Oct. 15, 2011
By Amy Hughes
UCLA men's soccer head coach Jorge Salcedo has potential walk-ons venture into his office on a near-daily basis. It is rare for one of those "cold calls" to become a starter for the Bruins.
Senior defender Shawn Singh is one of those success stories.
"I played club soccer back home," said Singh, a Bakersfield, Calif., native. "Because Bakersfield is kind of isolated from all the good teams in California, I was never really exposed to the higher rankings of youth soccer. I always knew that I was going to be able to develop into a good player if I worked hard enough.
"I realized that I had ambitions to play college soccer, but I wasn't heavily recruited anywhere," Singh continued. "I [came to UCLA] through academics, and after my first year, I really missed soccer a lot. I missed being part of a team and all that. Sophomore year, winter break, I decided to train with one of my friends who played college soccer. We trained for four weeks straight. When I got back to school for Winter Quarter, I went in and talked to the coaches and asked them if I could train."
Singh had played with the Premier Development League while in high school. That league featured the Bakersfield Brigade, which, at the time, included former U.S. National Team standout Eric Wynalda.
"I remembered that I'd heard about Shawn Singh through Eric Wynalda," recalled Salcedo of Singh's first appearance in the men's soccer office. "[Wynalda] had said to me that there was a very good player on campus who was just a student and not on the soccer team, and if he ever came to try out, that I would be impressed.
"I was excited that he showed up and looked forward to seeing him on the soccer field and seeing what he could do. He was an articulate young man. He seemed to be a really good student and fit the criteria in terms of what we look for in players. But obviously not seeing him on the field, I wasn't quite sure what to think of the opportunity for him."
Singh had attended nearly every home game during his first year at UCLA.
"I'd go out to watch, and admire how skillful they were," said Singh. "I thought that it would be a stretch for me to go and play out there, but I knew I had the capability if I was given a chance, so I worked hard when I got in, and it happened."
Singh's focus and drive manifested itself as consistency on the playing field.
"Shawn is dedicated on and off the field to being as good as he can be," said Salcedo. "He prepared himself and continues to prepare himself and on a daily basis to specifically be where he needs to be successful.
"The first game he played for us was against the LA Galaxy in a spring match, and [Singh] was very good," recalled Salcedo. "He was comfortable and confident, and with as good as he was against them, obviously he was someone that we wanted to have on our team."
Singh's first season on the field with the Bruins was 2009. He started 15 games that year and played in 17. Last season, he was a 19-game starter and earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors.
This season, Singh anchors ninth-ranked UCLA's defense from the left back position. He has played in all of the team's first 13 matches, starting 11, and has contributed four assists and two shots.
"Shawn has been very consistent for us this season," said Salcedo. "As a coaching staff, we look to the left back position and his area of the field and you want some continuity and consistency. You want to make sure that players in that area of the field are doing their job and helping the team. That's what Shawn has done this year and in the past couple of years. This year has been his best because he has obviously matured. He is comfortable in his role. He is physically stronger and better than he's been the past couple years. All of that has made him one of our most consistent players this season."
Singh has also become very comfortable in UCLA's academic environment. An economics major, he has frequently been named to the Dean's List and Director's Honor Roll for his academic accomplishments.
"I'd like to get into the business world," said Singh of his life after UCLA. "I have aspirations to open a restaurant when I'm older. One of my friends who used to play on the soccer team here just opened his own restaurant, so I might connect with him, or I might pursue investment banking, or even the music industry."
However, Singh is not yet ready to leave soccer behind.
"I'd like to pursue soccer if possible," said Singh. "That's my dream, to play professional soccer."
"Left fullbacks are a rare commodity in soccer in the U.S., especially good passing left fullbacks who are quick," said Salcedo of Singh's prospects beyond college soccer. "To be a professional soccer player, Shawn still needs to develop his game in some facets, but he has the drive and the motivation, and he's a player that's willing to learn. I think if a coach took a chance on Shawn and gave him an opportunity and gave him some time to develop, I think he can do it. I think he can fulfill one of his dreams to be a professional soccer player if he's in the right environment and if he's given some time to mature and grow confident."
Singh has several former UCLA walk-ons from which to draw inspiration. Players such as Cobi Jones, Jimmy Conrad and Benny Feilhaber were walk-ons at UCLA who went on to play for the United States in the World Cup.
"Shawn epitomizes what UCLA Soccer stands for," said Salcedo. "He's just a dedicated kid that wants to get better, and that's why he's excelled in this environment. We really thrive on having players like him."