UCLA Men's Soccer
Opponent: San Diego State (7-8-3, 1-7-1)
When: 7:00 PM PT, Saturday, November 14, 2015
Where: SDSU Sports Deck, San Diego, CA
Live Stats: SDSU StatBroadcast
The Bruins (10-7-1, 5-3-1) play their final game of the regular season tonight in San Diego against the Aztecs. San Diego State (7-8-3, 1-7-1) is in last place in the Pac-12, and earned their only conference win nearly a month ago. However, if you're thinking that the 16th-ranked Bruins will have an easy game tonight against the worst team in the Pac-12, think again. The Bruins have rarely made anything easy this year. They've outplayed opponents and still found a way to lose. They've played poorly against a few mediocre opponents. They give away goals like Halloween candy. Easy isn't a part of the vocabulary of this year's team.
To give you an idea of how inconsistent UCLA has been this season, consider this: the Bruins enter today's game against the Aztecs with a three game winning streak--their longest of the season. That fact reflects the inconsistency in the Bruins' performances this year.
For those looking for a silver lining, the Bruins seem to be reaching their best form at the right time. They have probably already done enough to earn a place in the NCAA Tournament, though a win today would certainly remove any doubt about their participation in the postseason, and should improve their seeding. Since the Bruins have already secured a second place finish in the Pac-12, UCLA's main objectives today are improving their tournament résumé and building momentum heading into the postseason.
The Bruins continue to score plenty of goals. In last week's pair of games, they scored 6, and they've averaged 3 goals per game since the beginning of October. Unfortunately, the defense hasn't improved significantly during that time, conceding an average of 1.5 goals per game. For the season, UCLA ranks 158th (out of 202) in goals against average.
As I've written previously, it's hard for poor defensive teams to put together long winning streaks, and that's what we've seen from UCLA this season. As far as postseason play is concerned, it's all about winning streaks--one loss is all it takes to end a team's season.
A few Bruins have a chance to win individual conference scoring titles today. Jose Hernandez and Seyi Adekoya are currently tied for the conference lead in goals with 11. Abu Danladi is third in the Pac-12 in assists with 8. Hernandez leads the conference in points with 25, and Adekoya is second with 23. Needless to say, none of the UCLA goalkeepers are in contention for individual conference honors.
Although the Aztecs have just one conference win, they have played fairly well at home as evidenced by their 5-3-2 record at SDSU Sports Deck. Since the Bruins' last match against San Diego State--a 4-0 win for UCLA--the Aztecs defense has been allowing more goals per game while the offense has increased its scoring. It's unclear whether that's a coincidence or the result of a change in tactics, but either way, it hasn't helped the Aztecs to be more successful.
Coach Salcedo seems determined to continue with his midseason switch to his version of a 3-5-1 formation. Since I suggested early on that switching to a back-3 might help solidify the Bruins' defense, I can't complain about the change in tactics, but I'm baffled by the strange way that Salcedo uses his personnel within that system. For example, Coach Salcedo seemed to be using defender Javan Torre as a wingback recently, which really doesn't suit Torre's skill set. On the other, fullback Nathan Smith, who has shown an ability to be a threat going forward, continues to be used on the right side in central defense, which isn't ideal for a player of his stature (5'10").
My major concern about the Bruins comes down to this: the Bruins seem to be less than the sum of their extremely talented parts. It's really difficult to come up with an explanation for that observation that doesn't involve criticism of Coach Salcedo. However, the season's not over yet, so there's still time for the Bruins to get things right. It's up to Coach Salcedo to make it happen.