Monday, October 23

Postseason loss pushes younger players to fill graduating seniors’ cleats

Sophomore forward Eder Arreola, the youngest player on the men's soccer team last season, expects a bigger role this year with the departure of several key players.

Sophomore forward Eder Arreola, the youngest player on the men's soccer team last season, expects a bigger role this year with the departure of several key players. Blair Angulo / Daily Bruin

Eder Arreola has not forgotten how the UCLA men’s soccer team’s season ended last November.

The sophomore-to-be clearly recalls lying on his back at midfield as a mob of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo fans rushed the field to celebrate that program’s first ever postseason victory ““ a victory that came against a Bruin squad riding an eight-game unbeaten streak.

To add to that, the Pac-10 champion Bruins were playing at home and had beaten the Mustangs just 13 days earlier. But UCLA never managed to find its rhythm and was bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as a result.

“It was tough for me because I knew I was doing a great job playing,” Arreola said. “I was getting a lot of minutes with the team and I just didn’t want to finish there.”

Arreola, who had turned 17 just a week prior to the loss, now looks to get the Bruins back to the postseason.

Senior midfielder Michael Stephens, the reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year, feels that Arreola has the potential to do so.

“I think (Arreola’s) a guy that can step up and take a big role on our team to be an impact player next year,” Stephens said. “He can be one of the better players in our conference. He’s a young player and really, really dangerous going forward.”

Arreola, who finished last season with a goal and six assists, admitted that his first collegiate season was a tough transition.

“The beginning of the year was tough for me, just knowing I was the youngest person on the team and had no experience playing with the older players,” he said. “All of that was new to me, so it took me a while to adapt to that. But towards the end of the season, I think I was building up and getting better and better every game.”

With the departures of graduates Maxwell Griffin, Jason Leopoldo and Brad Rusin, a few roles will undoubtedly have to be filled in order for UCLA to match its 10-5-6 mark and conference championship from a year ago.

“It’s going to be tough to replace them, but we have potential to cover the spots they left on the team and just build from there,” Arreola said.

“All of us will have to step up and have unbelievable years,” Stephens said. “The seniors have to take a good leadership role and lead by example. I think we have a great group of guys, and I think some of the guys that didn’t get too many minutes can step up and play more important roles.”

SEASON OPENER: UCLA released the 2009 season schedule just last week, but one game already stands out. Yet the Bruins don’t have to worry about looking ahead, since that game is the season opener against defending national champion Maryland in College Park on Sept. 4.

“It’s going to be an exciting game,” Arreola said. “It will be another challenge for us going up against the defending national champion and playing at their home field. It’s going to take a lot of depth to go out there and try to win the game.”

The Bruins will be seeking to avenge their season-opening loss to the Terrapins at the Home Depot Center from a year ago. UCLA was a less than a minute away from escaping with a 1-0 victory, but Maryland tied the score in the 90th minute and went on to score in the first overtime.

“We got unlucky giving away a goal at the end of regulation time,” Stephens said. “When tournament time came around, we could have used that as one of our big wins. If we can start off the season next year with a big road win against a team that will be good, it can really propel us to have a good nonconference season, which is huge, especially when seeding comes around for the tournament.”

Despite the potential repercussions, the players know the game is only the first step.

“It’s early in the season, so who knows what it’s going to present,” Stephens said. “They have a really good setup and they get a great crowd. But it is only the first game, so not much can be taken from it.”

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