The Bruins are off to their best conference start since 2012, going 4-1 in the first half of Pac-12 play.
First-half success has been a seasonlong trend for No. 21 UCLA men’s soccer (8-4, 4-1), which took down San Diego State (5-6-1, 1-4-0) by 2-1 on Saturday night for its third-straight win.
The Bruins held the Aztecs scoreless before halftime, logging their 11th first-half shutout in 12 games.
UCLA has outshot its opponents 68-33 in first halves this season. Coach Jorge Salcedo said Saturday that early defensive intensity has been key to the team’s game plan.
“The beginning of the game establishes the rhythm of the game,” Salcedo said. “We try to control the game at the beginning. It’s a great statistic to show how successful we’ve been at controlling games from the get-go. It’s something that we’re cognizant of – we go into every game not wanting to give up anything in the first half.”
UCLA surrendered three goals in a seven-minute span during the first half against UC Santa Barbara in its final nonconference game. The Bruins have given up zero goals and just two shots on goal in 225 minutes of first-half play in five conference games.
“From the first game, we wanted to have a record-breaking number of clean sheets,” said redshirt senior midfielder Joab Santoyo. “That’s our objective every game. It’s always great to start off on the right foot, with the right defensive mentality of making sure they don’t get any easy goals.”
UCLA’s starting lineup includes freshman defender AJ Vasquez, who earned a spot on the TopDrawer Soccer Team of the Week for his defensive play against Washington and Oregon State two weeks ago.
Senior defender Erik Holt, who was listed as a contender to win the MAC Hermann Trophy in the preseason, has also started every game for the Bruins.
“Credit to our defenders, they’ve done a great job this season,” said freshman midfielder Cody Sundquist. “Getting these shutouts is a big goal that I know they’ve had. I think we’ve just been really solid in the back. … We just want to keep it going like this and win the Pac-12.”
The Bruins’ first-half prowess has launched them into the middle of a tight race for the Pac-12 title. UCLA took sole possession of first place for one day with its win Saturday, before Stanford pulled even with a 3-2 victory over Washington on Sunday.
Last season, UCLA started 4-2 against Pac-12 rivals before ending on a four-game losing streak. Salcedo said while these first five games have put the Bruins in a strong position to contend, they cannot lose their focus in the second half if they want to win their first Pac-12 title since 2012.
“The job is only half done,” Salcedo said. “In the Pac-12 conference, it’s not how you start, but how you finish. We need to be even better over these next five games. If we are, we have a real shot at winning the title.”
UCLA does not have any Pac-12 matches this week, but will play a nonconference game against Loyola Marymount at home on Saturday.