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UCLA men’s soccer kicks off Pac-12 conference play with No. 8 Stanford

Graduate student midfielder Ryan Becher dribbles through opponents for UCLA men’s soccer. (Jack Stenzel/Daily Bruin staff)

Men’s Soccer

No. 8 Stanford
Sept. 28, 5:00 p.m.

Wallis Annenberg Stadium
Pac-12 Networks
Oct. 1, 2:00 p.m.

Wallis Annenberg Stadium
Pac-12 Networks

By Anthony Aroyan

Sept. 27, 2023 1:45 p.m.

This post was updated Sept. 27 at 9:11 p.m.

The Bruins’ first foray into Pac-12 play will begin against their highest ranked opponent of the season.

UCLA men’s soccer (3-2-1) will kick off its 2023 campaign in the Pac-12 as it hosts two Bay Area foes in the form of No. 8 Stanford (5-1-1, 0-1-1 Pac-12) and California (3-2-3, 0-1-1) on Thursday and Sunday, respectively.

A 4-0 road victory at UC Irvine has given the Bruins a new wave of confidence, according to coach Ryan Jorden, who said his squad has the ability to convert opportunities and secure convincing wins – as they have demonstrated against Irvine and Rutgers.

“We’ve shown on multiple occasions that we’re capable of scoring four goals in a game,” Jorden said. “When you have the capacity to score goals, it gives your team lots of confidence and the belief you can win every time.”

Despite being one of the top soccer programs in the nation, Stanford has yet to record a win in conference play. Through two matches against No. 11 Washington and Oregon State, the Stanford squad recorded a draw and defeat, respectively.

Graduate student midfielder Ryan Becher said the Bruins are focused on the game at hand, rather than worrying about rankings and lionizing their opposition.

“If you can treat it like any other game, that’s what’s going to keep you consistent across your performances,” Becher said. “If we look at it any differently, then that’s when emotions can sometimes take over and that’s not what we’re looking for. Just because they’re ranked higher does not mean we’re not going to be able to play the way we want to.”

On the surface, the Bruins have been effective going forward, scoring nine goals in their last three matches. Forward Jack Sarkos is tied for second in the Pac-12 scoring race. The graduate student – dubbed the “Sark-nado” – has notched six to his tally, tied with San Diego State’s Austin Brummett.

Defensively, the team has focused on stopping passes through the middle and closing lanes to move the opposition to the wider areas and limit openings.

Senior defender Grayson Doody said his goal is to get more involved with distributing the ball and contributing to the attack.

“I’ve been hitting some long balls,” Doody said. “Our wingers are fast and aggressive so I’ve wanted to hit those channels where it gives our wingers a chance to run behind and compete for the ball.”

Doody’s efforts reflect a growing role among center backs in ball distribution. In the match against Irvine, one goal effort came off a long ball from graduate student defender Owen Schwartz.

While this weekend presents UCLA with two games on the Pac-12 campaign, Jorden and his players have reiterated that their sole focus is on Thursday’s contest against Stanford as they have committed to taking the season one match at a time.

With the 2023 season being the program’s curtain call for the Pac-12 before the move to the Big 10, some Bruins felt the upcoming matches had a special meaning to them.

Doody, in his fourth year as a Bruin, said he wants this team to make their mark on the conference for one final time.

“This season being our last chance in the Pac-12 gives us the motivation to want to go out on the highest note possible,” Doody said. “We’re making a statement that we want to do everything we can do in the Pac-12 and leave nothing behind, so there is definitely that excitement.”

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Anthony Aroyan
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