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UCLA men’s soccer upsets Stanford to clinch piece of its final Pac-12 Championship

Graduate student forward Jack Sarkos looks at the ball as he swipes his foot over it. Sarkos scored in the third minute of UCLA men’s soccer’s game against Stanford. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Men’s Soccer


UCLA3
No. 19 Stanford1

By Matthew Royer

Nov. 5, 2023 8:28 p.m.

This post was updated Nov 7 at 1:11 p.m.

For five games a shark was locked away in its tank.

Jack Sarkos spent the past two weeks on the bench with a knee injury while his teammates kept pace, remaining the only undefeated team in conference play and inching closer to the title.  

Without the graduate student forward, the Bruins averaged less than a goal per game. But with him back, the Bruins smelled blood.

UCLA men’s soccer (8-3-5, 5-0-4 Pac-12) defeated No. 19 Stanford (8-3-5, 2-2-5) by a score of 3-1 after Sarkos broke out of his tank – scoring in the third minute. The win clinched a share of the Pac-12 championship for the Bruins for the first time since 2012 and is the team’s ninth, and final, Pac-12 title.

“We had one goal at the beginning of the year – to win the Pac-12,” Sarkos said. “To accomplish that with a game in hand, we’re feeling pretty confident that we can get a result in and be sole winners.”

UCLA’s Pac-12 championship is the first under coach Ryan Jorden, who took over in 2019.

Fresh into the second half, redshirt junior forward Jose Contell picked up the first brace of his career with goals in the 48th and 53rd minutes to provide the Bruins with a cushion to get the win. His first goal was scored off of a cross from midfield by senior defender Tommy Silva that Contell caught with a header into the net.

Contell’s goal ended up being necessary insurance when the Cardinal scored a consolation goal in the 79th minute, but Stanford could not complete the comeback.

Jorden said the goals scored by the Bruins were crucial for the team to control the momentum throughout the game.

“Anytime you don’t have to chase a game, it matters a lot,” Jorden said. “Scoring early, in a lot of ways, means we can have a calmness about what we’re doing.”

Redshirt junior midfielder Tucker Lepley and graduate student midfielder Sean Karani celebrate together. The Bruins clinched their first Pac-12 championship in 11 years on Sunday. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

Jorden added that having Sarkos back proved monumental for the Bruins’ offensive approach against the Cardinal.

“He protects the ball, he puts it in a great position, and he takes his chances really well,” Jorden said. “Obviously, we’ve missed him a little over the course of a few games. We didn’t score as many goals, and it was great to have him back leading the line for us.”

Sarkos’ goal kickstarted the Bruins’ momentum, allowing the defense to hold the lead for the entire match behind Sam Joseph’s first start since Oct. 5. Freshman goalkeeper Wyatt Nelson made the last six starts in goal, but both goalkeepers have now started eight games each.

Joseph made two saves in the first half, including one in the 38th minute where the Cardinal attacking front forced the sophomore goalkeeper to stick his leg out and knock the strike over the crossbar for a corner kick.

Jorden said he was impressed with Joseph in recent practices – which led to his start – and in today’s match, adding that he feels comfortable having both Joseph and Nelson as options heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Silva, who is playing his fourth season of Pac-12 soccer, said the best part about clinching a share of the title is his excitement for his fellow seniors who have witnessed the program’s revitalization since Jorden’s arrival in Westwood.

“My freshman year, we won three games,” Silva said. “To come from that – from being not the strongest team, to having a chance to win a Pac-12 championship, is amazing. We’re so happy for all the work that we’ve put in over the past four years.”

UCLA will have a chance to win the Pac-12 championship outright Friday at San Diego State.

Sarkos said the team’s next goal extends beyond conference aspirations.

“​Win a national championship … make it to the college cup – I think we’re capable of doing all of these things,” Sarkos said.

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Matthew Royer | National news and higher education editor
Royer is the 2023-2024 national news and higher education editor. He is also a Sports staff writer on the men’s soccer and softball beats. He was previously the 2022-2023 city and crime editor and a contributor on the features and student life beat. He is also a fourth-year political science student minoring in labor studies from West Hills, California.
Royer is the 2023-2024 national news and higher education editor. He is also a Sports staff writer on the men’s soccer and softball beats. He was previously the 2022-2023 city and crime editor and a contributor on the features and student life beat. He is also a fourth-year political science student minoring in labor studies from West Hills, California.
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