A full 90-minute soccer game puts a fair share of wear and tear on players.
When a team doesn’t lay claim to a solid set of backup players, they have two choices ““ play starters for most of the game and tire them, or put in substitutes who might jeopardize the game.
UCLA doesn’t have that problem.
With a plethora of talent, the Bruins have more talented and capable players than they’re able to start ““ a good problem for any coach.
The team’s depth was especially evident on Monday, when UCLA won 4-1 against Arizona State. Coach B.J. Snow used 11 substitutes in that game, proving that his team doesn’t need to rely entirely on its starters.
“I think it’s definitely one of our strengths, the depth we possess. We never know who it’s going to be,” Snow said after the win.
“Tonight it was our strength when those players were able to come in and play with confidence.”
The Bruins have made often use of their bench this season, giving many of the younger players a chance to get their feet wet.
Only five players have started all 11 games. It’s been mostly veterans who have taken the field from the first minute, such as senior forward Zakiya Bywaters, last week’s Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week, and junior midfielder Jenna Richmond.
Depth has given the coach the opportunity to rest those players more at times, such as on Monday night when Bywaters played less than a third of the game.
“I was really happy, she’s having such an awesome year,” Snow said. “But tonight we were able to rest her … that’s a strength of this team.”
Look what we have here
There’s been a steady shift of players throughout the opening lineup ““ although 20 UCLA players have appeared in five games or more, only a few have started as many times.
Much of the sifting through positions was originally because of some key pieces missing for the Bruins early in the season. With sophomore midfielders Sarah Killion, Sam Mewis and forward Rosie White away for weeks at the U-20 World Cup, the Bruins had to make use of what assets it had on hand.
Although those three are some of UCLA’s strongest players, the team went 5-0-1 before all three of them had returned.
In the process of winning several games without some top players, the Bruins realized how much depth they had sitting on their bench.
Freshmen midfielder Taylor Alderete and forward Kodi Lavrusky, along with sophomore defender Megan Oyster, have been able to come into games and play a big part, even though none has ever started a game.
Lavrusky and Alderete have each contributed important goals to the team this year. Oyster has been a solid member of the Bruin defense that has only allowed four goals this season.
With a fresher team, UCLA was able to capitalize on its chances Monday night.
“We were really able to make use of our opportunities, get some offensive movement and put the ball in the back of the net,” Bywaters said.
No matter which 11 players are starting the game, it is possible that 11 others could close it out. This variety has been key in UCLA’s success this year.
“I think it’s awesome how much depth we have,” said freshman forward Taylor Smith. “Everyone is ready to play and working hard. We have trust in every single one of our teammates.”