The Bruins will face off against their first two Pac-12 opponents this week, after ending nonconference play on a skid.
Fresh off consecutive losses to unranked teams CSUN and UC Santa Barbara, UCLA men’s soccer (4-3) will travel to the Bay Area to face California on Thursday, followed by Stanford on Sunday to kick off conference play.
Sophomore defender Eric Iloski said the team was disappointed with its final nonconference record, especially after allowing one goal over the first four games of the season.
“I think we left some points out there,” Iloski said. “We definitely could have done better. I think our record doesn’t show how good we’ve been this year.”
Freshman midfielder Matt Hundley said the team views the start of conference play as a clean slate.
“Every team is starting with zero losses and zero wins,” Hundley said. “I feel as though we want to keep the zero for losses and keep rising in the wins.”
In 2017, the Bruins hosted Cal and Stanford and were shut out in both games. However, Iloski said that he is confident the team will have a stronger showing against its conference rivals on the road this year.
“With a lot of these Pac-12 teams, we know how they like to play because we’ve played them every year,” Iloski said. “We know a lot of their styles and a lot of their tactics, so I think we can match up well against them.”
Coach Jorge Salcedo said another factor playing to his team’s advantage is that a top team has yet to emerge in the Pac-12. Of the six Pac-12 teams, San Diego State had the best nonconference record at four wins, two losses and one draw.
“Everyone’s a little bit tenuous in terms of their mindset going into the first game, but on the flip side of that, it leaves it absolutely wide open,” Salcedo said. “I don’t think there’s a clear front-runner. I think the first two or three games of the conference will really dictate what our conference season could look like.”
Injured forwards a game-time decision
The Bruins were without three center forwards against UC Santa Barbara on Saturday.
Forwards junior Mohammed Kamara and sophomore Santiago Herrera, and redshirt junior midfielder Robert Knights were all injured, leaving the roster depleted on the offensive end.
Salcedo said that it will be a game-time decision whether any of the three play Thursday.
“It’s definitely a concern. … The three of them are players that have contributed greatly to our nonconference schedule,” Salcedo said. “It’s impactful because not only does it make you have to change what you do in those positions, but it changes other positions, and, more importantly, changes how you move on the field.”
However, Salcedo said the injuries are not an excuse for how the team played Saturday, and will not be an excuse should they underperform Thursday.
“When the game gets tough and there’s some adversity, we need to know as a group how to fight through that,” Salcedo said. “That’s my biggest question mark about our team: whether we can, in tough moments, fight through them so that we can still control the game and dictate the result of the game.”