Los Angeles Soccer: Patrick Matchett
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.”
There are 16 players from L.A., Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties playing in the NCAA College Cup this weekend in Hoover, Ala.
Almost all of them, no surprise, play for UCLA. (And not all of them, to be fair, actually play.)
The number is impressive, given that the Bruins recruit nationally, with their biggest names coming from Alabama (Chandler Hoffman), Washington (Kelyn Rowe), Oregon (Brian Rowe) and England (Andy Rose).
UCLA's starting lineup includes a winger from Chino Hills (Eder Arreola), and two defenders and a forward from Orange County (Patrick Matchett, Joe Sofia and Reed Williams). Another starting back from Bakersfield, in Kern County, and the first forwards off the bench are from Fontana (Victor Chavez) and Calabasas (Evan Raynr).
Second-ranked Creighton has two local products, both starting midfielders, both juniors, both All-Missouri Valley Conference second-team selections: Dion Acoff (Upland/Damien HS) and Jose Gomez (Santa Ana/Century HS and Cal State Fullerton).
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.
Jorge Salcedo didn't want to look.
His UCLA men's soccer team had just secured a quarterfinal showdown at Louisville, the game every Bruin wanted, and what he remembered most from last year's classic was the snow.
No. 4 UCLA (17-4-1) seeks its 13th final-four appearance in the sport Saturday night with a rematch of one of the greatest NCAA games in history, any sport, and Salcedo will be happy to know no snow will greet his side.
“I'm afraid to [check the forecast],” he kidded last weekend, after the Bruins dominated Rutgers to claim the school's 20th elite-eight berth. “We'll see. We've had inclement weather [in Louisville], we had hot weather when we were there [for a season-opening rematch] in August.”
It doesn't matter, the weather.
“We'll play them in a barn, we'll play them anywhere,” Salcedo said. “We're just excited about the chance to play a good team.”
The forecast for Saturday in Louisville is a high of 61 and a low of 47, cloudy but nothing falling from the sky. That's a lot nicer than in last year's quarterfinals, when the Bruins didn't deal well with the snow and slush and surrendered three goals after taking a 3-1 lead, rallied to tie, then conceded in the final seconds of regulation for a 5-4 loss.
Salcedo's judgment: “One of the wildest matches I have ever been a part of.”
- Stories/No. 8: UCLA's fabulous freshmen
It was an odd (and some might say off) year for college soccer in the Southland:
- UCLA's women didn't come close to an eighth straight trip to the NCAA College Cup final four (USC's disappointed, too)
- UC Santa Barbara's men never got a chance to try to win a championship at home (deserving Akron celebrated on the Gauchos' field)
- UC Irvine's stirring fall finished just short (what a run by the Anteaters' women) and with a stunning snub (how did their men, top 10 all year, not get an NCAA Tournament bid?)
- Let's not even mention the lower divisions, Azusa Pacific's women (NAIA semifinalists) aside.
The best team in these parts, and that wasn't clear until season's end, was UCLA's men, who needed nearly half the season to figure things out, then came up just shy of the program's 13th final-four appearance.
UCLA coach Jorge Salcedo has one of the most talented collection of young players in the nation.
And this year's youngsters might be the Bruins' best. Included were an All-American midfielder (Kellyn Rowe), a forward who turned down pro offers to come to UCLA (Fontana's Victor Chavez) and another forward coveted by top programs everywhere (Newport Beach's Reed Williams). Two top defenders (Dove Canyon's Joe Sofia and Laguna Niguel's Patrick Matchett) sneaked in under the radar. And maybe the best of the lot (goalkeeper Earl Edwards) saw no action, sitting behind a top veteran (junior Brian Rowe).
Seven freshmen played considerably and the class accounted for most of the goals (23 of 40, with Chavez's 10 tops on the team) and assists (27 of 52, with Rowe's 10 tops on the team).
UCLA went 16-5-1, absorbing a big loss early (5-1 to Indiana) and another defeat in front of the biggest crowd ever to watch a soccer game at a university field (2-0 to UC Santa Barbara in front of 15,896), then taking off on a 14-2 spree into the NCAA quarterfinals. They held two two-goal leads before succumbing, 5-4, to No. 1 Louisville in the snow.