The men’s club soccer team registered a 7-1 record in league play, reached the quarterfinals of a national tournament and took first place in an invitational this year. But coach Noah Rothstein said the team’s defining moment did not come in any of its wins.
Rather, he pointed to a 2-0 loss against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, one of the best club teams in the nation, during a regional tournament.
“We ended up eliminated from the tournament, but it was really the best game we had played all season and they really stepped up,” Rothstein said. “That moment of losing in that game, everyone starting to really gel and play well as a team, set the stage for everything we did the rest of the year. The confidence we gained carried over.”
That confidence carried the team into the national tournament, the NIRSA Men’s Open National Soccer Championship. Although UCLA eventually lost to Cal, the team did not concede a goal in the entire tournament outside of penalty kicks.
The team saw more success this year than in previous seasons. It won the UC Irvine Anteater Invitational for the second year in a row and was able to contend in the national quarterfinal, even with only 12 of its members making the trip to Memphis, Tenn., for the tournament.
The commitment of core players has driven the Bruins to new heights recently. But junior midfielder and next year’s co-president Caleb Paydar said the program wasn’t always this way.
“Freshman year, I’d say the team wasn’t particularly committed to the program, let alone each other, and that was reflected in how we did in our regional as well as our national tournament,” Paydar said. “Honestly, personality-wise, we’ve had a higher team retention rate (this year) because we’ve had more level-headed players and a better team spirit that we’ve developed in the past two years.”
The loss to San Luis Obispo helped build character and retention, as opposed to breaking the program down.
Rothstein said he has been working with the team’s board members to find ways to instill greater dedication among the players and make the club more competitive.
“Over the course of the past four years, we’ve kind of struggled to change the culture of the team,” Rothstein said. “If you want to be a part of this team, it’s something that you’re committed to, and everything that we do is designed to win a national championship. So I’d say the main thing that the team did was implement the culture of it being a professionally run organization.”
As part of this movement, Rothstein is trying to implement a B team to accommodate growing interest and promote a more competitive environment. With a B team, the coaching staff will be able to build players and groom them for competition, while putting pressure on the A-team players to put in the work, lest others take their spot.
To promote members’ involvement in the club and increase its presence in the club sports community, the team has expanded its officer group from the traditional four members to eight.
“Our plan is to throw a tournament this year as well, so hopefully we get other teams coming to UCLA … to demonstrate how much we’ve grown and how much we continue to do,” Paydar said.
He also said the team continues to gain more and more talented players and has acquired a large freshman class. Sophomore defender Holt Alden, Paydar’s co-president for next year, expects the level of commitment to rise next year.
“We’re going to try to have morning practices and pick up the intensity in order to feel like we’re being more competitive against other schools,” Alden said. “We have an extremely talented team that is fully capable of winning national championships, but we haven’t been living up to that potential.”