The NCAA men’s soccer tournament has already had its dramatic moments, as half the teams that advanced past the second round did so in either overtime or on penalty kicks.
And the next team No. 8 UCLA (15-4-1) will face is an upstart team from the Ivy League: the Dartmouth Big Green, which needed a late goal in overtime from senior forward Andrew Olsen to take down No. 9 Notre Dame.
It was the same Fighting Irish squad that the Bruins shut out in their season opener, and the team isn’t about to take any matches off. Not at this time of year.
“As you go on, the teams just get better and better,” redshirt junior goalkeeper Brian Rowe said. “Teams are basically scrapping for their lives. Each round you go ahead, it’s going to get tougher and tougher.”
The Big Green propelled into the third round on the strength of Olsen’s clutch performance. The forward has been an accurate attacker either from the midfield or forward position, with 20 of his 35 shots on goal; his two goals on Sunday made him the top scorer on the Dartmouth (12-6-1) roster.
Against Sacramento State, it took two scares in the first half to get UCLA going. For many of the players on the team, it was their first taste of the postseason, and the freshmen clearly made some anxiety-induced errors early on in the game. The pressure got to the Bruins, and they were out of position to get back to defend Hornet counter-attacks.
Emerging in the second half, however, was the youthful exuberance that pushed the team into the postseason. The underclassmen played an integral role in breaking the scoreless tie, igniting a four-goal rally in the Bruins’ 4-1 win.
“We struggled a little bit to find our rhythm, but that’s seen in most teams that were seeded,” coach Jorge Salcedo said. “It takes a bit of time to get going because you are playing a team that has already got going.”
Come Sunday, however, there will be no excuses. There will nothing to blame for a lack of experience, nerves or oversight.
“We are not going to get overconfident,” junior forward Eder Arreola said. “But the thing is that we aren’t going to change it up. The mindset of the team is commitment, from now to the end of the tournament.”
That commitment took to the practice field Tuesday. The Bruin offense has been about ball movement and speed, and Salcedo pointed out there was more of a need for ball movement to start the match. It was the focus of an intense Tuesday practice, which centered on quick touches and moving the ball up the field.
Much like the second half Sunday, UCLA will look to play with in the moment.
“I tell our players that there are moments where the other team has a little bit of momentum and sustained possession,” Salcedo said. “In the second half we always stepped it up for one reason or another. It’s a sense of urgency, the sense of wanting to win the match, that’s what happened the past Sunday.”