The 2019 UCLA Men’s Soccer regular season gets underway next week and, although Bruins Nation will be publishing a season preview later this week, it’s also appropriate to focus a bit on new head coach Ryan Jorden. Jorden takes over after former head coach Jorge Salcedo resigned in disgrace on March 21, 2019 following the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admission scandal that came to light earlier that month. Salcedo had helmed UCLA Men’s Soccer for 15 seasons.
Jorden, who played at Westmont College in the early 1990s (not coincidentally, the Bruins play an exhibition game against Westmont tonight), has a history of turning around programs. He did it at Cal Baptist, taking a 6-10-1 2007 team and turning it into two-time NCCAA National Champion in his five seasons in 2011 and 2012. He also did it at Pacific, where the Tigers did not play NCAA soccer in 2013 before Jorden’s arrival the following season. Jorden built the program from scratch. The Tigers had not fielded a men’s soccer team for 28 years and, although his first two seasons were rocky, he went 13-4-2 in his third and fourth seasons, and 16-5-1 in his final season last year at UoP.
Unlike the much more talented Bruins, under Jorden’s tutelage the Tigers made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in the last three seasons, while UCLA flamed out in the first round last year versus Portland, didn’t qualify for the postseason in 2017, and also lost in the second round in 2016.
Jorden’s performance in 2017 as Head Coach of Pacific is particularly interesting. That year, Pacific failed to advance out of the second round of the postseason, tying eventual champion Stanford in Palo Alto after full time and extra time. The Tigers fell to the vastly superior Cardinal in penalty kicks, but it goes into the books as a tie.
Conversely, in 2017, UCLA did not make the postseason for the first time in decades, going 7-10-1, and losing twice to the same Stanford team that Pacific took to the limit. One of losses was a humiliating 5-1 drubbing in Palo Alto.
Based on his history, Jorden appears to be able to do more with less talent. Can he do even more with more talent at UCLA, something that Salcedo was never able to consistently achieve? Salcedo always had awesome talent, but never could make the team better than the sum of its parts.
Another interesting facet about Jorden is that, according to a Q&A with the Daily Bruin back in May, he plans to play a possession-based brand of soccer designed to exploit space and move opponents into unfavorable positions, creating an advantage in attacking numbers. The Bruins will look to dictate tempo to make it hard for other teams to cope. Jorden believes that, to some extent, this goes against the grain in collegiate soccer where physicality and individual talent is showcased more than the possession-based soccer seen in most professional leagues.
Jorden also hopes that UCLA will play an “entertaining” brand of soccer. I have yet to hear a new coach come in and say that he hopes his or her team plays a boring brand of soccer, so you can take that aspect of the Q&A with a grain of salt. I encourage you to read the entire Q&A with the Daily Bruin.
At least one of the senior leaders is buying in. In a separate Daily Bruin article published earlier this week, senior defender Matthew Powell stated that “[i]t’s a completely new environment, and I’m much more optimistic about how this group can perform.” Coming from someone who played for three years under Salcedo, that’s a solid endorsement of the new guy in charge.
But, right now, it’s all words. The proof will be in the pudding, so to speak. Will the Bruins’ record this season greatly exceed the .500 soccer the Bruins played in Salcedo’s final three seasons? Yes, that’s right. UCLA was 27-27-3 from 2016 through 2018. Will UCLA compete for a Pac-12 title, something the Bruins were far from doing in those three seasons? And, will UCLA make some noise in the postseason in 2019? Only time will tell if Ryan Jorden can lead UCLA Men’s Soccer back to its past glory.