With one game remaining on the regular season slate, the UCLA men’s soccer team is in prime position to lock down one of its season goals. But the Bruins have their sights set on a higher goal, one that will be much more difficult to attain this year than during the last two.
After shutting out Washington and Oregon State 1-0 and 3-0 respectively on the road this weekend, UCLA all but assured itself a top-16 finish in the rankings and the first-round bye that comes with it.
With a win at San Diego State on Saturday, the Bruins could even secure a top-eight finish and the privilege of hosting the regional section of the NCAA Tournament.
However, UCLA’s foremost goal is to finish atop the Pac-10 standings for the third consecutive season. To achieve this, the Bruins will need a good deal of help from one of their main rivals.
If the Bruins emerge victorious from their encounter with the Aztecs this weekend, and California loses to Stanford in Berkeley, then the Bruins will once again be crowned as conference champions.
“That would be huge for us,” junior goalkeeper Brian Rowe said. “It’s a little frustrating that it’s out of our hands right now, but hopefully Stanford will pull it off and Cal will drop a point, and hopefully we can get it done Saturday.”
For his efforts over the weekend, Rowe was named the National Player of the Week by Top Drawer Soccer. Rowe made a career-high-tying eight saves in the Bruins’ 3-0 win over Oregon State.
The No. 9 Bruins (13-4-1, 7-2 Pac-10) will try to do their part in San Diego on Saturday, but even if they do manage to secure the victory, all they can do is hope and pray that the rest of the pieces to the Pac-10 puzzle fall in the right place.
“I think we’ve shown that we’re a very good side throughout this past season,” junior midfielder Andy Rose said. “We’ve had a really tough schedule against a lot of teams around the country. Everyone knows we’re a young team but I think that we’ve learned along the way, and we’re at a really good point right now.”
The full return of sophomore forward Chandler Hoffman from a broken left fibula suffered on the first day of preseason training will provide extra firepower to an already-potent strikeforce for the Bruins.
After appearing briefly in five games as a substitute, Hoffman made his first two starts of the season this past weekend and delivered, scoring one goal in each of the Bruins’ victories. His performances were good enough to earn him the Pac-10 Player of the Week award.
“Once I broke my leg, it was devastating,” Hoffman said. “I was so upset. Six weeks of rehab was pretty tough, but the athletic trainer did a great job with me, and even though I couldn’t get on the soccer field, I was lifting, swimming and just preparing my body to be able to get back to where I am now.”
The added potency in front of goal is a welcome addition, but just as important is the return of junior fullback Shawn Singh, who missed two games with an injury.
Singh is a senior member in a young defensive back line that, along with Rowe, has allowed only 17 goals in 18 games. His availability also means that sophomore Ryan Hollingshead can move back up to his more natural midfield position and provide support to the Bruin attack.