Photo courtesy of UCLA Media Relations
By ADAM SERRANO
Last season, the UCLA Bruins were a young group hoping to surprise many, but in 2011, the Bruins won't be sneaking up on anybody.
UCLA exceeded expectations in 2010 advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals before falling to the Lousiville Cardinals, 5-4, in a thrilling match considered by many to be the most exciting game of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Louisville ultimately advanced to the College Cup Final while the Bruins were forced to prepare themselves for the upcoming 2011 campaign.
With some of the best young talent in college soccer and their entire starting lineup returning, UCLA is poised to make a deep title run. The Bruins will have an early chance to show just how strong they are as they open their season on Aug. 27 at Cardinal Park against Louisville.
"We've talked about the feeling we had after their game, and what our players and coaching staff could have done differently," said head coach Jorge Salcedo. "Winning or going to Louisville and getting a result doesn't change what happen last year, but we can still get off to a good start if we can get a positive result and put us in the right direction from game one."
Expectations are high for the Bruins as Salcedo returns his complete starting 11, which is headlined by U.S. Under-20 national team midfielder Kelyn Rowe. Considered the best player in college soccer, Rowe spent the offseason months trialing with a number of high-profile European clubs and is widely-regarded as the top prospect for the 2012 MLS Draft.
Rowe is joined by a bevy of talent from English midfielder Andy Rose, U.S. Under-20 midfielder Eder Arreola and former U.S. Under-17 forward Victor Chavez, among others. The Bruins depth only grew in the offseason as 2010 MAAC Rookie of the Year, Spanish forward Victor Munoz transferred from Iona to UCLA.
"Having 11 starters back is great, so we look great and especially since we had such a good year last year, we want to keep going from where we left off," said Kelyn Rowe. "We see ourselves as a top contender for the national championship, as we always do. We dream high and we're going to hopefully get there."
Contending for the national championship is not simply a dream for the Bruins, but with their high caliber talent, it is expected. While the Bruins enter the season as one of the highest ranked teams in the country, Salcedo has preached throughout the preseason that his men must focus on their performance on the field, not the status in the rankings.
"What we're trying to get the guys to understand is that we need to get better every day," added Salcedo. "Just because we're ranked high in a few polls at this point, everyone's records are the same and there are a lot of great teams. We're going to have to prepare for every game so we can win as many games as we can."
Although the hope is that the season ends with the Bruins lifting the national championship trophy in Birmingham, their journey begins with their match against the Cardinals on Saturday. After the way their season ended last year against Louisville, the Bruins are chopping at the bit to return to action.
"It can't come fast enough, we're really excited to go back there because they have a really good team, a huge crowd will be there, it's 1-2 in some of the polls so there will be a lot of hoopla," said Salcedo. "I just hope it's not 5-4 again though because I don't think my heart can take it a second time."