Opponent: New Mexico (0-0-0)
When: 4:00 PM PDT, Saturday, August 29, 2015
Where: Drake Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Audio
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: UCLA Live Stats
The #1 ranked UCLA men’s soccer team kicks off their season today at 4 PM PDT at Drake Stadium against the University of New Mexico. If you cannot make it out to Drake, the match will be televised on the PAC 12 Networks.
UCLA returns several starters from their 2014 campaign. Although goalkeeper, Earl Edwards, Jr. is now plying his trade for Orlando City in the MLS and central midfielder and number ten, Leo Stolz, is now in the New York Red Bulls’ organization, UCLA returns a number of stars from last season, including a potent trio of forwards (Larry Ndjock, Abu Danladi, Seyi Adekoya) and defender Michael Amick. Adekoya, Danladi, and Amick were named to the Preseason All- PAC-12 team, and Amick has been named to the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list.
Although New Mexico is unranked, they should provide a solid test for Coach Salcedo's team. Next week, the Bruins head to the east coast for two games against ranked opponents, squaring off against #13 Maryland on Friday, September 4th, and battling #3 Georgetown on Labor Day, Monday, September 7th.
UCLA Needs a Late Goal to Beat San Francisco
In their second and last exhibition game, the Bruins needed an 84th minute goal from sophomore midfielder William Cline to pull out a 2-1 victory against San Francisco. UCLA has conceded second half equalizers in both of its preseason games, which continues the Bruins' unfortunate habit of leaking late goals in 2014.
UCLA took a first half lead against the Dons with a 27th minute goal by senior forward Larry Ndjock and assisted by sophomore fullback Chase Gaspar. Although the Bruins dominated play in the second half, enjoying a 10-1 advantage in second half shots, the Dons knotted the game at 1 apiece when their only shot of the half found the back of the net in the 82nd minute.
Although it's important to remember that Coach Salcedo has used the Bruins' exhibition games to look at a number of players among his large contingent of freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and transfers, he's also preparing his team for the regular season, so he should be concerned about UCLA's continuing struggle to hold leads. The Bruins' title hopes won't amount to much if the team doesn't learn to become more tenacious in protecting leads.
Scouting the Lobos
New Mexico is a good, but not great team. The Lobos sit just outside the top-30 in the preseason NSCAA Coaches Poll, and have been picked to finish second in Conference USA this season in the annual preseason C-USA coaches poll. The Lobos were 11-6-1 last year, lost in the first round of the conference tournament, and did not qualify for the NCAA tournament. However, the Lobos have participated in the NCAA tournament in eight of the last ten seasons, so expectations for the New Mexico program remain high.
The Bruins beat New Mexico 2-1 in last year's match in Albuquerque, but the 2015 edition of the Lobos will look substantially different than last season's team. Although New Mexico returns its two top scorers from 2014--junior forward Niko Hansen and redshirt junior midfielder Chris Wehan--lost five top players from last year's squad, including nearly half of the Lobos' scoring output. Both players feature on the preseason Conference USA All-Conference Team, and Wehan has been named to the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list.
The other key returning player is sophomore goalkeeper Jason Beaulieu who was the best of the bunch in New Mexico's rotation last year. He finished the season with five shutouts in 11 starts and registered a 0.80 goals against average.
Although the Lobos didn't face a particularly challenging schedule in 2014, they posted impressive statistics: 1.78 goals per game, 0.89 goals against per game, and more than double the shot attempts of their opponents.
The Lobos head into their opener with the Bruins after an undefeated preseason. In three exhibition contests, the Lobos surrendered a single goal, which came in the last minute of a 2-1 win against Air Force. New Mexico followed that win with a 3-0 shutout of Grand Canyon, and a scoreless draw against Denver.
What to Expect
This is a game that UCLA should win. Although it would be particularly satisfying to see the Bruins keep a clean sheet against the Lobos, it doesn't seem like a probable outcome based on the evidence from the 2015 preseason or the 2014 regular season. Still, it would be progress if the Bruins show more tenacity in defending a lead, especially in the last half hour of a game.
Given the tremendous scoring potential of UCLA's trio of Ndjock, Danladi, and Adekoya, it's essential that the Bruin forwards turn that potential into goals, starting tonight. With a difficult two-game road trip next week, the Bruins need to start the season with a confidence-building win against the Lobos today.
Most important of all, although Coach Salcedo has nine returning starters and plenty of experience on the bench, the Bruins need to display consistent focus and application. If this team is going to return to the National Championship game, the Bruins have to produce more consistent, disciplined performances, starting with today's contest.