Los Angeles Soccer: Fernando Monge
UCLA stood five minutes from a chance to play for another NCAA soccer championship. Turns out their destiny led somewhere else.
The Bruins on Friday night twice watched leads slip away in the second half, lost their homecoming hero to heavy cramps, then came up wanting at the finish, falling to top-seeded North Carolina on penalties following a 2-2 draw in a Division I men's semifinal in Hoover, Ala., outside Birmingham.
The third-ranked Tar Heels (20-2-3), making their fourth successive College Cup final-four appearance, advance to Sunday's title game against Charlotte (16-4-4), which beat No. 2 Creighton on penalties in the first semifinal.
It was a devastating end for fourth-ranked (but 13th-seeded) UCLA (18-4-2), which dominated stretches of the match with a possession game that wearied North Carolina, went ahead on superb goals by Ryan Hollingshead in the 17th minute and Kelyn Rowe in the 74th, then conceded a late equalizer to All-American Billy Schuler.
“It was so close tonight, it could have gone either way,” UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo told ESPN Los Angeles after the game. “To win win a game, you need to have a little bit luck, a little bit skill. We had skill but no luck tonight.”
It was a marvelous encounter, full of incident, featuring great drama, massive momentum swings, great individual performances on both sides, some beautiful soccer -- especially by UCLA the latter part of the first half -- and four stunning goals.
All-American striker Chandler Hoffman, a Birmingham boy playing before family and friends, assisted both UCLA strikes but wasn't in position to score himself, thanks to expert work by North Carolina All-American Matt Hedges.
His departure with a hamstring injury in overtime -- “I was cramping like I've never cramped before,” he reported -- deprived the Bruins of their best finisher in the closing minutes and in the penalty-kick shootout, when they really missed him.
North Carolina won the tiebreaker, 3-1, with three of the Bruins' four shots taken poorly. Andy Rose and Rowe didn't get the ball close enough to the posts on the first two rounds, leaving simple stops for goalkeeper Scott Goodwin. Victor Munoz went up the middle to score on the third round, but Fernando Monge fired well wide left with the fourth shot, and Ben Speas -- an NCAA champion last year at Akron -- followed with the decisive kick.
“Unfortunately, when you miss the first one, it doesn't set a good tone,” Salcedo said. “But we didn't lose because we took poor penalty kicks. It's not one player, not one call, not one penalty kick in soccer that decides whether you win or lose. It's just the overall game.”
LOS ANGELES -- Chandler Hoffman was heading home to Birmingham, and he was bringing a couple dozen of his best college buddies with him.
They hope to return to L.A. with an NCAA trophy.
Hoffman, a sure-to-be All-American striker, leads UCLA into this weekend's College Cup men's soccer final four in Hoover, Ala., where the Bruins figure to be a fan favorite, with all of his family and friends filling seats.
“Man, my phone has been blowing up. Facebook has been blowing up,” Hoffman said as the Bruins prepared for Friday night's semifinal showdown with top-seeded North Carolina. “Everyone's excited to come out. It should be like a home game for UCLA.”
This is what Hoffman has envisioned since word arrived earlier this year that the College Cup would be played in Birmingham's suburbs. Now that it's here -- and the Bruins are there -- he can barely contain his excitement.
“I'm so waiting for someone to pinch me and wake up,” he said. “It just feels like a dream.”
That dream comes true if UCLA (18-4-1) overcomes the Tar Heels (20-2-2), then knocks off second-seeded Creighton (21-2-0) or Charlotte (16-4-3) in Sunday's final. It would be the fifth NCAA men's soccer title in school history, and it would fulfill Jorge Salcedo's dream, too.
The Bruins' head coach has been part of three UCLA titles -- as a ballboy in 1985, a freshman midfielder in 1990 and an assistant coach in 2002 -- and came close to winning another in his third season in charge of the program.
“It would mean so much,” said Salcedo, who played for four Major League Soccer clubs, including the Galaxy, and Morelia in Mexico. “I quietly always hope that it's going to happen, and now, once again, we have another chance. The loss [to UC Santa Barbara in the final] in 2006 left a bitter taste in my mouth, because we were a good team back then, I think ready to win a championship. But I think we're even more ready now as a program to win one.”
The Bruins have ample talent, extraordinary depth -- especially in attack -- and solid upperclass leadership, and there's that destiny thing at work, too. At least Hoffman believes so.
UCLA is headed to its 13th NCAA College Cup after Reed Williams' goal in overtime paid back Louisville for last year's quarterfinal thriller.
Williams (Newport Beach/Corona del Mar HS) scored 91 seconds into the second extra period to send the fourth-ranked (but 13th-seeded) Bruins (18-4-1) to next weekend's final four in Hoover, Ala., just outside Birmingham.
They'll face top-seeded North Carolina (20-2-2), a 2-0 winner over St. Mary's (11-7-5), in the semifinals. The other game will pair Sunday's winners, with third-seeded Connecticut (19-3-2) or Charlotte (16-4-2) facing second-seeded Creighton (20-2-0) or seventh-seeded South Florida (13-3-4). The game at Creighton was postponed by snow Saturday.
Williams fired from the top of the box through a thicket of defenders and inside the left post after Patrick Matchett (Laguna Niguel/Dana Hills HS) made a run from midfield, then played a give and go with Ryan Hollingshead on the right flank.
It led to a wild celebration for the Bruins, who watched two two-goal leads slip away and lost, 5-4, to Louisville in the closing seconds of last year's quarterfinal, which was played in a snowstorm.
This time, the conditions were mild -- low 50s drifting into the high 40s -- and UCLA did a superb job of absorbing pressure, pushing forward when the opportunity arrived, then forcing the issue once overtime arrived.
Louisville (14-7-2), which lost to Akron in last year's title game, had the better of the play much of the game but struggled to find chances when i got to the Bruins' box. All-American Chris Rolfe had several opportunities, but he fired high with an open shot in the 16th minute, poked the ball just wide of the right post while battling UCLA goalkeeper Brian Rowe in the 48th, then forced Rowe to parry a blast in the 85th.
That was all Rowe needed to tie a school record with his eighth straight shutout, extending his goal-less streak to 747 minutes, 40 seconds.
UCLA nearly tallied several times. A Fernando Monge header from a long throw-in by Joe Sofia (Dove Canyon/Mission Viejo HS) forced an early save from Cardinals goalkeeper Andre Boudreaux, who also made big stops on Eder Arreola (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS) in the 75th minute and, with a diving save, on Williams' header just a minute before the goal.
In other men's action:
- Michael Salazar (Moreno Valley/Canyon Springs HS) scored twice, with the winner in the 81st minute, to lead Cal Baptist (17-5-1) past Geneva (Pa.), 2-1, in the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association title game in Kissimmee, Fla. Salazar's 18th minute goal was answered by Jake McCracken's header eight minutes into the second half, and he netted the winner from a feed from Alex Anderson (Palmdale/Palmdale HS).
In women's action:Bernadette Witz (Temecula/Temecula Valley HS) scored just before halftime and again midway through the second half as Cal Baptist (18-2-1) rallied from an early deficit to beat Trinity International (Ill.), 2-1, and win the NCCAA championship in Kissimmee, Fla. The Lancers outshot TIU, 22-2, and took 14 corner kicks to none for their foe, but they were behind after Kelly Streekstra's long-distance drive in the 17th minute. Witz scored from a feed by Channing Perea (Riverside/Riverside Poly HS)'s feed to tie the score and from tournament MVP Fabiola da Silva's pass to net the winner.
Kopf scored in the 46th, 54th and 90th minutes to lead the 24th-ranked Anteaters (13-3-2), who went 6-1-1 in Big West play to edge Long Beach State by a point. UC Irvine will be home Wednesday against UC Davis in a conference tournament semifinal.
UCLA transfer Natalia Ledezma added a goal and two assists for UCI, which scored three goals in the first 8½ minutes of the second half to turn a tight match into a rout.
Kopf's trio gives her 11 goals this season; Ledezma leads the Anteaters with 12.
UC Riverside closes its season at 8-9-2.
In other women's action:
- Nadia Link (Rowland Heights/Walnut HS) scored the go-ahead goal in the 79th minute, then sent in a cross for Jazz Strozier (Ventura/Buena HS and Ventura College) to finish just 39 seconds later as Long Beach State pulled out a 4-2 victory over visiting Pacific. Link scored twice, her 13th and 14th goals of the season, as the 49ers (13-5-1) finished second in the Big West; they will meet Cal State Northridge in a conference tournament opener Wednesday.
- Sydney Leroux's 14th goal of the season arrived nearly eight minutes into overtime, lifting No. 6 UCLA (14-1-2) to a 1-0 Pacific 12 Conference victory at Utah.
- Ashley Freyer tallied in the 59th minute as USC (7-12-0) toppled host Colorado in a Pac-12 game, the Women of Troy's fourth win in their last five games.
- Lynn Williams and Laura Cole (Whittier/La Habra HS) scored 4½ minutes apart late in the first half as No. 3 Pepperdine (14-1-4) bounced back from Friday's loss to Santa Clara with a 2-1 victory over Portland.
Much has been made of Magee's heroic performance in the nets for the Galaxy last weekend, when he stepped into an unfamiliar role after starting goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts went down because of a broken arm and backup Josh Saunders was red-carded, then shut out the San Jose Earthquakes for 47-plus minutes.
Magee was honored as Major League Soccer's Player of the Week, then scored the winner in the Galaxy's U.S. Open Cup third-round victory Tuesday over the L.A. Blues.
Graf, a forward for the Ventura County Fusion, has a similar tale.
The 21-year-old Texan, heading into his junior year at Bradley University, volunteered to put on the gloves when Fusion goalkeeper Sam Hayden was injured 20 minutes into the Fusion's game nine days ago at BYU.
Like Magee, he'd never played the position. Like Magee, he turned in a stellar performance, conceding just once as V.C. pulled out a 2-1 triumph -- on Daniel Steres' 90th-minute goal -- in Premier Development League action.
Two days later, Graf got his first start for the Fusion, scoring twice in the first half-hour in a 4-1 romp at Ogden that improved their record to 8-0-4 and provided a four-point lead on Fresno Fuego (7-0-3) in a tight Southwest Division race.
Orange County Blue Star forward Fernando Monge, from UCLA, joined Graf on the PDL Team of the Week after scoring twice in a 4-1 victory over the Southern California Seahorses.
Orange County Blue Star made its move in the Premier Development League's Southwest Division playoff race, and Ventura County Fusion swept its matches in Utah to surge atop the standings, but it's the Fresno Fuego who remain in control.
Two postseason berths await a quartet of contenders, and Blue Star (7-3-1) appears likeliest to challenge the Fusion (8-0-4) and Fuego (7-0-3) for after routing the Southern California Seahorses (7-3-2) for their fifth straight win.
Fernando Monge scored twice from feeds by UCLA teammate Chandler Hoffman, who has 12 goals and six assists, in the 4-1 victory in La Mirada. O.C. is fourth, one point behind the Seahorses, but have a game in hand and head north this weekend for the first of two meetings with Fresno in its final five regular-season matches.
The Fusion, who won the PDL title in 2009 and the Southwest Division last year, are four points ahead of Fresno after toppling BYU and Ogden. Fresno would capture the division if it wins the rest of its games.
More on local clubs and players:
Hollywood United's move to the National Premier Soccer League has been successful if perhaps a mite or two too easy.
The Hitmen (10-0-1), bolstered by new signing Carlos Carrillo (from Salvadoran power Isidro Metapan) and the return of Nick Blanco (from ousted USL Pro side Puerto Rico United), clinched the Northwest Division title last weekend with a 4-1 drilling of the Sonoma County Sol. Blanco scored, and Jose Miranda netted his league-best 10th goal of the campaign.
That gives HUFC a 13-point lead on reigning league champ Sacramento Gold (5-3-3) with three regular-season games to go. The competition was surely better in the USL Premier Development League; the Hitmen are averaging four goals per game in the lower-cost NPSL and have won four games by at least four goals and two more by three.
The Southwest Division race tightened with one very unexpected result: San Diego Boca 3, San Diego Flash 2.
The Flash (7-3-0) came in perfect on the field (they forfeited two victories, one over Hollywood United, for using an ineligible player), and they rallied from a two-goal deficit on Larry Emeanua's eighth and ninth goals, the equalizer on a bicycle kick three minutes into stoppage. Boca (5-5-1) prevailed on Juan Perez's strike with virtually the final touch of the game.
That leaves the Flash and the Santa Ana Winds (7-3-0) even on points with four games to play and set to meet Sunday in San Diego. The Winds were clobbered, 4-0, in the first meeting June 4, and they dropped another last weekend against Sacramento.
More on local clubs and players:
PDL: Big weeks for UCLA's Chandler Hoffman and Fernando Monge with Orange County Blue Star and La Cañada Flintridge's Ryan Shaw with Southern California Seahorses.