CARSON, Calif. — The Bruins had chances to put the game away.
With 30 seconds to go in the second overtime period, No. 16 UCLA streaked up the field with a four-on-two against No. 4 Maryland, one of the best soccer teams in the country. A team that beat them in overtime last year 2-1.
But the Bruins’ offense seemed plagued after they jumped out to a very early 1-0 lead.
Only one minute and seven seconds in, junior forward Jason Romero – a junior college All-American transfer – cut toward the cage to put in senior midfielder Brian Iloski’s sharp pass.
That counterattack at the end of the game, however, ended on an intercepted pass, and was just one of many offensive opportunities that the Bruins had but couldn’t finish after the initial spark.
Twice in the second half, players with a comfortable empty radius in the box and the goalie out of position sent shots that sailed high.
“I think we just have to show more composure in front of the goal,” Iloski said. “Keep creating chances, and it’ll come.”
The Terps had their own chance in the opening minutes, and like the Bruins, took advantage.
They evened the game at one when redshirt senior goalkeeper Juan Cervantes came out of the goal to make a play on the ball, but Maryland chipped it over the entire defense to Cody Albrecht on the right post who headed it in with relative ease.
After those first five minutes, it seemed that the team’s characteristic 2015 predicament – a potent offense that averaged over two goals a game but was marred by erratic defense – was surfacing again. Maryland managed two close and hard shots in the first half that ricocheted off the post and crossbar.
Cervantes would prove to be the reason though that the beginning of this season wouldn’t echo last year’s pattern.
In the 18th minute, he dove to his left to block a close-range liner from an open opponent in the box, and he would perform more acrobatic saves in the second half.
One was from within 10 yards, after senior defender Michael Amick’s rolling pass back was intercepted in the box. At the end of the day, he finished with five saves.
“It’s always a team, not a person, and gladly everyone had the same objective in their head,” Cervantes said.
Both he and Maryland’s goalie – who recorded four saves – did their parts in ensuring the draw wouldn’t fold to give one team the advantage, no matter how hard the players fought off each other to gain the slightest edge.
“Every game we play against Maryland there are 22 guys that are fighting for every blade of grass on the field,” said coach Jorge Salcedo. “We saw that tonight, and tonight happened to be a huge field.”
The professional field is bigger than the normal collegiate soccer fields, and Salcedo said that he thought it was taxing for both sides physically.
Whether that contributed to the level of physicality or not, both the blue and the red were tossing shoulder checks that often left both players sprawling on the ground. Defenders jostled with forwards in tight spaces, and on counterattacks the fight for position wound up in long streaks being made in the grass.
The Terps’ Eryk Williamson pushed Iloski down as he tried to get up after one such occasion in the second half, resulting in the referee halting the game and pulling the two of them aside.
“A lot of these games with a top-20 matchup, they’re going to be physical games, so you got to come out here with the right mindset and take it to them from the first whistle,” Iloski said.
UCLA will have only two short days to rest up before its next matchup against Cal State Fullerton at home. Though Cervantes and the rest of the team would have liked to have gotten the win, ultimately as the first game of the season, there were a lot of positive takeaways.
“We had some good moments, we had some moments where we can improve on, but that’s expected at this time of the year,” Iloski said. “You just got to build on this, build on this kind of performance, and move on to Monday.”