No. 21 UCLA men’s soccer finished last year with a record of 10-8-2, its worst in nine years.
But this year, the Bruins welcomed seven freshmen players – nearly one-third of the men’s soccer team is brand new to Westwood. Despite the unfamiliarity new players might bring, 2017 is already off to a better start than 2016.
In the squad’s first time on the field together, the Bruins tied the Utah Valley Wolverines 2-2 in their first match this season. In 2016, their first match resulted in 2-0 loss to the Indiana Hoosiers.
The Bruins showed cohesion early on and scored two quick goals Wednesday, but as the night went on, two Utah Valley attackers were able to break through the UCLA defense and grab two unassisted goals in the second and third periods of the exhibition to bring the final score to a draw.
“Last year, we gave up too many set-piece goals and goals on counterattacks and also off of our mistakes,” said redshirt senior forward Brian Illoski. “Today, unfortunately both of the goals were off of our mistakes, and we’re looking to correct that this year. I think we were good on that most of the game – we just had a couple moments that we had to clean up.”
Illoski scored one of UCLA’s two goals and assisted the other.
The 2017 season will be Illoski’s fifth as a Bruin. Though the team shrank this year, Illoski will be joined by his two younger brothers – Milan and Eric – and a host of other freshmen.
“We don’t have as many members this year, but I think it’s good for the group,” Illoski said. “We brought (the freshmen) in raw and they’ve been doing well. I think each game, each practice, we’re just going to get better from here.”
Among those newcomers is midfielder Andrew Paoli, who joins the Bruins after competing for the U.S. Under-18 Men’s National team that won the International Václav Ježek Tournament in the Czech Republic last year.
Paoli recorded one of UCLA’s five shots on goal against the Wolverines on Wednesday night.
“We had some good buildups and created some good opportunities,” Paoli said. “Obviously giving up two goals that we could have prevented, we need to fix that. But I think that will come in time and we’ll just continue to get better and build up things.”
Despite newcomers comprising nearly a third of the team, coach Jorge Salcedo said he was pleased with the way his freshmen played.
“In the first two periods, we were very solid in our performance and I thought each of our lines had some good moments,” Salcedo said. “There were some things that we can definitely improve but it was a really good beginning.”
Salcedo also said he is looking forward to developing his new underclassmen throughout the year.
“In Brian Illoski and (junior midfielder) Anderson Asideu we have dynamic players … and they’re guys that can really control games,” Salcedo said. “I was really happy with Paoli, who played as our defensive midfielder. It’s a group I’m excited to work with for us to get the best out of them.”
The eldest Illoski said he has a goal in mind for his final year beyond incorporating the new players, however.
“I want to win a Pac-12 championship and win a title – that’s why I came back,” Illoski said. “That’s what I’m here for.”