Aug. 25, 2004
The UCLA men's soccer team lost its head coach plus six starters, three of whom were All-Americans and all of whom were All-Pac-10 honorees, from last year's team that won 20 games and advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinals. A rebuilding year in 2004 would not be unexpected. Unless you're the 2004 Bruins, who have reloaded with the nation's No. 1 recruiting class for the second year in a row to help form a very deep and well-rounded squad. First-year head coach Jorge Salcedo is certainly no stranger to UCLA soccer's success through the years, having helped UCLA win the 1990 NCAA Championship as a freshman and serving as assistant coach for the 2002 Championship team. Salcedo takes over the reigns as head coach after a three-year stint as assistant coach. Salcedo is also no stranger to being the Bruins' head coach, having twice been acting head coach during two different coaching transitions. With Salcedo at the helm, the Bruins' style of play will remain in place, and it is a style that was very successful not only last year, but during a spring season in which the Bruins twice defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy. Although the Bruins are an underclassman dominated team (just six players have played two or more seasons at UCLA), Salcedo feels that this team has what it takes to contend for another national championship. "Of all the years I have been here, this is one of the most well-rounded groups we've had in several years, if not ever," Salcedo said. "Every year at UCLA, we have an opportunity to have a successful season. This is another year in which we should have success. Although we only have three seniors, and with experience being important, this team has the attitude and mentality that can help make up for the lack of experience we have." "We have 10 incoming freshmen and transfers, so it will take some time to incorporate them into our established system and get them comfortable with the way we want to play, but they'll quickly adapt into what we want to establish." Defense UCLA absorbs a big loss in the backline with the graduation of first-team All-American Leonard Griffin, Team Defensive MVP Dru Hoshimiya and 2002 starter Tony Lawson. However, Salcedo is very confident in the backline, which will be built around senior Aaron Lopez, a M.A.C. Hermann Trophy candidate a year ago. Lopez was the hero of UCLA's 2002 NCAA Championship team, scoring the game-winning goal with 1:02 remaining in the championship match. He was also UCLA's Team MVP that season and is a two-time All-Pac-10 selection. Lopez is moving from his defensive midfield position to a central back role. "Although Aaron has had tremendous success as a midfielder, we feel like for this year's team we need his experience and leadership, which is vital to the defense," said Salcedo. "Aaron is very eager, along with the other two seniors, to be the first senior class to win two championships." Joining Lopez in central defense will be sophomore Brandon Owens. The only Pac-10 freshman to earn first-team all-conference honors last season, Owens started 20 games in 2003 and scored two goals. He helped the Bruin defense post a school record-tying 0.52 team goals against average. Returning at wingback are junior Jordan Harvey and sophomore Kiel McClung, both members of U.S. Youth National Teams. On the left side, Harvey enters his third season with high expectations. Said Salcedo, "Jordan is in tremendous form. His confidence is very high, and we could expect a lot out of him this year." In 2003, Harvey tied for third on the team in goals scored with four before having to miss the post-season due to national team scheduling. The Bruins will benefit from no such conflicts in 2004. McClung has been coming on strong with the U.S. U-20 National Team, starting for the team in two international tournaments over the summer. He had a standout rookie season in 2003, starting 16 games and scoring three goals and two assists while receiving All-Freshman honors from College Soccer News. A pair of highly-touted U.S. National Team freshmen will also see considerable playing time as wing-backs. Mike Zaher is a two-time Parade All-American, a 2004 McDonald's All-American and the 2004 Gatorade Player of the Year for Nevada. Greg Folk is also a Parade and McDonald's All-American and comes from the U.S. Residency program in Bradenton, Fla. At central defense, look for redshirt sophomore Luke Mehring and athletic freshmen Marvell Wynne and Edwige Ligonde to compete for playing time as well. Mehring is coming off an injury that forced him to redshirt the 2003 season, but he has recovered enough to hopefully regain the form he showed as a freshman in 2002, when he earned the team's Rookie of the Year award. Wynne is a 2003 NSCAA/adidas All-American and perhaps one of the fastest players in the nation, having set two school records on the track at Poway HS. Ligondé is a three-time All-Valley honoree and helped his Buchanan HS team post 38 shutouts in 58 games his last two seasons. Midfield The Bruin midfield will be the enforcers on the field, as the midfield comprises some of UCLA's strongest and most physical players. Leading the way in midfield will be junior Ryan Valdez. Last season was a breakthrough year for Valdez, who started 12 games and scored two goals and two assists. "Ryan Valdez proved during the spring that he can function in a variety of roles," said Salcedo. "His leadership will be looked upon both on and off the field. It's a real testament to Ryan and his work ethic to have the status on the team that he has." Joining Valdez in the central midfield are sophomores Patrick Ianni and Taylor Canel and junior transfer Ramon Manak. Ianni played in 19 games last season with six starts. One of UCLA's strongest players physically, Ianni is a tough defender with loads of National Team experience. Canel saw action in five games last season but played very well in place of injured teammates in UCLA's final two NCAA Tournament games. Manak is a transfer from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he played in 2001 and 2002. UCLA's attacking midfielders Mike Enfield and Jonathan Bornstein are proven scorers. Enfield compiled 13 points on three goals and seven assists in a mostly reserve role last year. As a sophomore in 2002, the former U.S. U-20 National Team member earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. Salcedo has high expectations for Enfield in his senior season. "On the attacking side of the midfield, Mike Enfield will shoulder the task of getting us goals," Salcedo said. "Mike will prove to everyone that not only can he create scoring opportunities but also finish them himself." Bornstein, a junior transfer from Cal Poly Pomona, recorded 53 points in just two seasons. He was a two-time all-region performer as well as the 2002 CCAA Freshman of the Year. Redshirt sophomore Eli Meschures, who played 15 games last season, and sophomore Benny Feilhaber, who scored two game-winning goals in 16 games as a freshman, will provide experienced depth in the attack, as will redshirt freshmen Trini Gomez, a former U.S. U-17 National Team member, and Damon James. Forward UCLA has loads of young talent at the forward position. Leading the way will be 2003 Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year Chad Barrett and Soccer America's No. 1 recruit for 2004, Kamani Hill. Barrett, UCLA's top returning scorer from last season, scored 28 points on 10 goals and eight assists, totaling the most points by a Bruin freshman since Joe-Max Moore scored 32 in 1990. In addition to his Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year honor, Barrett was also selected as a Freshman All-American by Soccer America. The U.S. U-20 National Team member had a strong showing at the 2004 Milk Cup in Northern Ireland this past July, scoring three of the team's four goals in the tournament. "Chad Barrett had a fabulous freshman season, but he, like so many other guys on the team, has not rested on his laurels and is hungry to better his freshman numbers," noted Salcedo. Hill played alongside Barrett at the Milk Cup and has amassed nine international appearances for the U.S. He is a three-time NSCAA All-American and was a member of the Parade and McDonald's All-America teams in 2004. Freshman Richard Flores is another prolific scorer having notched nearly 100 goals in his final two seasons at Animo Leadership School. Flores displayed his goal-scoring prowess at the McDonald's All-American game, notching two goals for the West squad. Junior Evan Corey gained huge momentum at the end of the 2003 season, scoring two goals in UCLA's 2-0 win over FIU in the NCAA third round. He, along with senior Ahmed Khalil and freshman Ryan Munoz will give the Bruins a vast array of options up front. Goalkeeper The graduation of Zach Wells, an All-American and one of the top goalkeepers in UCLA history, means that a new starter will be between the pipes for the first time since 2000. A decision between junior Nate Pena and redshirt sophomore Eric Reed will be made during the pre-season. Pena and Reed each played four games last season and recorded goals against averages under 1.00. "Both Nate Pena and Eric Reed will be great options for our team," Salcedo stated. "Both have proven that they are worthy of a starting position. Unfortunately, in soccer you can only use one goalkeeper. Who becomes our starter will be a more difficult choice, but the starter, regardless of who it will be, will be thoroughly prepared. Both Nate and Eric have probably been the two hardest-working players during the off-season." Providing additional backup will be freshman Eric Conner, a member of the ODP State and Region team. A two-year team captain at Mission Viejo HS, Conner was the league MVP last season. "Eric Conner will gain invaluable experience throughout the season, and if an unfortunate situation were to happen to either Nate or Eric, we would have all the confidence in the world in him," said Salcedo. Schedule UCLA's schedule is highlighted by a non-conference tournament matchup against 2003 NCAA quarterfinalist Creighton and a rivalry game with Loyola Marymount at The Home Depot Center. The Bruins will face eight teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season, including Pac-10 foes Oregon State, Washington and California. "Every game is expected to be a difficult one," said Salcedo. "We are looking forward to every match, with the highlighted match at The Home Depot Center on Sept. 19. That visit to The Home Depot Center will hopefully be the first of three games there in the 2004 season."