Let’s kick off this roundtable with the program that seems to be have gone backwards this year, as in all the way back to 1952, when the UCLA Men’s Soccer team last had a losing season.
UCLA Men’s Soccer
1. The team took a big hit when multiple players left to go pro or graduated. While it was going to be an uphill battle for the team, did you expect them to perform the way they did?
melissacastro: It’s a yes and a no. The reason for a partial yes is because of Jorge Salcedo. In 2015, UCLA had one of the top-ranked classes in the nation and he managed to lead them to an underwhelming season. Then there’s this season, which has been the worst losing season since the 1950’s. I honestly did not think that would happen. Now, I didn’t expect them to completely turn around and have a stellar season, but I thought they could have at least made it to the postseason.
orlandobruin: I thought that, as it has in the past, talent alone could have carried the players through to making the tournament and bowing out in the second or third round. I truly think that this team would have performed as well as it did in the complete absence of any coaching at all, and just playing “playground style.” That they did not is, IMO, wholly due to the fact that the team was very young and inexperienced at this level.
Joe Piechowski: This team had plenty of talent. Jorge Salcedo comes from the Jim Mora School of Coaching where you get less production with more talented players than anywhere else. It’s time for a change.
2. While there were many things that went wrong this season, what went right? What was the silver lining?
melissacastro: The youth. While the same can be said of the women’s team, I do believe, as long as they have the right coaching staff, the men’s program can be restored to the high caliber it once was. Give it time, and the youth will be the future of UCLA.
orlandobruin: I agree with melissa. And I think that the youth will get this team to the tournament next year and the year after that. But they won’t get too far because they have zero coaching.
Joe Piechowski: The first losing season since 1952 can only have one silver lining and that would be if Jorge Salcedo were to finally be dismissed.
3. Will Jorge Salcedo be coaching the Bruins in 2018 (i.e., will Dan Guerrero finally do what needs to be done)?
orlandobruin: I don’t think so, which is pathetic. I think part of it is because men’s soccer is not a revenue sport, so it is harder for fans to vote with their wallet, like they did in football last season. The economic impact of a boycott is just not that great. Guerrero waited way too long with track and field, so there is no reason to suspect he’ll try to make a change here.
Joe Piechowski: Over the past 12 months, Dan has shown a propensity to part ways with underperforming coaches. True, he may have waited way too long with Track and Field, but, if anything, I think he was seriously disappointed with the Women’s Water Polo team not winning the NCAA title and pulled the trigger there faster than most would expect. He also showed a lot with his pursuit of Chip Kelly. Now, that UCLA Football appears to be back on track, he needs to turn his attention to Men’s Soccer.
4. What’s next for the team?
melissacastro: Jorge Salcedo needs to go. Plain and simple. For the team to move on, and truly move on, Salcedo needs to go. His time has passed. Even he said at the end of the season that the program will need to take a hard look at itself. If he’s telling the truth, then he needs to resign. That is the only way the team can move on.
orlandobruin: I do not think that Salcedo will be gone, as stated above. I do think that UCLA should bounce back next season based on talent alone. Do I think that the Bruins will make the tournament and make a splash in it? Yes, they’ll make it, but, no, they won’t make a splash. It will be a typical “Salcedo out” before the Sweet Sixteen, which will be just enough to welcome Salcedo back for the 2019 season. And more of the same.
Joe Piechowski: While Salcedo may not be gone, he should be. Having the first losing season in 65 years should get you fired. If he’s not gone this year, next season will be another mediocre one and Stanford’s NCAA Title lead will continue to grow.
UCLA Women’s Soccer
1. What were your expectations at the beginning of the season? Do you feel the team lived up to those expectations?
melissacastro: With a coach like Amanda Cromwell and with the talent, I expected them to go far in the postseason. If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect them to make it to the college cup. It’s not because I didn’t believe in them, because I did. It’s because they also had a young team and I was unsure how they would perform on the big stage. When it came down to it, they did not underperform. While the loss to Stanford will sting for a while, the future of the team is young and bright.
kylecardoza: After last season ended, I was probably the only person on the UCLA campus saying this was the team that would bring NCAA title No. 114 to Westwood. Although they didn’t ultimately capture the title, they were closer than every other team in the nation sans Stanford. With that, it’s clear I had high expectations, and they truly lived up to them. Last year’s team didn’t possess an explosive offense, especially with the injury to Darian Jenkins. This year was a different story, with the inclusion of Ashley Sanchez and Hailie Mace in the opponent’s third. With a plethora of sheer talent from top to bottom, the Bruins should be back in the College Cup next season.
orlandobruin: I had hopes for this team to make the College Cup when it was announced that Orlando would host this season. At the time, both Jessie Fleming and Mallory Pugh were supposed to play for UCLA, which strengthened my hopes. Even after Pugh bailed, I still had hopes due to UCLA’s outstanding recruiting class in 2017. Plus, the team was PKs away from the final 8, losing to then number one West Virginia in the snow last season. But, as you know, anything can happen in a single elimination tournament. UCLA advanced to the final game, which exceeded my (lofty) expectations this season.
Joe Piechowski: Like orlando, my expectations were pretty high, due mostly to Fleming and Pugh. They lowered a little when Pugh left, but I also knew that recruiting class was a good one. So, I was still pretty hopeful, but I wasn’t sure they would make it to the title game. I think my thought was that they were probably still a year away for competing for the title. So, they did exceed my expectations a little.
2. What are your thoughts about Hailie Mace?
melissacastro: When Cromwell first moved Mace to the front I didn’t think much of it. Mace had experience as a forward in high school. I just wasn’t sure if she would excel as one in the collegiate level because college is different from high school. I was pleasantly surprised. She scored 15 goals in her first season as a forward and she’s only a junior. I can’t wait for next season and to see how she plays in her final year.
kylecardoza: Amanda Cromwell praised Mace and her extraordinary speed last year in a road victory against Arizona – in overtime. Her swiftness and tenacity in the back line translated well, and she wasn’t new to the position. She was this year’s Darian Jenkins, with the ability to create her own shot with blinding speed and superb ball handling. But since UCLA had other weapons in Jessie Fleming, Anika Rodriguez and Sanchez, Mace didn’t always have defenders breathing down her neck. I don’t think she’ll notch 15 goals next year because the scoring will be more spread out, but it would be a huge surprise if she didn’t eclipse the 10-goal mark.
orlandobruin: I love her versatility. I love her playing up front. I love her pace and her ability to finish with both feet or her head.
Joe Piechowski: Last season, it was the Jessie Fleming show. Game after game, Fleming came up big whenever her team needed her to. This year, Fleming wasn’t going to be able to surprise teams as much as last year. The team needed to show that there was more to them than just Fleming. Mace provided that along with Ashley Sanchez.
3. The only two starters leaving are defenders Zoey Goralski and Mackenzie Cerda. But UCLA’s defense wasn’t a top-ranked barricade compared to the other teams in the College Cup. What should be expected from the back line next season?
kylecardoza: Goralski and Cerda were two-way players, as they could make runs down both sides of the field while defending well on the ball. The defense also lost Gabrielle Matulich, who played plenty of minutes off the bench. But even with the departures, there is still plenty of talent. Jacey Pederson – Joc Pederson’s sister – will likely fill in, while one of this year’s freshmen or an incoming freshman will take the final spot. Kaiya McCullough and Karina Rodriguez can hold down the center, as they are two of the better defenders in the conference. And Teagan Micah is continuing to develop, which is a good sign. I don’t see the defense missing a beat next year by too much.
orlandobruin: The Bruins are going to be fine in the back. In addition to the players mentioned by Kyle, I really like Viviana Villacorta in the defensive midfield. She definitely caught my eye in the college cup, where you can see the entire field and the runs players are making that are not in the televised frame. Villacorta has a nice workrate.
Joe Piechowski: In Amanda Cromwell, we trust. She has recruited well. She has coached well. I’m confident she will fill any open spots on defense and develop them.
4. Who could be a crucial X-factor for next season’s team?
kylecardoza: This may sound ironic, but it’s Jessie Fleming. Last year, the team may have been too dependent on her, but it allowed her to shine. She sort of took a backseat to Mace, Sanchez and Rodriguez this year, only accumulating six goals and eight assists. The numbers don’t mean she doesn’t have an impact, as she makes the game seem so simple, and truly makes her teammates better. But as she heads into her first season as an upperclassmen, she may need to take control at times. She is the most decorated player on the team, being the only Olympian. If you want a darkhorse X-factor, forward Julia Hernandez is one. She was a force in the beginning of the season, but faded as the season wore on. If she can find a way to stay in the lineup for a majority of the season, she could be a lift off the bench.
orlandobruin: I agree about Fleming. She is a player that does all the right things even though she could get away with less given her status as a decorated international with World Cup and Olympic experience. But she makes huge defensive runs time and again and plays a lot of minutes. She is a workhorse and I gained a new appreciation for her in the college cup. She is a great two-way player.
Joe Piechowski: The X Factor next year will be the further development of the entire team. Sure, Fleming is amazing. She reminds me a lot of Lonzo Ball, in that, she makes everyone around her look better. But the team is filled with youth. As all of that talent develops, this team is going to be a powerhouse. They may have lost the College Cup to Stanford this year, but I expect they will return to the championship game more than once over the next few years.