If everything goes according to plan, the UCLA men’s soccer team will be hosting a playoff game at Drake Stadium next weekend.
In order to do so, No. 16 UCLA (10-7-1, 5-3-1 Pac-12) will need to travel to San Diego State and beat the unranked Aztecs (7-8-3, 1-7-1) Saturday night in the last regular-season game of the season. The Bruins are coming off of a successful weekend at home, defeating both unranked Oregon State (8-8-1, 3-5-1) and unranked Washington (7-5-6, 3-3-3).
The wins moved UCLA up to No. 14 in the RPI rankings, meaning it is now in position to host a game in the NCAA tournament.
“We knew this weekend was a big weekend for us in terms of a tournament seed, in terms of hosting a second-round (game),” said senior forward Larry Ndjock. “We are very happy about the result we got against Washington and against Oregon State.”
Redshirt junior goalkeeper Juan Cervantes has said that the recent three-game win streak has boosted team morale.
“Everyone’s mentality has grown over these past couple games,” Cervantes said. “These past three games that we won, it generally just motivates everyone to do better.”
Despite the fact that UCLA’s next opponent sits near the bottom of the Pac-12 — the Bruins beat the Aztecs 4-0 at home earlier this season — coach Jorge Salcedo said his team is not taking the matchup lightly. The Bruins will have to contain redshirt senior Rene Reyes, who leads the Aztecs in goals scored and shots taken.
“We’re taking this game like it’s a playoff game,” Salcedo said. “We are preparing this week to make sure that we understand what it’s going to take to win. We’ve had some really good training sessions. The mentality of the group is the right mentality.”
A loss or tie against San Diego State, and UCLA will almost definitely lose its hosting and first-round bye privileges for the NCAA Tournament.
While San Diego State has struggled this year, it is still stiff competition for UCLA as they close out the season. The Aztecs have beaten No. 37 California and have taken the Golden Bears to double overtime, while also playing Washington to two very close games.
“San Diego State is a good team,” Cervantes said. “They are generally one of the better teams that can come off on a good foot if the day is right. They are a really dangerous team when they want to be.”
If San Diego State sticks to its usual style of play, Ndjock said the Bruins will know what to expect.
“They’ve been very defensive,” Ndjock said. “Last time we played them, they’ve been playing on counters because we have very fast forwards, very fast midfielders that can outplay them. We have the ability on our team to play through them and break them down.”