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UCLA Men's Soccer vs. Seattle: Can the Bruins Advance to the Sweet 16?

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After beating Cal Poly in their NCAA Tournament opener, the Bruins are in the northwest today to face Seattle in the Round of 32.

@UCLAMSoccer

NCAA Tournament Second Round

UCLA Men's Soccer

Opponent: #13 Seattle (17-3-1)

When: 6:00 PM PST, Sunday, November 22, 2015

Where: Championship Field, Seattle, WA

Audio: None

Video: SeattleU Live Stream

Live StatsNCAA GameCenter

Official Match Preview | Match Notes

NCAA Tournament BracketNCAA GameCenter

Who would have predicted that UCLA would shut out Cal Poly in its first round NCAA Tournament game? It was the Bruins' first clean sheet in a month, and only the third clean sheet of the season. Coach Salcedo started with a 4-5-1 formation with two attacking midfielders--Jose Hernandez and Jackson Yueill--which provided more cover for the back four, but it also dulled the cutting edge of the Bruins' attack.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, UCLA has scored over two-thirds of its goals in the second half, and that trend continued against Cal Poly. Jordan Vale scored the opening goal 13 minutes into the second half with a header from a Jackson Yueill corner kick. The Bruins got a second goal in the 77th minute when Cal Poly turned a cross from Felix Vobejda into its own net. Abu Danladi hit the post twice in the second half, but the Bruins eventually settled for a 2-0 win.

Juan Cervantes started in goal for the Bruins and made four saves in collecting his fourth career clean sheet.

With the win, the Bruins advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Their opponent today is 11th-seeded Seattle University (17-3-1). The Redhawks earned a first round bye.

Seattle enters the contest with a nine-game unbeaten streak. The Redhawks finished 9-1-0 in the Western Athletic Conference to claim the regular season title ahead of Utah Valley. UCLA and Seattle have three opponents in common this season: Cal Poly, Oregon State, and Washington. The Redhawks lost 1-0 to Cal Poly back in early September, and beat both Washington and Oregon State by a 2-1 margin in late September. The Bruins have defeated Cal Poly twice (4-1 and 2-0), split with Oregon State (a double overtime 1-0 loss followed by a 4-1 win) and beat Washington twice (3-2 and 2-1). Those results might suggest a slight edge for the Bruins, but UCLA has been too inconsistent this season to conclude much of anything from a small sample of past results.

Like the Bruins, the Redhawks score goals in bunches. Seattle averages 2.24 goals per game, not far behind UCLA's 2.35 goals per game average. There's a big difference in scoring defense, though: Seattle allows just 0.76 goals/game on average, whereas UCLA leaks goals at more than twice that rate (1.60 goals/game). Of course, UCLA has played a significantly tougher schedule which surely accounts for some of the difference, but still, UCLA is not a good defensive soccer team.

The Redhawks' top goal threat is sophomore forward David Olsen, a transfer from San Diego State. He's found the back of the net 15 times this season. Senior forward Hamza Haddadi has collected nine goals, and senior forward Michael Roberts has tallied eight goals and six assists. Those three forwards account for over two-thirds of Seattle's goals; it will be a difficult challenge for UCLA's back line to contain them.

The Bruins haven't been a good first half team this season. Because UCLA has been prone to falling behind, it's negated one of the Bruins' great strengths: the counterattack. Once the Bruins' opponents have secured a lead, they tend to keep plenty of bodies behind the ball. It hasn't been a good scenario for the Bruins during the regular season, and in tournament play where teams are better about protecting leads and closing out games, it's dangerous. UCLA needs to show more initiative at the start of games--going away from tactics that play to the Bruins' strength just doesn't make sense.

Seattle has had a better season than the Bruins, yet the Bruins have superior talent. Too many times this season, the Bruins have been less than the sum of their parts. If that changes today, the Bruins will beat the Redhawks.

Go BRUINS!