Coach Jorge Salcedo said he knows the key to winning the Pac-12 this year.
“I think every single Pac-12 home game is crucial to our overall conference season,” Salcedo said. “We had an up-and-down nonconference season at home, so we really have to get off to a good start on Thursday.”
UCLA men’s soccer (5-4, 1-1 Pac-12) is home for the week after splitting a two-game road trip to start conference play, ready to host Washington (5-4, 0-1) on Thursday and Oregon State (5-2-2, 1-0) on Sunday at Wallis Annenberg Stadium.
UCLA went 2-2 at home during nonconference play, the lowest mark among Pac-12 teams. That stretch included a loss to San Francisco – a team now in the middle of a seven-game losing streak.
“To be honest, we’ve performed better away than we have at home,” redshirt junior defender Matthew Powell said. “We have to find our stride again when we’re at home in front of our home fans and use that to our advantage.”
The Bruins had a losing record at home last year against Pac-12 opponents, finishing 2-3. Salcedo said the team is aiming to improve on that mark and go 5-0 this year.
“If you win all your home games, then that’s five wins,” Salcedo said. “If you can then just win a handful of road games, that puts you in a spot to maybe win the conference or at least finish in the top three.”
Senior defender Erik Holt said that he has different mindsets when it comes to each game.
“At home, obviously we want to protect that, being our home place,” Holt said. “But I think every game’s important. Doesn’t matter where we are. We want to win absolutely every game.”
Washington, UCLA’s first opponent this week, beat the Bruins 1-0 at home last year, but Powell said he considers the Huskies the underdog entering Thursday’s game.
“Washington is a very disciplined team, patient, but can be broken down much more easily than a team like Stanford,” Powell said. “Going into that match, I feel like we’re the better team. If we apply ourselves, we’ll be okay.”
UCLA then matches up against Oregon State on Sunday, a team that the Bruins defeated 5-0 at home last year. UCLA has not lost a home game to Oregon State since Salcedo became head coach in 2004.
Powell, however, said UCLA still cannot afford to underestimate either of its opponents this week, given how critical these home games are.
“Oregon State is looked at as not such a strong team in our conference, but they’re always a team that can steal points,” Powell said. “Just like Washington, we need to go into the Oregon State game fully focused and hoping to achieve the three points. … You can’t drop any points to teams like Washington or Oregon State.”
Salcedo said the team needs to win these home games to avoid a losing streak, after a 3-0 loss at Stanford on Sunday.
“It’s not easy to win games on the road in the Pac-12, so obviously the split we had in the Bay Area got us off to a good start,” Salcedo said. “But when you lose the second one, you have to come home and win.”
The Bruins will square off against Washington at 8 p.m. on Thursday, followed by Oregon State at 12 p.m. on Sunday.