#7 UCLA Men's Soccer (3-1-1)
Opponent: #13 UC Santa Barbara (4-2-0)
When: 7:00 PM PDT, Saturday, September 17, 2016
Where: Harder Stadium, Santa Barbara , CA
Video: Big West TV - UCSB
Live Stats: UCSB Gauchos Live Stats
Last season, the Bruins didn't manage to win three games in a row until November. By then, of course, the frustrating inconsistency of the team's performances had been well-established, so it came as no surprise when UCLA's three-game winning streak came to an end against last place San Diego State.
While it's far too early to know whether this year's team can consistently produce performances that match the high talent level of its players, it will be a good sign if Coach Salcedo's squad can string together three straight wins before the start of the Pac-12 season. In particular, a win against a very good and experienced Gauchos team may be an indication that the Bruins are maturing and ready to mount a serious challenge for the Pac-12 title.
Since the Bruins loss to Duke two weeks ago, they've played some pretty impressive soccer. Mind you, UCLA has played just two games during that stretch, but the pair of wins revealed the heights this team can reach when it is at full strength and focused. A 6-1 thumping of (then) top-ranked Akron was followed by a solid 4-0 win over underrated Cal State Northridge.
The return of Abu Danladi from a hamstring injury certainly was a significant component in the Bruins' scoring surge, but more impressive from my perspective has been UCLA's markedly improved defense. So far this season, the Bruins have allowed just 3 goals in 5 games (including one overtime game). That corresponds to a .57 goals against average, which puts the UCLA defense in the top-20 nationally. For the sake of comparison, the Bruins' goals against average last season was nearly three times greater (1.51) and UCLA's national ranking in GAA was #148. Or, for a more apt comparison, Coach Salcedo's defense surrendered eight goals through the first five games in 2015.
After the disappointment of last season, it was clear to everyone following the Bruins that improving the defense had to be the starting point for producing consistent performances. Although the performances by UCLA's defense this season have been, for the most part, encouraging, Coach Salcedo and his squad still have a lot to prove. Today's test against the 13th-ranked Gauchos (4-2-0) is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the solidity and toughness of the Bruins' revamped defense. UCSB has one of the more potent offenses in the nation, so the UCLA defense will face a serious challenge this evening.
Last season UCLA was coming off a 4-1 win over Cal Poly when UCSB visited Drake Field and thrashed the Bruins 4-2. The Bruins were out-hustled, out-muscled, and out-classed by the Gauchos that day. Let's hope that the Bruins can turn the tables today and show that they truly deserve their top-10 ranking.