The home stretch of the schedule starts with a chance at a sweep for the Bruins.
UCLA men’s soccer (9-6, 4-3 Pac-12) starts its final regular season homestand Thursday night against California (5-8-2, 1-6-0) before playing No. 6 Stanford (9-2-4, 5-1-1) on Sunday.
The Bruins outlasted the Golden Bears in Berkeley 2-1 in September in their first matchup. It was the fifth game of the season in which UCLA allowed one goal or fewer.
That was the first Pac-12 game of the season for UCLA, but a lot has happened in the seven conference games since.
Coach Jorge Salcedo said that a theme he has taken away from conference play is allowing opponents to take control of the game, especially during the first meeting against Cal.
“There were moments in that second half where we were susceptible to their ball movement,” Salcedo said. “We need to have a better understanding of how to regain possession of the ball and not go through stretches where we can get exposed.”
Nine of the 11 goals the Bruins have allowed in conference play have been scored in the second halves of matches.
UCLA allowed four goals in Sunday’s game against Oregon State (10-4-3, 6-2-1) – the most they’ve given up in a game all season.
“Something we’ve been working on is trying to keep the other team on their half and just pin them on their half,” said senior midfielder Kike Poleo. “Another thing is, after we score a goal we need to work on putting the game away and get a second or third goal quickly to try and put the other team away.”
The teams that qualify for the NCAA tournament are determined by the men’s soccer rated percentage index. The RPI is based on the team’s wins, losses and strength of schedule.
There are currently two Pac-12 teams ranked in the most recent top-25 rankings in the United Soccer Coaches poll, Stanford and No. 23 Washington, and four teams in the top 30 in RPI.
“Our RPI is at No. 23 which is still a good place to be and normally the top 34 teams safely reach the tournament,” Salcedo said. “The Pac-12 is the No. 2-rated conference in the RPI, so our strength of schedule has ended up to be a really good one.”
Cal’s only conference win came against San Diego State (6-8-1, 1-6-0) in a 1-0 win back in September. The Golden Bears are tied with the Aztecs for last place in the Pac-12 standings with one win and three points.
Senior midfielder Anderson Asiedu said that the Bruins know that the Golden Bears have not had a successful season, but they will not underestimate them Thursday.
“Soccer is a game where anything can happen and the fact that we beat them doesn’t matter,” Asiedu said. “We have to go into every game mentally and physically (prepared) for every battle that comes our way and we’re ready to go in strong.”
Asiedu and the Bruins want to use this homestand as an opportunity to build momentum going into the postseason.
“At this point in the season we have nothing to lose but also have something to play for,” Asiedu said. “Of course, last weekend didn’t go as planned, but we need to make sure that everybody is doing their best on and off the field because that is what is needed to end the season on a high note, especially on our home field.”
The match Thursday against Cal starts at 7 p.m., followed by a 4 p.m. start time for the Sunday match against Stanford.