It's about time to start paying attention to UCLA soccer, for both the women's and the men's teams.
The men's team is ranked #1 in the nation, and the women are #2. And the thing is, the women's team might be better than the men's team.
The #1 men's team has had an unusual but very dramatic 2013 season so far. They are 10-3-4, which isn't the kind of record that usually gets you ranked #1 in the country. But when you beat then-#3-ranked Washington one weekend and then-#1-ranked Cal the next weekend that can do it. In fact, during this season, UCLA has defeated four top-five teams, including Indiana (then #1), and Cal State Northridge (then #5).
Interestingly, UCLA is a longshot to win the confernce. They are in third place at 5-1-3, behind first-place Washington (6-1-2) and second-place Cal (6-2-1) with one conference game remaining. UCLA won the last two straight Pac-12 championships and has won eight overall.
But as UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo said, "I think every program in the country would rather be a top-four seed than win their conference championship. We haven't had a top-four seed at UCLA since 2003; we have to keep doing our part and hopefully the committee will reward us."
Doing the part would be finishing off the season with a win over San Diego State (5-9-2, 2-5-2) this Saturday in San Diego. The Bruins beat the Aztecs, who are in fourth place in the conference, earlier in the season in the match-up at UCLA's Drake Stadium, 2-1.
|Senior defender Joe Sofia.|
Talking about dramatic, that game was the first of four overtime games in a row for the Bruins, with all three subsequent overtime games ending in ties. UCLA got the equalizer on Oregon State in the last 2 minutes of regulation; Washington tied up UCLA in the last four minutes of regulation on an own goal; and then Oregon State tied the Bruins in literally the last 30 seconds for another tie. Earlier in the season UCLA had beaten then-#1-ranked Indiana on a golden goal in overtime.
It's been quite an accomplished season for the Bruins so far. UCLA began the year ranked #7 in the country, having to replace five starters from a year ago, and fell to as low as #13. It, though, did have the #1-ranked recruiting class in the nation for 2013 (which is actually the fourth time Salcedo has gotten the #1-ranked class in 10 years at the helm of UCLA's program), and this year's team has done well at mixing youngsters and veterans. Junior midfielder Leo Stolz is the leading goal scorer with 7 on the year, followed by senior forward Victor Chavez with 6. Senior midfielder Victor Munoz leads the team with 8 assists. Senior defender Joe Sofia anchors the back line and junior Earl Edwards is considered one of the best keepers in the conference and potentially the country.
The future is bright, too, with just three of the top 12 players on the team being seniors.
After UCLA finishes off the regular season at San Diego State Sunday, the NCAA Tournament begins Thursday, November, 21st, and UCLA will almost certainly get a home-field seed. The first and second rounds are Nov. 21-24, while the third round and quarterfinals are Dec. 1-Dec. 7th, and also played on a home field. The NCAA College Cup is December 13-15 in Philadelphia.
The Bruins have reached the NCAA College 13 times, with national championships in 1985, 1990, 1997 and 2002.
The women's team has clinched its 11th Pac-12 Championship and first since 2008. The second-ranked Bruins are 17-1-2 and 9-0-2 in the conference, and finished the regular season in grand style last Thursday night by pounding crosstown rival USC, 4-1.
That goal allowed to USC was the first goal an opponent had scored on UCLA in Drake Stadium this season. UCLA's defense is #1 in the country, having allowed just 6 goals this season for an average of .32 goals per game.
The women are young, talented, athletic and speedy. The Bruins' top goal scorer is freshman forward Darian Jenkins, who has 10 goals on the season. Taylor Smith, a sophomore, is the second-leading goal scorer with 8 and the team's co-leader in assists (8). Both Jenkins and Smith are lightning fast. The team is anchored by senior midfielder Jenna Richmond, junior midfielder Sam Mewis and junior defender Abby Dahlkemper. With 29 career shutouts, junior goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland is third on UCLA's all-time shutout list for keepers and will probably end her career #1.
The Bruins, with that great defense behind them, are an offensive onslaught of speed and shooting, having out-scored their opponent 36-6, and outshot opponents 340 to 140.
It has been somewhat of a revelation of a season, too, for the Bruins, breaking Stanford's four-year stranglehold on the Pac-12 championship in just the first year under new head coach Amanda Cromwell, who took over for B.J. Snow when he left to coach the U-17 Women's National Team.
Perennial power Stanford, in fact, is currently in fourth place, with just a 6-5 conference record, falling behind upstart second-place Washington State (7-3-1) and third-place Utah (6-3-2).
The UCLA women's future is probably even brighter than the men's: there are only two seniors among the 15 players getting the most minutes on the team.
UCLA will almost certainly get a top-four seed and start the NCAA tournament first round at home November 15th. The NCAA College Cup is December 6-8 in Cary, North Carolina.
The UCLA women's team has been to the College Cup eight times (seven years in a row, from 2003 to 2009), and the final game three times, but has never won a women's soccer national championship. UCLA's biggest obstacle this season will probably be #1-ranked and undefeated Virginia.