The Bruins are in the NCAA Tournament thanks to an at-large bid.
The 45th tournament appearance for UCLA men’s soccer (10-8, 5-5 Pac-12) will start with a match against Portland (11-3-3, 3-3-1 WCC) on Thursday afternoon.
In the 15 seasons coach Jorge Salcedo has been at UCLA, he has taken the Bruins to the tournament 14 times. The only year Salcedo’s squad failed to reach the postseason was last season, making Thursday’s game the first tournament appearance for nearly half the roster.
“We have guys who have been in the tournament – some who have been in it three of the last four years,” Salcedo said. “Some of our guys have the experience and we’ll look to them for their leadership. The best of the best are in the tournament, and each game will be an absolute dogfight.”
Seven underclassmen have started 10 or more matches this season, including freshman midfielder Matt Hundley.
“We’re excited to play for sure,” Hundley said. “I know everyone here is a competitor and wants to win, and a lot of us have played on big stages before, so I think we will just embrace the opportunity.”
The Portland Pilots have now been in the postseason twice in the last three years, and this will be their 16th visit to the tournament overall. This is the first tournament game they will have hosted since 2002, when they matched up against Oregon State. Portland’s all-time record in the playoffs sits at 14-12-3.
Portland finished fifth in the West Coast Conference behind Saint Mary’s and Pacific, which will also represent the conference in the tournament. Like UCLA, Portland also lost its final two games of the regular season before being awarded an at-large bid for the tournament.
UCLA faces former assistant coach
The Pilots are coached by former UCLA assistant coach, Nick Carlin-Voigt.
Carlin-Voigt coached at UCLA under Salcedo for four years before being named the head coach of Portland in January 2016. While in Westwood, Carlin-Voigt helped assemble three No. 1 recruiting classes, and UCLA reached the tournament in all four of his seasons with the team.
Given the history between the two coaches, Salcedo said that the two know each other well and are still close today.
“I’ve always kept an eye out on their team throughout the past couple years,” Salcedo said. “I have a really good feel for their system of play and their individual players.”
After the regular season ended with back-to-back 1-0 losses to Stanford and San Diego State, senior midfielder Kike Poleo said that the tournament is a fresh start for UCLA.
“This is an opportunity for us to put things behind us and start new,” Poleo said. “We were kind of on the bubble for making the tournament, but we’re happy we’re here. We know as a team that if we get hot, we can go all the way to the national championship, and we’re up for the challenge.”
The winner will advance to play the No. 3-seeded Kentucky Wildcats in the second round. In the other half of the quadrant, Washington will host Lipscomb to decide who will face the No. 14-seeded UCF Knights.