Riley Ferch wasn’t always a name at the top of coach Ryan Jorden’s depth chart.
Since the start of the month, the sophomore midfielder has made six starts in UCLA men’s soccer’s (5-8-2, 1-5-1 Pac-12) seven October matches and has logged an average of 73 minutes on the pitch during that stretch.
“(He’s) a fantastic player,” said redshirt senior defender Matthew Powell. “Stats don’t lie. He can slip balls in between the lines, can put balls over, can whip a ball in, so he’s been crucial in us trying to get results and he’s a fantastic young player with a bright future.”
Before his start against UC Riverside on Oct. 1, Ferch had started just one game – UCLA’s first match against Northwestern. Through the first eight games of the season, Ferch averaged just over 43 minutes of playing time, 30 minutes less than his average in the month of October.
The sophomore now leads the Bruins with eight assists, double that of the next three Bruins, who are tied for second with four. Ferch’s ability to set up his teammates has landed him at second on the team in points with 10, only behind junior forward Milan Iloski and his 34 points.
Ferch also leads the Pac-12 in assists, with the next four players starting every game each of them had played in this season. Ferch, on the other hand, has started fewer than half of the games in which he has seen playing time.
“He’s a player who’s been really bright for us,” said coach Ryan Jorden. “(Ferch) has grown a lot, I think, learned things and developed over the year and has shown good success (as) a result of it.”
He was one of two players who assisted on Powell’s first-half equalizer in UCLA’s 3-2 loss to Oregon State on Oct. 27. But on the cusp of halftime, Ferch was substituted out of the game after indicating he felt pain behind his knee.
After Ferch’s departure, the Bruins were still able to outshoot the Beavers 9-4, but two quick strikes by Oregon State put UCLA down 3-1. The Bruins got one back on Iloski’s penalty kick in the 78th minute, but it wasn’t enough for UCLA to avoid losing its third straight match.
“I know I’ve always had good talent to attack, but coaches have told me defensively, that’s the biggest aspect of the game,” Ferch said. “You can’t let the other team score, so that’s what I’ve been working on.”
Ferch is also just one of two Bruins to tally more than one assist in a single game. Against both San Diego State and California, Ferch tallied two assists. The only other Bruin to register multiple assists in a match is junior midfielder Andrew Paoli, who did so against UC Riverside on Oct. 1.
Paoli’s total number of starting appearances has decreased since Ferch made his second start at the beginning of October. Before Oct. 1, Paoli was part of the starting 11 in every match, but has since started just three times.
Regardless of who is starting in the midfield for the remainder of the season, the Bruins will have to win out in order to remain eligible for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
“I don’t think anybody on our team should question it – we are good enough to win every game from here on out,” Jorden said. “We know we can go on the road and get results.”