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UCLA men’s soccer secures three-game winning streak with victory over California

Redshirt sophomore midfielder Tucker Lepley dodges defenders to maintain possession. The 2021 team MVP and leading point-getter made his season debut on Friday against California after returning from injury. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin staff)

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By Ethan Ng

Oct. 21, 2022 1:10 p.m.

The Bruins had plenty to celebrate as they claimed their third win in a row.

UCLA men’s soccer (8-4-1, 3-2-1 Pac-12) secured a 1-0 victory over cross-state rival California (3-6-4, 1-4-1) on Thursday at Wallis Annenberg Stadium. The Golden Bears were down to ten men in the 32nd minute after defender Cameron Robie was assessed a red card, and the Bruins capitalized not long after.

After an attack from the Golden Bears fizzled out in the 42nd minute, the Bruins hit them on the counter as redshirt senior forward Kevin Diaz found himself with the ball in space on the left wing. He then played a low cross into the box where redshirt sophomore forward Jose Contell collected the ball and fought off a last-ditch tackle before striking the ball into the net. Contell marked the occasion with his signature backflip celebration.

Contell, who also scored in the reverse fixture at Berkeley, netted his third goal of the season.

“This was a very important game for us,” Contell said. “So when I saw Kevin running in behind, I thought that that was my chance, so I ran as hard as possible and I was able to score.”

The blue and gold have struggled with consistency this season, having lost two games in a row on two separate occasions. Nevertheless, coach Ryan Jorden said he was pleased with the team’s resolve.

“We played with a man down for an hour (against GCU) and then we had to suffer because we were tired and then we had to play two top teams right after that,” Jorden said. “Now looking at us, three wins on the bounce, no goals conceded, I think that says a lot about the group and how we’re progressing.”

The Bruins also saw redshirt sophomore midfielder Tucker Lepley return from injury to make his first appearance of the season. Lepley – who was last season’s team MVP and leading point-getter with five goals and six assists – said he was happy to be back on the pitch.

“I’m super grateful and blessed to be back playing the sport I love,” Lepley said. “My recovery took longer than I expected, but my teammates supported me the whole way through and I hope to come in and keep pushing us to a higher level.”

Jorden said he was also pleased to see Lepley return to action.

“It’s fantastic to have him back,” Jorden said. “He’s an emotional leader for us and obviously we know that he’s a good footballer, so to have him back in the squad is a great boost.”

The match was also a celebration of the 1997 and 2002 NCAA soccer championship teams, which featured players such as former United States men’s national tema defender Jimmy Conrad. Members of the squad were able hear from and interact with the former players, one of whom is the current Cal coach.

“We were all able to meet them and shake their hands,” Lepley said. “Those teams won 20 years ago, but seeing their friendships that they still have and how close they are inspires us to push for national championships. They laid the foundation for us, so we just want to make them and the school proud.”

UCLA will next match up against No. 5 Stanford – with whom the blue and gold drew 0-0 away last time out – on Sunday at home in its last homestand of the regular season.

“This is probably the biggest game of the year,” Lepley said. “For our seniors, it could be their last time playing on home field, so we really want to win it for them and for the school.”

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