BY ADAM SERRANO
The 2010 season for the UCLA Bruins was supposed to be a season involving the most feared words for the storied program, a "rebuilding year."
However, the youthful Bruins sit just a victory away from earning their 13th appearance in the College Cup Semi-finals. Much of the reason for that rapid ascension has been the play of midfielder Kelyn Rowe and a bevy of young talent.
The freshman from Federal Way, Washington has taken the Pac-10 by storm as a member of UCLA's young core. Rowe was a steady starter for UCLA and lead the Bruins in assists with seven, was second on the club in points with 21 en route to numerous honors including Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and a First team All-Pac-10 selection.
"[Rowe] has tremendous pace and runs very well with the ball which is a unique skill among the top players here at UCLA or those around the country," said head coach Jorge Salcedo. "He's becoming a complete player by improving his ability to defend and make differences in the overall game, maybe not those that end up in the stat sheet, but help us win."
Rowe is just one of the young talent players that the Bruins possess. In the Bruins' 2-1 overtime victory over Dartmouth, Rowe and the rest of UCLA's bright young talent was on display as ten of the 13 players to take the field for the Bruins were underclassmen. Throughout the Bruins run to the Quarterfinals, underclassmen have taken a huge role in leading UCLA. In addition to Rowe, freshman forwards Victor Chavez, Reed Williams and Chandler Hoffman were the Bruins main offensive contributors.
The contribution among the underclassmen was so great that 31 of the 34 goals that UCLA scored in 2010 were by underclassmen — and 26 by freshmen. One of the veterans on the field for the Bruins has been Eder Arreola, the scorer of both goals against Dartmouth and the lone upperclassmen in the UCLA midfield. For Arreola, a junior, his young teammates entered the school eager to join UCLA's tradition.
"Our young players are very talented and came in eager to learn about the team," said Rowe. "Even though they don't have the experience that the previous players, we trust that they can develop into something special for us."
The development as a player's like Rowe have come under Salcedo's latest revival that was instigated by losing four starters to the MLS SuperDraft and five players overall. This season, the Bruins core was predominantly led by seven underclassmen (five freshmen and two sophomores) in UCLA's main starting line-up. In recent years, UCLA has produced MLS ready talent like Michael Stephens and Ameobi Okugo, who were able to produce for their MLS club's in their rookie season.
Players like Rowe, Chavez, and other members of the Bruins' young roster are already being scouted as potential MLS draft picks either in 2011 or 2012. While the constant lure of MLS is there, Salcedo hopes that none of his young freshman talent like Rowe follow the example of last year's Pac-10 freshman of the year Okugo and leave after only one season.
"Rowe and the young guys are very talented and they're people that we hope to keep for longer than just a year or a couple of years," said Salcedo. "These guys are freshmen in terms of their year and status, but they've played 19 or 20 games in hostile environments and in NCAA tournament matches so I'm pleased with their growth and development'"
The precocious Bruins face their biggest test of the year in their next match in the Quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament as they travel to take on the No.1 ranked Louisville Cardinals. The veteran Cardinals are undefeated in 2010 boasting a 21 match unbeaten streak and will be the favorites to advance to Santa Barbara on Saturday.
For a UCLA squad that was expected to be mired in the rebuilding process after 2009, a match with Louisville is just another hurdle to overcome. After the match with Dartmouth, Rowe displayed youthful exuberance that has helped the Bruins get to only one win away from Santa Barbara and the College Cup Final Four.
"To be honest, I don't know much about Louisville other than the fact that they're seeded number one," said Rowe. "All that I need to know is that we can play our game and we can be successful."