The UCLA men’s soccer season is on the line.
Thursday night at Drake Stadium, the Bruins will finish conference play against the No. 16 Aztecs, naturally hoping for a victory but more importantly, to improve their chances at an at-large bid into postseason play.
In a campaign that has been anything but consistent, UCLA (9-7-1, Pac-12 4-5) has the opportunity to redeem their early struggles and inconsistencies with a victory over San Diego State (9-4-4, 4-3-2) that would better their chances for an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve been through a lot this season – a lot of injuries, ups and downs,” said coach Jorge Salcedo. “I told the guys that they’ve put themselves in a position that with a win on Thursday, we’ll be in the tournament.”
The Bruins have shown flashes throughout the year of a competitive postseason-worthy team, having been ranked as high as No. 6 early on in the year before falling due to the team’s inability to remain healthy and failure to build stability within their lineup and play.
“If we win we’ll go into the postseason with two wins in a row and a little momentum,” said Salcedo.
Momentum is exactly what UCLA needs against a San Diego State team that is coming off an impressive 1-0 road victory over No. 11 Washington and who themselves are fighting for positioning within the tournament.
“I respect the year that San Diego State has had but I feel like on our good day, that we should beat them,” said Salcedo. Confidence within the roster is evident heading into the game, as the Bruins have already defeated the Aztecs 1-0 in San Diego and the team expects a similar result. “We had a good game last time several games ago in conference play. … We’re confident that we’re going to put the team out there to get the job done,” said Salcedo.
UCLA is led by junior forward Abu Danladi who is playing well and taking over as the team’s primary goal scorer, having notched the game-winning goal against Oregon State last Saturday, his second of the match and fifth overall.
“He’s our main goal scorer, someone that we look to score goals and I have all the confidence that he can,” said Salcedo.
San Diego State comes into the game with an impressive resume ranking 30th in the men’s soccer RPI and holding a record of 3-2-1 against teams ranked in the top 20, along with a 1-0 victory over then No. 1 Akron.
The Aztecs are currently third in the Pac-12 standings ahead of the Bruins by two points. A win from either side will secure the third spot in conference play.
The regular season finale for both teams will be a tough one with the winner not only securing a berth into the NCAA tournament but momentum as well.