UCLA Women's Soccer
Opponent: Colorado (7-6-2, 1-4-1)
When: 6:00 PM PT, Friday, October 23, 2015
Where: Drake Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Pac-12 Mountain
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
UCLA heads into the weekend with no margin for error if it hopes to earn an NCAA tournament berth in 2015. The Bruins (6-7-1, 2-3-1) have been very ordinary this season, and ordinary puts them in the middle of the Pac-12--seventh place, to be precise.
At this point of the season, with only five games remaining on the schedule, UCLA probably needs to win four of them to be considered for the postseason. It's possible that three wins, a tie and a loss would be enough to get the Bruins into the tournament, but anything less than that will almost certainly keep Coach Cromwell's team on the sidelines this postseason.
Fortunately, UCLA is hosting a pair of very winnable games this weekend. Tenth-place Colorado (7-6-2, 1-4-1) is up first, with ninth-place Utah set for Sunday.
Simply put, these are must-win games for the Bruins. UCLA has a much tougher trio of opponents (Stanford, California, USC) to close out the regular season, so the Bruins can ill-afford to drop points this weekend.
The Buffaloes have really been struggling to find the back of the net this month. Colorado has scored only two goals in its last five games, a stretch that has corresponded to four losses and a draw. Considering how poorly Coach Cromwell's defense has played this season, the Bruins have to make the most of a matchup with a team in a scoring slump.
There's been stability in the Bruins back four of late, but improvement has been slow to come. It will come eventually, of course, but with three-quarters of the regular season in the books, eventually might not be soon enough for 2015.
Opponent: #25 Oregon (10-7, 4-4)
When: 6:00 PM PT, Friday, October 23, 2015
Where: Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, OR
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: GoDucks GameWatch
The Bruins will put their five-game winning streak on the line this evening against the Oregon Ducks in Eugene. The Ducks (10-7, 4-4) are not your typical seventh-place team, though. They hold down the 25th spot in the AVCA Coaches Poll, and they have experience playing against some of the best teams in the nation. The Ducks are dangerous, especially if they're underestimated.
Fortunately, the Bruins have been playing very well lately. They aren't just winning--they are winning impressively, and performing with a rare consistency and focus. It starts with the fundamentals. Coach Sealy deserves much credit for a tremendous coaching job, especially in his technical work. He is, and always has been, a terrific instructor. Questions remain about his ability to recruit and manage personnel, but his ability to teach volleyball is outstanding.
The Bruins winning streak has been driven by a multitude of factors, but prominent among them is the fantastic work of middle blockers Claire Felix and Jennie Frager. The pair have been highly efficient in attack and have shown improvement in their blocking. In my opinion, this is the best middle blocker combination UCLA has had during the Sealy-era.
Also, libero Taylor Formico deserves recognition for her superb work in defense and her precise passing. She played at a high level last year in her first season as a Bruin, and she's been even better this year. She's the key to the UCLA defense and the Bruins' recent excellent form.
The Ducks rely on a fast-paced offense that places a lot of pressure on opposition blockers. It's a challenge that the Bruins are well-equipped to handle if they can keep their focus and continue to execute the fundamentals. As well as the Bruins are playing right now, I don't anticipate a letdown against the Ducks.
UCLA Men's Soccer
Opponent: #3 Stanford (11-1-1, 4-0-1)
When: 8:00 PM PT, Friday, October 23, 2015
Where: Cagan Stadium, Palo Alto, CA
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: None
Which UCLA team will show up tonight? The team that gave away two goals to Stanford last week en route to a 2-1 loss? Or will it be the team that came back three days later to thrash Cal 6-0? Coach Salcedo's team is predictably unpredictable and consistently inconsistent.
I have to admit that UCLA Men's Soccer is the most frustrating program for me to follow. This season, the Bruins combined an amazingly talented freshman class with nearly all of the starters from last year's team that played for the national championship. To say that the results have not been pretty would be an understatement. The offense has been far better at creating chances than finishing chances, and the defense has looked utterly clueless at times. That's the best explanation for a team that started the season with the #1 ranking now sitting outside the top-25 with an unimpressive 7-6-0 record.
The Bruins have played better since the start of October, though. A formation tweak and a bit more discipline and energy in midfield have contributed to recent improvement, with the Bruins currently holding down the second spot (behind Stanford) in the Pac-12.
UCLA can close in on Stanford in the standings with a win tonight. When the Bruins played Stanford last week, UCLA dominated for long stretches of the match, but two giveaways at the back proved terribly costly as each led directly to a Stanford goal. Needless to say, the Bruins can't be so generous tonight and expect to win.
UCLA has a tremendous amount of firepower up front. The trio of Abu Danladi, Seyi Adekoya, and Larry Ndjock may well be the best group of strikers in collegiate soccer. The Bruins also have two of the best freshmen in the country in Jose Hernandez and Jackson Yueill, both of whom have proven to be potent scorers. The result is that UCLA is the sixth highest scoring team in the nation, averaging just over 2.3 goals per game.
On the other hand, the UCLA defense has been dreadful; it ranks 150th in the nation with a 1.56 goals against average. The Bruins don't need a complete transformation of their defense, though. Merely achieving consistent competence is all the Bruins need to beat most teams on most days. That shouldn't be too much to ask.
As I wrote in my recap of last week's action, the difference between the Bruins and the third-ranked Cardinal in their previous match was small. The Bruins were the better side for most of last week's game, but two errors tipped the outcome in favor of Stanford. If UCLA can avoid making similar mistakes tonight, the Bruins can and should win tonight's encounter.