When UCLA men’s soccer last met Stanford, the two teams were just beginning Pac-12 play.
A month later, the two meet again as conference play approaches its end.
Coming off one of the most important games of the season, in which No. 5 UCLA knocked off conference-leading Washington, the team returns home to face Stanford in a match that carries just as much significance.
The Bruins’ (11-2-2, 6-1-0 Pac-12) win over the Huskies allows them to control their own destiny in regards to winning the conference, but a win against the Cardinal today would allow the Bruins to maintain that advantage.
“While we know we can clinch (the conference title) by defeating Cal on Sunday, the only way we can make that happen is to beat Stanford on Thursday,” coach Jorge Salcedo said.
But the game carries even more importance for Stanford (7-7-1, 3-3-1), which could make the visitors all the more dangerous.
“I expect it to be one of the most physical matches we’ve had all season, because they absolutely need to beat us to have any chance of being invited to the NCAA tournament,” Salcedo said.
“I think they realize it’s probably the most important game of the year for them, and that’s how we’re going to approach it.”
Playing in games that carry so much weight proves even more meaningful for the Bruins, in that it gives them practice for the type of intensity they will see in the postseason.
“It gets us ready for playoff. With these games that are so important to win, you’ve got to find a way to win. So it’s really preparing us for the playoffs where you have to win every game,” said junior forward Reed Williams.
But before the Bruins look ahead to the playoffs, their focus is centered on the team at hand.
“Right now our focus is on Stanford and that’s about it,” said redshirt senior midfielder/forward Fernando Monge.
Despite the two teams’ prior meeting, a 3-1 UCLA victory, and Stanford’s less impressive record point toward a UCLA advantage, the team is quick to find reasons not to take its opponents too lightly.
“Stanford has really good players. I think the score line last game, it was fair, we just didn’t play really well, but we’re going to have to play very well if we want to beat Stanford again,” Williams said.
“We don’t think it will be a cake walk or anything.”
The Bruins are returning from a three-game stretch on the road and will now play their final three games of the regular season at home beginning today.
“We love our fans, we love playing at home and we’re really excited to play (tonight) in front of the lights and to get some rest,” Salcedo said. “The guys know what’s in front of us and look forward to it.”
If things go the Bruins’ way, they might be seeing a lot more of Drake Stadium come playoff time.
“We just keep doing what we’re doing and win the rest of our games, and we’re Pac-12 champs again,” Williams said.