked to obtain the 100th NCAA title in UCLA's history. A weather delay postponed the team's semifinal game against Virginia for one day, but the Bruins were unfazed in their third consecutive game against an SEC opponent, scoring four second-half goals, all by freshmen, to defeat the fourth-seeded Cavaliers, 4-0. Estrada scored the game's first two goals 67 seconds apart, and Chance Myers and Michael Stephens tacked on two more after a Virginia red card relegated the Cavaliers to just 10 men on the field.

Twenty-four hours later, UCLA took to the field for the championship game at Robert R. Hermann Stadium in St. Louis in sub-freezing temperatures to face its Southern California neighbor, unseeded UC Santa Barbara. The odds were in UCLA's favor, as the Gauchos had played a grueling double overtime game after the Bruins' semifinal, but UCSB went on the attack immediately, belying any signs of fatigue, and scored the first goal in the third minute. The goal gave the Gauchos a rush of adrenaline and confidence, and they went on to win the game, 2-1, for their first ever NCAA men's soccer title.

The youthful Bruins (14 of the 18 players on the NCAA Tournament roster were underclassmen) finished a very successful season with a 14-6-4 record and produced an All-American, Zizzo, for the 24th consecutive year. In addition, Zizzo and junior defender Mike Zaher received NSCAA All-Far West acclaim and first-team All-Pac-10 honors. Estrada was honored as Soccer America's Freshman of the Year, and was selected along with Leopoldo and Beltran to the College Cup All-Tournament team.

Looking Ahead -- UCLA will open regular season play at the IU Credit Union/adidas Classic on Aug. 31-Sept. 2 in Bloomington, IN. The Classic will feature four marquee matchups to kick off the 2007 season, with No. 1/2 UCLA facing No. 9/10 Notre Dame and No. 7 Indiana hosting No. 7/9 Maryland on Aug. 31. On Sept. 2, Maryland will take on Notre Dame prior to the UCLA-Indiana matchup that will be televised on the Big Ten Network. The Bruins' first home game will be on Friday, Sept. 14 at 7 pm against Ohio State.

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