As the players gathered during one of UCLA men’s soccer’s pre-season training sessions, coach Jorge Salcedo started to joke around, singling players out.
Amid all the hype coming off the team’s College Cup run the season before, Salcedo talked to the players about their new roles and expectations.
One of the Bruins the coach targeted was familiar enough: 6-foot-1-inch senior midfielder/forward Ryan Hollingshead, a major fixture of the team since arriving on campus in 2009.
“He was just talking to me in a joking manner like, “˜Alright, you’ve got to get at least eight to 10 goals,’ and I was like, “˜Coach, I’ll make that 15, you don’t have to worry about that,’” said Hollingshead, a big grin spreading across his face as he recalled the conversation.
After the senior earned his first-ever Pac-12 Player of the Week award for his part in UCLA’s pair of wins on the road this past weekend, Salcedo pointed out that Hollingshead was right where he needed to be.
“We talked quite a bit in the off-season about him needing to step into a role where he was more goal-dangerous, scoring goals and helping us win games ““ and also still continuing to be the industrious player that he is ““ the hard-working player he is,” Salcedo said.
With three goals on the year, Hollingshead is one shy of his career-high total for goals in a season. His 32 shots so far are already a career-high as he continues to find his role as a scoring threat.
While Hollingshead continues to set sights on his target, the team finds itself sporting a bullseye for its Pac-12 conference foes. No. 8 UCLA (7-1-2, 2-0-0 Pac-12) has gone unbeaten in 15 consecutive conference games, a streak that carries over from 2010.
“It comes with the territory,” Salcedo said. “Every player that comes here and each coach on the coaching staff understands that we’ll always have a target on our back, but we all embrace that.”
The coaching staff continues to preach a game-by-game approach to players as the Bruins field the best their opponents have to offer. Senior forward/midfielder Evan Raynr agreed with Salcedo’s sentiments that the team must be prepared each and every week.
“We understand that each opponent is very difficult, especially when you wear UCLA on your chest, everyone puts a target out there for you because that win means a lot to them,” Raynr said.
The team will face off at home today against an Oregon State team that took UCLA to two overtimes last season before ultimately allowing UCLA to score the gamewinner in the 102nd minute.
The Bruins know to be prepared when they face off again with the Beavers, who come into the game 5-3-1 and 0-1-0 in the conference.
“They bring … two of the more dynamic forwards in our conference, (they) have had a lot of success in their non-conference schedule. … They’ll be ready to go,” Salcedo said.
Just like the pre-season goal for Hollingshead remains in the back of his and Salcedo’s minds, so too does the allure of matching last season’s 10-0-0 conference record, something the Bruins haven’t done since 2003. To do so, the team will have to continue to develop its style of play and trust in the roles the coaching staff has placed upon them.
“It’s going from being a team that is starting to understand what we need to do on the field … hopefully at the end of the year, we’re really understanding what each individual role is and what we have as roles collectively,” Salcedo said.