Jorge Salcedo and his men's soccer team have had a rocky year, but they sure are peaking at the right time. Sure, they were ranked in the top two in the preseason and went winless in their first two, but here they stand today getting ready for the College Cup as Pac-12 champions and winners of eight straight. Not too shabby.
Of course, the final win in the Bruins' eight straight to get here was last week in Louisville, where Reed Williams scored in extra time to top a Cardinals team that has the Bruins' number. Louisville eliminated the Bruins last year in an epic 5-4 quarterfinal match and got the Bruins again in this year's season opener so getting past the Cardinals is a big deal to this UCLA team. Now they're flying high as they head to Hoover, AL to take on top-seeded North Carolina (5:30 pm PT, ESPNU/ESPN3).
For the Bruins, it's going to be about keeping the ball. The defense has gotten much of the acclaim, and rightly so with Shawn Singh and Andy Rose playing tremendously in front of Brian Rowe, but much of the stingy defense can be chalked up to a system predicated on keeping the ball. If the Bruins can stay on the ball and knock it around, not only can they stretch the opponent and open up space to attack, but they can keep the opponent from getting forward as well. And with the Bruins able to keep the ball for long stretches, their defense is rarely threatened.
That's going to be especially important today against UNC because of what the Tar Heels have in the attack. Billy Schuler and Enzo Martinez lead a Tar Heels team that will punish you with every chance they get so keeping the ball and minimizing the opportunities for UNC will be vital. Keep UNC off the ball, get Kelyn Rowe and Eder Arreola chances to create and give Chandler Hoffman opportunities. Simple, but it's what the Bruins have to do.
Elsewhere the women's volleyball team is in Lexington, KY for the Sweet 16, where they are taking on Penn St. (right now on ESPN3) It's been an odd year for the Bruins, rocketing up to number one in the country earlier then dropping some matches to weak squads, but hopefully they can find their form today and in the next three matches.
Football and basketball are still the big elephants in the room, especially football. They fund everything else so how those two sports go is how the rest of the athletic department goes and that is what Chianti Dan gets judged on (epic fail). That said, the rest of the sports in Westwood are a source of great pride and the student-athletes are incredible representatives of the university so let's hope that men's soccer and women's volleyball can add to the UCLA title haul with numbers 108 and 109.