Dec. 5, 2011
By Amy Hughes
UCLA junior forward Chandler Hoffman knew this would happen.
From the minute the site of the 2011 Men's College Cup was announced, he knew.
"When we found out that the College Cup was going to be in Birmingham, probably about eight months ago, I just had this feeling that it was going to be destiny for us to make it," said Hoffman.
Playing in the College Cup is the goal for every Division I soccer player, but this College Cup, which opens with semifinal games on Friday at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala., is significant for Hoffman. The Birmingham, Ala., native was the Gatorade State Player of the Year for Alabama in 2008 and 2009, and is the first player from the state of Alabama to ever play men's soccer at UCLA.
"Hollywood couldn't write a more epic story than that," said UCLA head men's soccer coach Jorge Salcedo. "It's pretty amazing to think that Chandler Hoffman from Birmingham, Alabama, is going back there for the most prestigious tournament in Division I men's soccer."
Regions Park is better known in a baseball context. It has hosted the SEC Baseball Tournament on an annual basis since 1998, and is the home of the Birmingham Barons Class-AA baseball team.
"I watched Michael Jordan play there when he was in the minor leagues, and I've watched a lot of SEC baseball games there as well," said Hoffman. "I haven't played there, but it's really close to my home."
Hoffman's family still resides in Birmingham. His parents were in attendance for Saturday's quarterfinal victory at Louisville, and his older sister, Shana, is a graduate of the University of Alabama.
"My parents were at the game in Louisville, and they are so excited," said Hoffman. "Everyone in my family is really amped up for the College Cup."
After the Bruins' win against the Cardinals on Saturday night, Hoffman posted to his Facebook account that he would be heading back to Birmingham for the College Cup.
"I think it got about 250 `likes' and about 50 comments," said Hoffman of that status update. "All kinds of people are saying that they're coming, and all of my friends have been texting me. My phone has been blowing up."
Hoffman's journey from Birmingham to UCLA started with a plan and a video tape.
"My aspirations are to play professionally, so I really felt like UCLA was the best place location-wise and opportunity-wise," said Hoffman. "The tradition of UCLA soccer and the players that have come through this program really appealed to me."
"He's a player that reached out to us," said Salcedo. "He sent us a video of himself that really highlighted some of his characteristics as a player. His ability to strike the ball, and his ability to score goals from his first touch or taking a touch and preparing the ball to strike a goal were evident. It was really impressive, and that was the impetus behind us recruiting him."
The skills shown on that now-infamous video have been well-represented on the field for the Bruins. As a freshman in 2009, Hoffman was the Pac-10's top freshman scorer, starting in 15 of his 19 games played. Last season, he led the league in goals per game (0.55 average, six goals in 11 games) after missing the first 11 games of the season with a leg fracture suffered on the first day of preseason training.
This season, Hoffman has been scoring at a rate that UCLA hasn't seen in two decades. He enters College Cup play with 18 goals, the most in a season by a Bruin since Joe-Max Moore scored 18 goals in 1991. Hoffman's 40 points on the season (18 goals, 4 assists, 40 points) is double that of his closest teammate and the highest single-season total at UCLA since Seth George had 42 points in 1997.
"Obviously, he's a goal scorer," said Salcedo. "Above and beyond that, he's an intelligent player on the soccer field. He understands what the next right play is and what to do on the field. He anticipates well and gets himself into good spots in our half of the field, in the middle third and obviously the attacking third.
"His intelligence and his soccer IQ are high. Goal-scoring is something that's extremely important to our success, and he's done that really well."
Hoffman's excellent game sense is paralleled by his academic achievement at UCLA. A first-team All-Pac-12 selection this season, he was also honored as a CoSIDA Academic All-America second-team member late last week.
A communication studies major with a minor in film and television, Hoffman carries a 3.74 GPA and is the first Bruin to receive CoSIDA Academic All-America honors since Zach Wells in 2003. Hoffman received the news shortly after arriving in Louisville for Saturday's NCAA quarterfinal play.
"It was cool finding that out," said Hoffman. "I've definitely thought about sports broadcasting for soccer. I want to stay involved in soccer no matter whether it's playing, coaching or broadcasting."
But first, the Bruins will travel back to Hoffman's hometown this week to compete for an NCAA Championship. Aside from competing in front of a large number of friends and family not 10 minutes from this childhood home, Hoffman is looking forward to some local cuisine.
"I think we're going to Dreamland Bar-B-Que on Wednesday," said Hoffman. "I'm looking forward to the guys getting some southern food and then playing in front of what will hopefully be a home crowd for us on Friday night."
"Chandler has played with confidence," said Salcedo of his top scorer's season thus far. "The stars always have to align, but whether it's destiny, whether it's skills or whether it's goal scoring, we're here, and we're anxious to participate in the College Cup because we think we have a shot at winning the whole thing.
"At the beginning of the year, Chandler was telling me `Coach, I have this poster for the College Cup host site. It's back in my hometown and I'm going to do everything to get us there.' He has absolutely lived up to his words."