As the Bruins approach conference play, their season has been a roller coaster ride through the rankings.
No. 23 UCLA men’s soccer (4-2) opened the preseason outside of the United Soccer Coaches’ top 25. But after a road victory against then-No. 18 Coastal Carolina in the season opener, UCLA leaped to the No. 8 spot.
In week two, the team won its home opener against San Diego. But after losing 1-0 to San Francisco, UCLA fell back out of the rankings.
The team then traveled to College Park, Maryland, and took down Maryland 1-0. The next rankings shot UCLA back up to No. 11. But after splitting matches against Omaha and CSUN, UCLA fell back to No. 23.
The Bruins have faced inconsistency in the polls – as well as on the field – behind their freshmen-heavy lineup. Coach Jorge Salcedo had said before the season started that he knew there was a lot of young, raw talent on the roster.
“I think we have a group that has some potential to be a good team,” Salcedo said before the season. “We have guys that are young but are really talented players. … They bring characteristics to the group that are going to enhance our group.”
One of the headliners of Salcedo’s No. 1 recruiting class is junior forward Mohammed Kamara. The Tyler Junior College transfer has led the Bruins with four goals in six appearances for far – but his season is not without its speed bumps.
Kamara had an opportunity for a game-tying penalty kick Sept. 16 against CSUN, but he missed the net wide left and UCLA was unable to complete the comeback.
The Bruins’ defense started the season with three clean sheets over the first four games, but they have allowed three goals over the last two. After the preseason opener against Grand Canyon on Aug. 14, redshirt junior defender Matt Powell said he wanted to ingrain a defensive personality on the new players.
“With the new class coming in, we’ve added some reinforcements,” Powell said. “I’m personally just trying to get the new guys on board with a tough defensive mentality where we’re not letting up too many goals like we were last year.”
Powell and the Bruins allowed .67 goals per game through the first six games, a vast improvement on the 1.74 mark from the 2017 season.
While the defense has been more efficient, it could not clamp down and preserve a lead against CSUN. But according to Salcedo, the inconsistencies from that game can be ironed out.
“Could we react better? Absolutely,” Salcedo said. “Could we try and prevent the initial shots? Absolutely.”
The fluctuations the Bruins have endured this season are drastic, but senior defender Erik Holt said he just wanted to get back on the field.
“There are some ups and downs this season,” Holt said after the loss to CSUN. “We’re looking forward to a good week of training.”