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UCLA men’s soccer upsets Clemson to advance to 3rd round of NCAA tournament

Redshirt sophomore midfielder Tucker Lepley beats out a defender and tracks down the ball. Lepley scored UCLA’s game-winner against Clemson, his third goal in seven games this season after coming back from injury. (Vivian Xu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

men’s soccer

No. 6 Clemson1

By Ethan Ng

Nov. 20, 2022 6:18 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. 

In the 78th minute, the Bruins had the ball in Clemson’s final third.

After a few attempted tackles, the ball dribbled out to the left wing, where freshman midfielder Cam Wilkerson picked up the ball and lofted the ball into the box.

The ball fell to redshirt sophomore forward Jose Contell, who chested it down before redshirt sophomore midfielder Tucker Lepley pounced on the ball, smashing it with his left foot with a crisp volley. Clemson goalkeeper Joseph Andema could only watch as the ball flew into the bottom right corner of the net as the Bruins took the lead.

“When the ball swerved into (Contell), I yelled at him, ‘Lay it! Lay it!’ and he dropped it down for me, and all I could think in my mind was to smash it,” Lepley said. “Luckily for me, it hit the side netting, and there’s no greater feeling than going into the corner and celebrating with my boys, so I’m over the moon.”

UCLA men’s soccer (12-6-1, 4-4-1 Pac-12) unseated the defending national champions No. 6 Clemson (13-7-1, 3-4-1 ACC) 2-1 on Sunday night to advance to the third round of the 2022-2023 Men’s College Cup. The victory marks the first time a team under coach Ryan Jorden has made it past the second round and the 11th time in program history. 

The game was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams recording six shots on goal each on double-digit attempts. The Bruins also overcame a 1-0 deficit to secure a victory for the second consecutive match.

Jorden said the blue and gold’s performance against Cal Baptist in the first round of the tournament made its victory against Clemson even more rewarding.

“It takes a lot to make it here,” Jorden said. “Knowing what we had to do in the first round – coming from 1-0 down and winning and then doing it again – makes this even more enjoyable.”

Clemson broke the deadlock in the 23rd minute with a penalty from defender Hamady Diop, but UCLA responded swiftly after Andre Ochoa’s curling effort from 20 yards struck the net in the 31st minute. The junior forward, who transferred from San Diego State this year, scored his third goal of the season and the 10th in his collegiate career.

Speaking of his goal, Ochoa said he was solely focused on helping the team get back in contention.  

“The only thing on my mind was getting that equalizer,” Ochoa said. “I was super excited after my goal, and I’m just happy to help the team.”

Lepley, who is Ochoa’s roommate, said Ochoa has elevated his play in recent weeks.

“I can’t even describe how happy I am for him,” Lepley said. “I feel like he’s been so close to taking off, and I feel like he’s done that in the last couple of weeks. I told him before the game, ‘You’re going to have a good one tonight,’ and he put it top bins.”  

After Lepley’s goal, the Bruins began to park the bus. Despite having been out-shot by a margin of 49 on the season, with opponents also registering 32 more corner kicks, the blue and gold has allowed just one goal or fewer on 15 occasions. The Bruins secured the upset after holding out against an offensive onslaught from the Tigers in the final minutes.

Sophomore goalkeeper Nate Crockford was forced to make five saves on the night, including one with his boot to keep out an attempt from Clemson forward Mohamed Seye, who was through on goal in the 19th minute.

Ochoa had nothing but praise for Crockford and the back four for their performances.

“They’re the ones that hold us down,” Ochoa said. “We’ve had around eight shutouts this season, and tonight, they were amazing. They were a solid brick wall.”

UCLA will face Vermont, who upset No. 11 SMU on Sunday, in the third round of the NCAA tournament next weekend. 

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Ethan Ng
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