2008 Pac-10 Men's Soccer Preview: UCLA
Aug. 21, 2008
Courtesy: Liza David, UCLA Media Relations
With an influx of new players and a strong core of returning players, UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo is excited about the seemingly endless possibilities for his 2008 Bruins. A well-rounded 12-player incoming class and the return of six All-Pac-10 players give Salcedo many options with which to concoct a good mix on the field to challenge for another national title.
'There is going to be a lot of competition amongst these players, and I am looking forward to seeing how it plays out and which guys step forward and set themselves apart from the rest of the group,' Salcedo said.
The Bruins' 2007 season got derailed a bit during the off-season and early in the pre-season, with injuries befalling several key players on both the defensive and offensive ends. The Bruin attack should be much more potent in 2008, as all of the team's attacking players enter the pre-season healthy. In addition, the Bruins have a variety of options on the offensive end, with players with size, speed and savvy. UCLA's midfield is skillful and versatile, and the defense, although inexperienced, is anchored by one of the West Coast's premier defenders in three-time All-Pac-10 selection Brad Rusin. Goalkeeping is a big strength for UCLA, with five solid goalkeepers in the mix, led by U.S. Under-20 National Team starter Brian Perk.
'Our team coming in is healthier than we were last year and is very motivated to have a successful start to the season,' Salcedo noted. 'The goal in pre-season is to get ourselves sharp, to get ourselves fit, and to get ourselves prepared so hopefully we hit stride somewhere in the middle of the season.'
The Bruins have five goalkeepers on the roster, with returning starter Brian Perk expected to remain the starter. Perk is the starting goalkeeper for the U.S. Under-20 National Team and has put up strong results this summer, shutting out Mexico, Belgium and the Bolton Reserves. Last season as a sophomore, he started 20 games and posted five shutouts with 84 saves, earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors.
The one game Perk missed due to a shoulder injury was the NCAA second round matchup at Santa Clara, where Trevor Hunter came in for his first significant collegiate minutes and played well in goal, making four saves in the start. Hunter also received significant playing time during the spring season, so with that experience under his belt, look for him to provide strong play in goal when called upon.
Also providing depth in the goalkeeper position are redshirt freshmen Brian Rowe and Kevin Weiner and freshman Joe Scachetti, who will be redshirting the season after undergoing hand surgery during the summer.
'With these five players, I feel very strongly about our position, and I feel good that we have that much depth,' said Salcedo.
Defense is a little bit of a question mark, with just one returning starter from last year. That one starter, senior Brad Rusin, however, is a good one to build a defense around. Rusin is a three-time all-conference selection and top pro prospect who has garnered attention from European teams. A big presence in the backfield at 6-4, 200 pounds, Rusin will be looked upon to provide stability and strength in the backfield.
'Brad last year was one of our more consistent players, so I'm expecting him to come in and be a leader and really take over the backline,' said Salcedo. 'I have high expectations, and I'll demand a lot from Brad this season.'
UCLA is looking into employing either a three-back or four-back system and will use the pre-season to find the right combination. Bringing junior Danny Suits, who played more of a defensive midfield role last season, into the backline is a possibility. Suits had a breakout season in 2007, being voted the team's Most Improved Player after starting 12 games and playing in 16. Another veteran, Sean Alvarado, will have to sit out the season due to knee surgery.
Freshmen Andy Rose, Zack Zerrenner, Oscar Reyes and Victor Yanez should compete for some of the open starting slots. Rose, from Bristol, England, is the first international player the Bruins have had on its roster in quite some time. He was the team captain of the Bristol City youth team and possesses good leadership attributes and a wealth of experience. Zerrenner is an ODP Region IV team member who won three national club championships with Real So Cal. He scored the game-winning goal in the championship game in 2007. Reyes and Yanez both have experience with the U.S. Under-17 National Team, with Yanez seeing action with Mexico's U-17s as well. Yanez was also a two-time NSCAA All-American.
Regardless of who ultimately ends up starting in defense, Salcedo expects the entire squad to give a strong defensive effort.
'We will be a team that will defend from the front all the way to the back,' he said. 'Whether we'll play with three or four in the back, we will determine what we'll do to have a team that goes out there and makes it difficult for other teams. I feel very good about the players that can play in certain roles.'
UCLA continues to stockpile talent in midfield, boasting an array of versatile players who can provide different looks for the team. 'We have a lot of talented midfielders,' Salcedo asserted. 'We have a lot of players who are skillful and a lot of guys that have good 1-v-1 ability.'
Returning are trio of two-year starters in first-team All-Pac-10 performer Jason Leopoldo, UCLA Team MVP and second-team All-Pac-10 honoree Kyle Nakazawa, and U.S. Under-20 National Team member Michael Stephens.
Leopoldo has started on the left side of the midfield the last two seasons but may move to the right side this year due to the amount of left-footed players coming in this season. The senior was slowed by various injuries throughout the course of last season but is healthy and expected to get back to the form that saw him score eight goals with five assists in 2006.
Nakazawa, a former youth international, has started every game in his two-year Bruin career - 45 in all - and led the Bruins last season with seven assists. He has the ability to play in several different positions on the field - as a central midfielder, an outside midfielder, a forward or deep in the midfield.
Stephens has had 42 career starts and had a productive off-season, scoring a goal and assist with the U-20s in an international tournament in New Orleans and winning the North American National Championships with the Chicago Fire Super-20 team. Salcedo will be looking at this trio to provide leadership in the midfield.
Also returning from last year's squad to provide depth and versatility are Andrew Sinderhoff and Tomer Konowiecki. Sinderhoff, who can also play up top, saw action in 16 games a year ago and had two assists. Konowiecki, who is coming off a redshirt season, has two years of playing experience under his belt, having played in 36 career games with 17 starts at American University. Another transfer, Luis Serrano from Hartnell College, is expected to be an important player either in midfield or in the back.
A pair of freshmen with U.S. Youth National Team experience will look to contribute on the left side. Chris Cummings, who was in residency with the U-17s in 2007, could be used as either a left midfielder or left back. He is an adidas All-American and three-time U.S. Youth Soccer National Champion with Real SoCal. Eder Arreola, a 16-year-old phenom who has been playing with the U-20s, U-18s and U-17s, can also play as a left-sided midfielder, a central midfielder or as a withdrawn forward. Arreola scored eight goals in 2008 for the U-17s, including four in one game against the Chicago Fire Academy team in April. Freshman Daren Flitcroft was also expected to make an impact but will have to redshirt the season after tearing his ACL in the summer.
With several key players coming off injuries early in the season, the Bruin attack never really gelled in 2007, but 2008 looks promising with a healthier group and a good mix of options.
The Bruins have the option of playing with three forwards or two strikers. They can play with quick forwards like 2006 National Freshman of the Year David Estrada, Arreola or Leopoldo, or big forwards like 2007 leading scorer Maxwell Griffin and freshman Prince Lapnet.
Estrada made a huge splash as a walk-on freshman in 2006, leading the team with 12 goals and 28 points. Last season was a frustrating one for him after he fractured his foot during the summer and sat out a month and a half. He finished with just three goals but has worked to regain his form from two seasons ago.
Griffin had his own injury struggles as a sophomore in 2006, going down with an ACL injury early in the team's eighth game. He came back with a vengeance in 2007, however, leading the team in goals (nine) and points (18), with the highlight being a hat trick against Penn State on Sept. 16.
At six-feet tall and 192 pounds, Lapnet gives UCLA a size it has not had up top in quite some time. The French-born forward from Maryland scored 30 goals with 10 assists last year at Archbishop Carroll HS.
Also in the mix are senior Richard Flores, who can be a factor with his strong play inside the box, freshman Fernando Monge, who played well with the team during the spring season after graduating early and starting school in the winter quarter, and sophomore Zac Rothman, a hard-working player who can play either outside midfield or up top.
'I'm very much looking forward to seeing which combinations are going to be most productive and which ones are going to work best for the team,' Salcedo said. 'I think we're very comfortable with our options, and most importantly, the guys coming in that I'm expecting to produce are healthy this year. Their health and their fitness is obviously a very important part of their success on the field. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens.'
UCLA plays one of the toughest schedules in the nation, facing all but one of the teams that have won NCAA Championships this decade. Right off the bat, the Bruins will take on 2005 champion Maryland at The Home Depot Center in Carson, followed a week later by a pair of games at Wake Forest against the defending NCAA champion Demon Deacons and the 2001 NCAA champion North Carolina. Things don't get much easier, as 2003 and 2004 champion Indiana arrives in Westwood the following week, as does 2006 champion UC Santa Barbara just before the start of the Pac-10 season. These challenging games, no doubt will help UCLA prepare for Pac-10 Conference play.
'Our schedule is a very difficult one, but, as a player, you like to compete against the best programs, and you like to compete to see where you stand individually and where you stand as a program,' Salcedo stated. 'We definitely don't shy away. Each year we set out to test ourselves, and we are definitely looking forward to the challenge.'