Every year when NCAA postseason tournaments for various sports roll around, there are teams that defy all logic, advancing further than expected by defeating supposedly superior teams.
These teams are referred to as “Cinderellas” in honor of the heroine of the ultimate rags-to-riches story.
But with every Cinderella story comes the inevitability of the clock striking midnight and dashing the dream, and the UCLA men’s soccer team has developed a knack for playing the role of Father Time this postseason.
No. 13-seed UCLA knocked off an upstart Rutgers side 3-0 in the third round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night at Drake Stadium, one week after ending Delaware’s first tournament run in over 40 years. UCLA got two goals from junior forward Chandler Hoffman sandwiched around another from sophomore forward Victor Chavez.
This Saturday, the Bruins (17-4-1) will travel to Kentucky to take on the No. 12-seed Louisville Cardinals in a rematch of last year’s wild 5-4 quarterfinal matchup won by the Cardinals. Louisville also topped UCLA 2-0 in the opening game of this season.
“We didn’t start (the season) off great against Louisville, but we’re a better team now,” sophomore midfielder Kelyn Rowe said. “We’ve got a little saying now: “˜Third time’s the charm.’”
Rutgers managed 11 shots to UCLA’s 12, but only three were on target, all of which were saved by senior goalkeeper Brian Rowe, who earned his seventh straight clean sheet.
“It’s a cliche that defense wins championships, but at the end of the day, defense got us to the quarterfinals,” coach Jorge Salcedo said. “Seven games in a row that we’ve had shutouts is impressive because of the attitude and mentality that we have as a team to defend from front to back.”
By contrast, eight of the Bruins’ 12 shots were right on-line, and even the ones that weren’t didn’t miss the target by much. Sophomore forward Reed Williams was unlucky not to add to the Bruins’ total midway through the second half when his low shot skidded just wide of the far post, and soon after, Kelyn Rowe sent a long range effort just over the bar.
“This week at training we were really sharp and really focused on having a good performance (in) our last game at Drake,” Hoffman said. “We just made sure that we put (shots) on target and challenged their goalie.”
Hoffman’s first goal came a mere 41 seconds into the match and resulted from some good build-up play between junior midfielder Ryan Hollingshead and sophomore full back Patrick Matchett.
“You always wish you can draw it up like that, but it never happens,” Salcedo said. “It was a great goal. It was a good cross (from Matchett) and a great finish from Chandler Hoffman.”
Chavez’s goal started off when a long but pinpoint pass from senior midfielder and captain Andy Rose found Kelyn Rowe at the back post. Rowe fired a left-footed volley toward the goal that forced a diving save from Rutgers goalkeeper Kevin McMullen, but the rebound came right to Chavez’s waiting right foot, and the sophomore’s fourth goal of the season doubled the Bruins’ lead right before halftime.
Hoffman’s second strike was the result of some good individual play by Kelyn Rowe, whose darting run through the box paired with a crisp one-two with Hollingshead created space to whip in a cross to the far post. All the wide-open Hoffman had to do for his 18th goal of the season was to tap it into an open net.
“I took a touch, and I heard Chandler’s voice,” Rowe said. “I thought that if I put it back-post, someone would be there, and luckily enough it found Chandler’s foot.”
UCLA now faces a serious case of deja vu: last year, the Bruins traveled to Louisville to face the favored Cardinals in a quarterfinal match. But that’s where the Bruins hope the similarities will end ““ UCLA let a 3-1 first-half lead slip away in the snowy conditions and wound up losing 5-4 to the top-seeded Cardinals.