Los Angeles Soccer: Jorge Saledo
December, 10, 2011
By Scott French | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireBruins players react after losing their NCAA Men's Division I semifinal soccer match to North Carolina.
UCLA had the talent, the game and the belief -- and was playing in star forward Chandler Hoffman's hometown -- and thought that would be enough to bring home a fifth NCAA men's soccer championship trophy.
So when the Bruins (18-4-2) looked for whatever pluses they might find after watching top-seeded North Carolina (20-2-3) overcome two deficits en route to a victory on penalty kicks in Friday night's College Cup semifinals, they focused on what they brought -- and what it meant in a sizzling encounter.
“It was probably a great soccer game to watch from a fan's perspective, and it was very emotional and a lot of ups and downs for us and for me as a coach,” UCLA boss Jorge Salcedo said after his team was outtallied, 3-1, in the shootout following a 2-2 draw. “That was two good teams out there. They had momentum, we had momentum. They had good players, we had good players.
“When I watched that first semifinal” -- Charlotte's penalty-kicks triumph over Creighton following, it should be noted, a rather poor game -- “I thought to myself, 'At least put on a performance that's worthy of a national semifinal.' And I felt like we did. ... It was a good game and a great advertisement for college soccer.”
That doesn't make it any easier to lose, especially when everything seemed to line up so perfectly. Salcedo had tweaked the way his Bruins play the game, installing a fluid, inspiring possession game. UCLA had senior leadership -- a rarity with so many top players leaving early for the pros -- and immense skill, especially among the juniors and sophomores. The previous eight opponents hadn't found the net, tying a school record.
The Bruins had never gone so long -- nine years -- between NCAA soccer titles.
“I thought from the spectators' point of view, tonight was obviously a great game. A lot of great players out there tonight,” assessed Hoffman, the Bruins' top scorer with 18 goals, who played in front of a large group of family and friends. “That does not [make losing easier] at all.”