Welcome to Bruins Nation’s 2016 UCLA Men’s Soccer Preview and open thread for the season opener tonight against Maryland at the Stub Hub Center. Before we get into the preview, here is some information about tonight’s game:
Opponent: #4 Maryland
When: August 26, 2016, 7 p.m. PT
Where: Stub Hub Center, Carson, CA
The comment section for this preview is also your open thread for the game tonight.
2016 UCLA Men’s Soccer Preview
UCLA in 2015
The expectations were high for UCLA soccer in 2015, as the Bruins were the number one ranked team in the nation entering the season. This ranking was earned. In 2014, UCLA made it to the Championship Game in the College Cup, in which it fell to the University of Virginia on penalty kicks. The Bruins had a lot of returning talent in 2015; the only significant losses from 2014 were goalkeeper Earl Edwards, Jr. (to my Orlando City Lions of MLS) and attacking midfielder and true "number ten" Leo Stolz.
Unfortunately, the 2015 team did not live up to the hype, settling for a 11-9-1 record on the season, and an NCAA tournament loss to Seattle in the round of 32. Although UCLA lost many of its games to quality teams, losses to UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, Oregon State, and San Diego State were, quite frankly, embarrassing for a team of UCLA's pedigree.
UCLA lost several players that contributed to UCLA’s 2015 squad, mostly on defense and in the midfield. The most notable departures were midfielder Jordan Vale, who started 19 of UCLA’s 21 games, recording two goals and two assists; central defender, Edgar Contreras, who started 20 games; right fullback Nathan Smith, who started 19 games; defensive midfielder Grady Howe, who started 16 games; and forward Larry Ndjock, who scored three goals and notched and assist, mostly as a super sub off the bench. So UCLA has a lot to replace on the defensive side of the ball.
UCLA landed the #5 recruiting class in the country. The class includes freshman goalkeeper Kevin Silva and freshman defender Reggie Cannon, both of whom are on the United States Men’s National Team U-19 squad. Cannon could get a shot at significant playing time as a freshman this year.
Transfer and Junior College All American Jason Romero, a forward, also figures to see playing time. I don’t think UCLA Head Coach Jorge Salcedo would bring in a player with only two years of eligibility to ride the pine.
Defenders Ethan Shacknai and Alan Andreu, and goalkeeper Duncan Werling will provide depth.
Senior Juan Cervantes is UCLA’s starting goalkeeper. Period. He started 15 of UCLA’s 21 games last year, the other players from last year who started games are no longer with the program, and the four backup keepers consist of three freshmen and one sophomore, all of which have zero collegiate experience. Cervantes had a decent season last year, allowing 19 goals, registering 31 saves, with a 1.22 goals-against average per game. He collected four clean sheets and was responsible for eight of UCLA’s 11 wins. The Bruins are hoping for Cervantes to take his game up a notch and have a big season in his final year of eligibility.
Between the four backups, none of which have any college experience, I would give the nod to Silva, who has U.S.M.N.T. U-19 experience, giving him an edge over the other three.
Senior Michael Amick will anchor the central defense. Amick, who garnered ALL PAC 12 First Team honors in 2014, was an ALL PAC 12 honorable mention last season. It was a bit of a drop off for Amick, who I expect to bounce back to his 2014 form as a senior leader. Sophomore, Erik Holt, should fill the other spot in central defense as Holt has the most experience of the contenders, starting six games and logging 539 minutes last season.
Junior Chase Gasper started 18 games for the Bruins last season and is the likely starter at left fullback. On the right side I think talented sophomore Malcolm Jones will get most of the starts and log most of the minutes at right back. Freshman Reggie Cannon figures to see a lot of action in the backfield as well.
PAC 12 freshman of the year Jose Hernandez returns to the Bruins for his sophomore year as an attacking midfielder. Hernandez had an outstanding freshman year, starting 20 games, scoring 11 goals and recording four assists. He led the team and the conference in points with 26.
Jackson Yueill earned All PAC 12 First Team honors as a freshman last year. Yueill, an attacking midfielder, scored seven goals and recorded six assists in 2015. Yueill has U.S.M.N.T experience with the U-18 and U-20 squads as well. Although he’ll wear number 15 this season, Yueill has that "number 10" quality (as does Hernandez), has a great first touch, and is rarely dispossessed. If Yueill has the type of season that he had last year, he will likely turn professional and either go to MLS or overseas.
UCLA will be replacing Vale and Howe at the other midfield positions. Senior Felix Vobejda, who started 10 games last season, will likely fill Howe’s defensive midfield spot, although he might also play significant minutes at right fullback, as he has in past seasons. Senior Brian Iloski, who was lost to injury last season after starting three games, had a solid season in 2014 and could see a lot of action in the midfield, as could senior Willie Raygoza, who logged 208 minutes as a junior.
UCLA returns a pair of All PAC 12 First Team forwards in Abu Danladi and Seyi Adekoya. Adekoya led the Bruins in goals last season with 12, and Danladi led the team in assists, with ten, also scoring six goals of his own. Both players are very dangerous up front and this duo is one of UCLA strengths. along with the attacking midfielders.
Expected Starting XI
Junior Forward Abu Danladi
Junior Forward Seyi Adekoya
Sophomore Midfielder Jose Hernandez
Sophomore Midfielder Jackson Yueill
Sophomore Midfielder Felix Vobejda
Senior Midfielder Willie Raygoza
Senior Defender Michael Amick
Junior Defender Chase Gasper
Sophomore Defender Erik Holt
Sophomore Defender Malcolm Jones
Senior goalkeeper Juan Cervantes
UCLA is ranked #16 coming into the season. In light of last season’s high ranking and disappointing season, I think this ranking is appropriate, although frankly, this team has the talent to be ranked much higher. Hopefully, the lower than usual ranking (by UCLA’s standards) will put a little fire into UCLA’s game.
The pundits might be right, however, as UCLA had a poor showing last week in a scrimmage against the #15 ranked University of Indiana in Fort Wayne, where the Bruins full 2-0, surrendering goals in the 52nd and 81st minutes. As it was last season, defense was an issue for UCLA against Indiana.
Like last year, UCLA will not have trouble scoring goals in 2016. There is a ton of talent up front and there is ample creativity in the midfield. The issue for the Bruins is replacing two starters on what was not a great back line to begin with last year. Amick will need to play more like his sophomore season than his junior season, which was a mild disappointment considering the high bar he set fr himself in 2014. Cervantes will need to up his game from last season as well. If the Bruins can shore up things in the back, they could have a very successful season and make some noise in the postseason, as they did in 2014.
UCLA is predicted to win the PAC 12 Conference. As such, I think anything less than that in the regular season would be a disappointment. Wait, you may say, didn’t Stanford win the national championship last year? Wouldn’t a second place finish behind Stanford be satisfactory? To this I would respond that Stanford lost five players from that squad, including U.S.M.N.T. player and Seattle Sounder forward Jordan Morris. The loss of Morris cannot be overstated. It is a huge loss. Although Stanford is very good, I think UCLA has the better squad this season. So, my answer is "no," a second place finish to Stanford would not satisfy my regular season expectations.
My minimum postseason expectation for the 2016 UCLA Men’s Soccer Team is the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament. A College Cup appearance would be a great result for this team, and one that is not unreasonable.
Conversely, if UCLA has another season like it did last year, Coach Salcedo’s seat will get very hot, and all the goodwill from the great run in 2014 will dissipate.
That’s it for the Bruins Nation’s 2016 UCLA Men’s Soccer Preview. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you enjoy the game tonight. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or, if you are at the game, please give us your thoughts in person.