Flash back to a year ago, almost to the day. The UCLA men’s soccer team had just won a dramatic third round NCAA Tournament game against Dartmouth thanks to then-junior Eder Arreola’s last-second double overtime goal.
The players, coaches and fans alike were thrilled by how the ending unfolded, but looming in the quarterfinals was a trip to Kentucky to face the undefeated Louisville Cardinals.
The top-seeded Cardinals proved to be just more than the Bruins could handle, and Louisville came back from a 3-1 first-half deficit to win a 5-4 thriller in the snow.
Now, this year’s No. 13-seeded Bruins (17-4-1) find themselves in nearly the same situation. Yes, UCLA will travel to the Bluegrass State to take on a higher-seeded Louisville team in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. But there are a few caveats.
The Cardinals, who beat the Bruins 2-0 to open the season, are not the undefeated juggernaut they were a year ago.
Louisville was awarded the No. 12 seed in the tournament after posting a 14-6-2 record, but they were ranked just high enough to ensure home field advantage over UCLA this time around as well.
However, one change from last season that favors the Bruins is the weather report.
According to AccuWeather.com, Saturday’s forecast for Louisville shows a high temperature of 59 degrees Fahrenheit ““ by no means warm, but high enough to avoid the snow flurries that froze the Bruins in 2010.
“We’ve had inclement weather whenever we’ve been there,” coach Jorge Salcedo said. “We had really hot weather this past August. But we’ll play them in a barn. We’ll play them anywhere.”
But perhaps the biggest difference of all heading into Saturday’s matchup is the Bruins’ increased familiarity with their newfound nemesis.
Sophomore midfielder Kelyn Rowe mentioned that there would be more than the normal preparations on his and his teammates’ minds heading into Saturday.
“Revenge is definitely a factor,” Rowe said. “We’re a better team now than we were (at the beginning of the season).”
Salcedo could not hide his eagerness to take advantage of another opportunity to get one over the Cardinals.
“Any game in the quarterfinals would’ve been fine,” Salcedo said. “It would have been nice to have our quarterfinal match here, but if we had to go anywhere, we’ll go to Louisville.”
Another advantage for UCLA is a completely healthy and in-form Chandler Hoffman.
The junior forward missed the first half of the 2010 season with a fractured leg but returned in time for the postseason, and got himself on the scoresheet a year ago in Louisville.
Although Hoffman’s 2010 stat line is nothing to sneeze at (six goals and an assist in 11 games after his return), it pales in comparison with his monster 2011 output.
So far, Hoffman has amassed 18 goals and four assists in 22 games, including two in UCLA’s 3-0 third round victory over Rutgers this past Sunday.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to keep scoring goals and keep being dangerous up front,” Hoffman said. “Hopefully I can help get us to Birmingham (Ala., where the College Cup will be held).”