After losing a lot of their core players from last year, the UCLA Bruins look to start anew as the 2017 NCAA season kicks off Saturday night.
When I say UCLA lost a lot of core players, I mean it. Below is a list of the players who left after the 2016 season:
Juan Cervantes – Graduated
Michael Amick – Graduated
Reggie Cannon – Left after his freshman year to sign a homegrown deal with FC Dallas
Felix Vobejda – Graduated
Willie Raygoza – Graduated
Jose Hernandez – Left after his sophomore year to sign a homegrown deal with Real Salt Lake
Abu Danladi – Left after his junior year to enter the 2017 MLS Super Draft where he was selected No. 1 over all by Minnesota United FC
Seyi Adekoya – Left after his junior year to sign a homegrown deal with Seattle Sounders
Jackson Yueill – Left after his sophomore year to enter the 2017 MLS Super Draft where he was selected No. 6 overall by the San Jose Earthquakes
That’s a total of nine players who are gone. While it is upsetting half of the players listed left to turn professional, I can’t blame them. If they have the talent to make it in the pro league, then, by all means, go for it. While I can’t blame them, I can be upset. All these players have talent, which is why they went pro, but, with all that talent, why has the team fallen so short of expectations in the past two years?
With Cervantes now gone, that leaves the starting goalkeeper position up for grabs. It’s uncertain which of the four goalkeepers will start in goal. One of them is a freshman, so unless he impresses like women’s soccer goalkeeper Teagan Micah did her freshman year, then he will most likely not see the net. Both Kevin Silva and Cole Martinez started in each of the exhibition matches. If we’re going by whoever wears the number one shirt, then Silva looks to be the starter.
At this point, we won’t know until the season kicks off tomorrow night. While the starting goalkeeper is in the air, the defense looks to be in stable hands. Matthew Powell and Erik Holt were the usual starters on the backline last season and will most likely be the anchors on the backline this season. On top of Powell and Holt, junior Malcolm Jones looks like another great option on defense. Last year, he made 13 appearances with 10 of those being starts. I expect him to earn a starting spot as well.
With those three in the back, there will be a sense of familiarity in the defense. While the backline did take a hit, it wasn’t the biggest hit. The Bruins are returning two starters and a regular. The backline isn’t going to be completely new, which would be the worst case scenario. Defense is crucial as a team can’t win championships without a defense.
While the defense is shaping up to be the most stable part of the team, the offense has a lot of work to do. With the return of redshirt senior Brian Iloski, a lot of the scoring will now be coming from him. What’s also interesting about Iloski is that he has two younger brothers who are freshmen on the team, forward Milan, and midfielder Eric. Milan and Brian both have experience with US youth national teams.
With the uncertainty of the team, this year can be a make it or break it for Jorge Salcedo. Every year, Salcedo manages to get the team to the playoffs, but barely.
Last season, the team finished with a 10-8-2 record which is the 3rd worst record in program history and Jorge Salcedo’s record now boasts the three worst seasons in UCLA’s 50 years of men’s soccer — 2007, 2015, and 2016.
UCLA has the talent. Yet Salcedo just can’t seem to get the right results. While a lot of the responsibility should be put on the players, it should also needs to be put on the coach as well. The team regularly has one of the top recruiting classes in the country, yet Salcedo hasn’t gotten the on-field results. It’s like he’s the Jim Mora of men’s college soccer. Or would it be more appropriate to say that Jim Mora is the Jorge Salcedo of college football? It’s not clear, but both coaches seem to be able to recruit talent and then not get the on-field performance that should be expected.
In 2015, UCLA signed the number one recruiting class in the nation. The same year, the Bruins struggled to make it to the postseason. If you have the number one recruiting class in the nation and can barely make it to the post season, I believe it’s fair to start looking at the coach. It’s very frustrating watching a team with so much talent not play to their fullest potential. The Bruins have underperformed the past two seasons. Another less than stellar season should cost Salcedo his job.
This year is going to be an interesting one. It could be an rather uncomfortable one. After a huge loss of players from last season, the team has to start rebuilding. With rebuilding comes a lot of uncomfortable moments, a lot of growing pains. UCLA has the talent. It’s just about developing the talent and putting the right puzzle pieces in the right spot. Will this year be the year that happens or will the Bruins underperform once again?
It appears that Dan Guerrero has suddenly developed an itchy trigger finger. Last Spring, he replaced two underperforming coaches in Track & Field coach Mike Maynard and Women’s Water Polo coach Brandon Brooks and Brooks’ team only lost the national championship by a goal. In all likelihood, the Bruins should need to go very deep into the NCAA Tournament this year in order for Salcedo to keep his job. Exactly how deep? I guess we’ll find out in December.