Abu Danladi’s 2016 debut lasted nine minutes. He didn’t need close to that many to make an impression.
In just 11 seconds, the junior forward weaved his way across the field – twice – and single-handedly ignited UCLA men’s soccer’s largely-dormant offense.
Two Danladi goals gave the home team a commanding 4-0 lead in the 54th minute and spurred a flurry of fireworks – including an NCAA record three goals in 32 seconds – that would propel the No. 9 Bruins (2-1-1) to a 6-1 upset over the No. 1 Akron Zips (2-2).
On paper, Monday night’s home match didn’t seem to be a good chance for UCLA to break its early season scoring slump. The team had scored just two goals through its last three games and Akron was bringing a suffocating defense that had allowed only one goal so far in 2016.
That didn’t faze the underdogs as they rattled off goal after goal to quadruple its scoring total this year.
“I always want to bring something to the attack and my motive coming into the game was to help the team,” Danladi said. “Coming in with (sophomore midfielder) Jackson (Yueill) was a really big impact because he knows how to put the ball through and has good vision, so that helped a lot.”
Yueill entered at halftime, like Danladi, and had four assists by the time the 60th minute rolled around. Eventually, the scoring would settle down, but not before the Bruins were squarely in control.
Monday’s box score was a glimpse at the offense that was so dominant in 2015. Junior forward Seyi Adekoya tallied his first goal of 2016, burying a shot over the Zips’ goalkeeper from the left side in the opening half, and sophomore midfielder Jose Hernandez – the 2015 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year – added his first just minutes later.
“Our attacking group showed the potential they have,” said coach Jorge Salcedo. “Unfortunately, Abu has been injured for the first few games of the season, but his ability to come in and change games and be dynamic really increases what we do as an entire team offensively. It really raises the level of the whole team.”
Both teams were coming off their first losses of the season entering Monday’s match. The Bruins were upset by the Duke Blue Devils on Friday evening in a game they controlled but ultimately couldn’t win. The Zips, who defeated two top-10 teams to start the year, fell to No. 23 San Diego State last week. In its previous competitions, UCLA played back-to-back overtime matches – a tie with Maryland and a victory over Cal State Fullerton.
Each of those games featured a common theme for the Bruins: strong goaltending from redshirt senior Juan Cervantes and an offense that couldn’t quite find its footing. Cervantes has been the veteran presence in the net that the Bruins have needed, allowing three goals in four matches and playing every single minute.
The offense did more than just find its footing on Monday. Danladi, a dynamic part of the 2015 offense that was one of the most dangerous in the country, and redshirt freshman forward Blayne Martinez broke Syracuse’s NCAA record of the fastest three goals by the same team that was set in the 1980s. Yueill’s four assists were also historic, tying UCLA’s single-game record.
“We’re gonna keep building on what we did today,” Yueill said. “Definitely a confidence booster and it should motivate us and roll us through the next few games and hopefully we can keep up the goal-scoring.”
Despite scoring only one goal off a penalty kick in the 54th minute, the Zips didn’t lack chances themselves. In the first half alone, they took six corner kicks and 11 shots. By the end of the day, the visitors had outshot the Bruins 19-13.
Last year, UCLA’s victory over Akron was its first and only major upset win of the season. That late-season showdown was a display of UCLA’s youth, as then-underclassmen Adekoya, Danladi and Hernandez combined for four goals and three assists – the team’s entire offensive output.
Monday was a stunning reminder of the firepower that remains on the Bruins’ roster, and there could be plenty more to come if the injured Danladi has anything to say about it. His postgame warning was clear:
“I’m not all the way 100 percent yet.”