In a wild, back-and-forth affair, the top-seeded UCLA men’s soccer team was bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in heartbreaking fashion, losing to Connecticut on penalty kicks (3-3, 5-4 PKs) at Drake Stadium on Sunday evening. Pac-12 Player of the Year Leo Stolz scored twice to lead the Bruins while freshman Felix Vobejda provided the other goal. Cyle Larin scored two goals to lead the Huskies.
UCLA finishes its 2013 season with a 12-3-5 record while Connecticut (12-2-8) moves on to the NCAA Quarterfinals to face Virginia.
The first 10 minutes went without a shot, but then UCLA took the early lead when Vobejda got the Bruins on the board with his first of the year. Senior Victor Chavez got the play started by battling with the Connecticut defense on a breakaway and creating a scramble in the box. Vobejda then was able to come up with the ball in the scramble, work his way left and chip the ball over Connecticut keeper Andre Blake for the goal. Just seconds later, the Bruins made it 2-0 when senior Victor Munoz was taken down in the box, giving UCLA a penalty kick. Stolz stepped up to take the kick for the Bruins and buried it in the lower left-hand corner for his 10th of the season.
Connecticut was able to regain some possession after the early goals and answered with one of their own in the 35th minute. Jakob Nerwinski started the play with a cross to the far post to Allando Matheson, who headed the ball towards the middle off of UCLA keeper Earl Edwards Jr. and over to Larin, who one-timed the ball into the open net for the goal. That would be all the Huskies would get in the first half and the Bruins took their 2-1 lead into the locker room.
The second half proved to be a little chippier as both teams increased their physicality on the pitch. Then in the 58th minute, Connecticut found the equalizer as Kwame Awuah blasted a long range shot to the near post past a diving Edwards to tie the match at 2-2. The tie proved to be short-lived though, as Stolz answered back for the Bruins with his second of the match. After taking a back pass from sophomore Jordan Vale, the junior from Munich, Germany unleashed a shot on net from the top of the box that deflected off a Connecticut defender and into the goal, giving UCLA a 3-2 lead.
The Huskies pushed forward once again and again found the tying goal in the 70th minute. Adria Beso sent a free kick into the box from the right-hand side and after a scramble, Larin came up with the ball and put it into the back of the net for the goal to level things at 3-3. Both teams spent the last 20 minutes of regulation looking for the winning goal and Connecticut almost found it with just 20 seconds to play. Nerwinski took a corner kick and sent it near post to Mamadou Doudou Diouf, who headed the ball to the back post. The ball beat Edwards but freshman Gage Zerboni was in perfect position and made a great clearance off the line to send the match into overtime.
The first overtime passed without a serious chance for either side and the match went into double overtime. In the 102nd minute, Vale almost ended the match for the Bruins when he took a cross in the box from Munoz right in front of net and launched a header on goal. Blake was in great position though and was able to stop the shot at point-blank range to keep things tied. From there neither side could find the back of the net and the match went to penalty kicks.
After each side made their first kicks in the penalty kick stage, Juho Karppinen stepped up to take the second kick for the Huskies and missed wide right, giving UCLA the advantage. Chavez and Zerboni made the next two kicks for the Bruins while Connecticut made its next two as well, making it 3-3 heading into UCLA’s fourth kick. Stolz was the man up for the Bruins, but his attempt sailed high and it leveled the PK stage going into the fifth kick. Both sides made the fifth kick, and on the sixth one Edwards looked to have stopped UConn’s Alex Sanchez from converting. However, the ball slid just underneath his arms and the Huskies took a 5-4 lead. Munoz’s attempt on the sixth kick was saved by Blake and the Huskies advanced to the Quarterfinal stage.
Overall, UCLA was outshot by UConn, 17-11, while Edwards made four saves in the match. Blake made two for the Huskies. Stolz finished the season with a team-leading 30 points and 11 goals while Munoz and Stolz tied for the team lead in assists with eight apiece.
“Tonight was definitely a cruel ending to our season,” head coach Jorge Salcedo said. “The highs are high and the lows are very low. We got off to a fantastic start with the two early goals and we were really dictating the game. Unfortunately we let them back in it before halftime and they just scored goals at opportune times. I thought we had the best opportunity in overtime with Jordan Vale’s chance and Andre Blake made a great save. Even going into penalty kicks I felt confident and sometimes that’s just the game. It’s not one play. It was a series of plays that led to our demise.”