Aug. 21, 1999
LOS ANGELES - After 19 years of Sigi Schmid-brand soccer, the UCLA men's soccer team will have a new look in 1999 under new head coach Todd Salda?a. But those who fear change can rest easy - in this case, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Salda?a brings familiarity to the 1999 Bruins. An assistant to Schmid for five years from 1989-1994, his coaching style is not unlike that of his former mentor. And he has no intentions of tinkering with a team that returns nine starters, has five players who participated in the Pan American Games and has another two who played in the FIFA World Youth Championships - not to mention the nine players who were on the field when the Bruins won the NCAA Championship in 1997.
"The key to this season is a smooth transition," says Salda?a. "My objective is not to make drastic changes, but to continue the great tradition Sigi built. This is a senior-laden team, not an impressionable young team. We're going to draw a lot from that senior leadership and experience."
Salda?a will have a vast array of seniors to help ease the transition. Eight of them return for one final shot at another NCAA title. Leading the charge are Sasha Victorine and Pete Vagenas. Victorine last season was a finalist for Player of the Year and earned third-team All-America honors. Vagenas was voted the team's MVP for the second consecutive season and ranked third in scoring with 16 points. The oft-injured duo had to sit out the Bruins' 1997 championship run with injuries and missed some action in last year's playoffs. Needless to say, they are hungry for a title of their own.
"Sasha and Pete are such great competitors, and it's apparent that they have a strong desire to win a national championship, especially after missing playoff games the past two years," said Salda?a. "If they can stay healthy and continue to play at the high level they have been playing at, we should have a successful season."
Also key will be UCLA's ability to adjust to its one major change - the departure of scoring machine Seth George, who completed his eligibility last fall. George accounted for 25% of the team's scoring last year. Finding a replacement for the school's No. 6 all-time leading scorer will be a difficult task for Salda?a. Luckily, he has two very capable and proven scorers returning in senior Martin Bruno and junior McKinley Tennyson, Jr. Bruno has been UCLA's second-leading scorer the past two seasons, recording 25 points as a sub in 1997 and 17 in 1998. Tennyson is a big, strong forward who has a knack for scoring big goals. After scoring 23 points as a freshman, Tennyson's point total tailed off a bit in 1998 as he struggled with a leg injury, but he still managed 14 points in 15 games. This summer, he finished as the top scorer at the U.S. Amateur Soccer Festival with seven goals.
"There's no replacing a proven goal scorer like Seth," said Salda?a, "but hopefully having more people involved in the scoring will make us more diverse and give us more variety in our attack. Everyone is going to have to be involved, we can't rely on just one person."
Despite the absence of two key figures from recent years - Schmid and George - the remaining and new Bruins are poised to upkeep the tradition of UCLA soccer and not only extend the school's streak to 17 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances but also possibly win a second national title in three years.
Looking to fill the void left behind by Seth George are Martin Bruno and McKinley Tennyson, Jr. Also expected to contribute are senior Shea Travis, sophomore Sean Walker and freshman Kyle Julian.
Bruno enters the year as the Bruins' top active scorer (52 career points). He has proven in the past that he is a legitimate scoring threat, as evidenced by his 11 goals in 1997. That year, he scored a school-record four goals in one half of a game.
Tennyson is a big-game player known for his ability to score in the clutch. As a freshman, he scored the game-winning goal in sudden death overtime against Indiana in the NCAA semifinals. He also scored had a goal and an assist in the Bruins' 2-1 win over the top-ranked Hoosiers a year ago. With his imposing size and speed, he has the ability to be virtually unstoppable.
Bruno and Tennyson both struggled a year ago with injuries and are hoping to regain the form that they showed during their outstanding 1997 seasons. The duo enter the preseason healthy and eager.
"We're expecting a big improvement from these two," said Salda?a. "Their play during the spring showed that they're back on track."
Travis had his best season last year, scoring five goals and 12 points in a reserve role. A versatile player, he is again expected to play a key role off the bench.
Walker, with his speed and quickness, and the left-footed Julian, will also be tremendous assets to the Bruin attack.
Midfield should be another strong suit for the Bruins, which will consist of U.S. national team members players Sasha Victorine, Pete Vagenas, Ryan Futagaki and Shaun Tsakiris.
Victorine, a nominee for National Player of the Year the past two seasons, will be the hub of the UCLA attack. His passing skills and ability to dictate the tempo of the match make him a dangerous player on both sides of the field. Victorine's stint with the U.S. Under-23 National Team at the Pan American Games gave him a great amount of experience as well as a chance to show his attacking abilities. He spent most of the Games playing at forward.
Big things are also expected from Vagenas in 1999. The senior playmaker had an outstanding summer with the U-23 National Team, ending the Pan American Games as Team USA's leading scorer (two goals) and its team captain. Said Salda?a, "Pete has consistently been involved in the scoring with the national team. If we can get that same productivity from him here, we will be a very dangerous team."
Futagaki struggled a bit in 1998 but came on strong at the end of the year and at the World Youth Championships with the U-20 National Team during the spring. A sure sign that his game is back on track came when he was called up to play with the U-23s at the Pan American Games. The extra confidence he has gained in the off-season should pay dividends for the Bruins.
Tsakiris missed seven games in 1998 with a knee injury but is healthy now and playing better than ever. He was a major sparkplug for the U.S. U-20 team which won two games at the World Youth Championships, tallying two assists in the tournament. The junior from Saratoga is a good passer with a lethal free kick and is dangerous on the left side of the field as well as around the box.
Also competing for playing time in the midfield will be senior Adam Cooper, transfer Brian Foote, junior Caleb Westbay and freshman Jimmy Frazelle.
After missing the 1997 season with an injury, Cooper returned in 1998 and promptly scored his first career goal in the season's first game. He made his first two career starts and impressed the coaching staff with his improvement and work ethic. "Adam has made tremendous strides since his freshman year," said Salda?a. "Last year, he took advantage of the opportunities he was given and played well for us." Cooper's quickness and versatility will give him a good opportunity for quality playing time.
Foote, who scored three goals and five assists in his two-year career at the University of Pennsylvania, will also see time in the midfield. Foote, known for his great work-rate, was an All-Ivy League selection as a freshman in 1996.
Westbay was limited to just four games last season due to injuries, but in the time he played, he recorded his first career assist. Frazelle was an NSCAA All-Far West selection after scoring 21 goals a year ago at Bella Vista HS.
UCLA returns an all-star lineup in defense with All-American Carlos Bocanegra and Hermann Trophy candidate Steve Shak, as well as veterans Ryan Lee and Nick Paneno.
Bocanegra was one of 11 Collegiate MVPs selected by Soccer America after another stellar season in which he also earned first-team All-MPSF honors for the second consecutive year. The junior played in the FIFA U-20 World Youth Championships in April and then in the U-23 Pan American Games tournament. Last season, he was named by the Missouri Athletic Club as a "Player to Watch." He could be one of their Player of the Year candidates this season. His athleticism makes him difficult to beat in the air or on the ground. Bocanegra also has the ability to make things happen offensively, particularly on corner kicks.
Shak has continued his sky-rocketing improvement since his freshman year, in which he saw no playing time. Since then, he has become one of the finest sweepers in the nation and also played on the Pan American Games team. Shak, who is rarely seen out of position, has a great understanding of the game, which makes him a terrific organizer and leader in the back.
Lee is one of UCLA's top athletes, a versatile and speedy player who will likely play as an outside defender or wide midfielder. In addition to his defensive prowess, the junior, who has experience with the U-23 national team, is expected to be a more offensive threat this season.
Paneno, an honorable mention all-conference selection as a sophomore, will return to the backfield after playing as a midfielder the past two seasons. The left-footed senior has a great work rate and is a natural leader who often leads by example.
Also expected to see significant playing time is Brandon Kay. The sophomore jumped into the fire last year, making his first start as a Bruin against top-ranked Indiana. He performed solidly in the team's final seven games, all of which he started.
Freshman Scot Thompson, who was one of Soccer America's Top 25 Recruits and a member of the U.S. U-18 National Team pool, should also see playing time.
Junior Nick Rimando was outstanding in 1998, compiling a goals against average of 0.66 and shutting out eight opponents en route to being selected a second-team All-American. Rimando is a quick, fearless goalkeeper with good organization skills. What he loses in size, he more than makes up in sheer athleticism.
"After playing in two Youth World Cups, Nick definitely has the experience to lead this team," said Salda?a. "He brings our team a lot of character and athletic ability. He is a top-level goalkeeper."
Backing up Rimando will be junior Kevin Perrault, who won both games he started last year and shared shutouts in three games. Perrault is a big keeper with good range.
Sophomore Stephen Gardner and freshman walk-on Zach Wells, who is also an outstanding volleyball player, will battle for playing time as well.
In 1999, pre-season No. 9 UCLA will play three teams also ranked in the NSCAA Top 25. The most eagerly anticipated match-up will come Oct. 31 in a rematch of the 1997 NCAA Championship game against Virginia. The Bruins won that game 2-0 and thus won their third national championship.
With the MPSF reverting back to a dual division format, UCLA will have new league opponents to match up with in Cal State Northridge, UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State, along with old stand-bys UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton.
The Bruins will have two tough games in back to back weeks - Virginia Oct. 31 and Cal State Fullerton Nov. 7. Chances are that the MPSF Pacific Division title will come down to that final league match with the Titans.
"The Virginia and Fullerton matches will be a big climax to the end of our regular season," said Salda?a. "It will definitely put us in the right mode for playoffs and give us an NCAA playoff atmosphere."