UCLA - Five Star Recruiting Class - It is unlikely that anyone at UCLA needs to be reminded how much the perception of the Bruin’s success in any given season is shaped by what they do in the NCAA Tournament.
Last year the Bruins were 13-3-3 overall with an 8-1-1 mark in Pac-12 play that was good enough to secure their fourth conference title in the past five seasons and to earn the number six seed in the NCAA Tournament. The fact that the Bruins were subsequently bounced out of the tourney by a stunning 5-2 opening game loss at home to San Diego took a lot of the luster and spotlight off their 2012 season.
No doubt Bruin head coach Jorge Salcedo who directed UCLA to the Elite Eight in 2009 and 2010 and to the Final Four in 2011 was less than thrilled with that outcome. You have to go back to 2008 when Cal Poly upset the Bruins to find another season in which UCLA was one and done in the NCAA Tourney.
Back in 1969 when Lefty Driesell took over the reigns of the Maryland basketball program he paid homage to the UCLA basketball program and their head coach John Wooden who had put together a dynasty on the hardwood floor with an unprecedented string of national championship when he stated that he wanted to make Maryland the UCLA of the East. While the Bruins are no longer the powerhouse in basketball that they were back in the Wooden days they have continued to maintain their status over the years as the flagship team of the west coast in men’s soccer. UCLA has earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for thirty consecutive seasons so you can go ahead and pencil them into the 2013 NCAA Tournament field and feel comfortable about it.
UCLA losses the services of five seniors from the 2012 squad who made significant contributions during their stay in Westwood. The Bruin midfield in particular will have a different look beginning with the graduation of Ryan Hollingshead (7g, 8a) who was the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Not very many players will be missed more by their team than Hollingshead will be due to the tangible as well as intangible contributions he brought to the pitch for the Bruins. The departure of Fernando Monge (5g, 1a) who was an All-Pac 12 First Team selection and Evan Raynr (3g, 10a) who was an All-Pac 12 Second Team selection creates an additional gap that must be addressed in the midfield. Defensively the Bruins must replace center back Matt Wiet who was an NSCAA All-Region selection for three seasons and starting back Chris Cummings.
Returning forwards include seniors Reed Williams (7g, 4a), Victor Chavez (5g, 0a) and Max Estrada (3g, 1a) and junior Reed McKenna. Williams was a 2012 All-Pac 12 Second Team selection while Chavez was named to the All-Pac-12 Second Team. All four are very capable finishers who Salcedo will likely count on to replace the offensive firepower that was provided last year by Hollingshead, Raynr, and Monge.
Returning midfielders include All-Pac 12 First Team member junior Leo Stolz (0g, 8a), senior playmaker Victor Munoz (1g, 5a), sophomore Grady Holtz, a 2012 College Soccer News All-Freshman Second Team selection, who split time last year between a defensive midfielder and right back role, and sophomore Nico Gonzalez who saw action in four contests last year. Sophomore transfer Jordan Vale from Syracuse who was an All-Big East Third Team selection will contribute immediately. Sophomore Cole Nagy is among others who look to be in the mix.
Senior Joe Sofia (2g, 4a), an All-Pac-12 Second Team selection, who has been a starter since arriving on campus returns to anchor what should be a very solid Bruin defense. He will be joined by highly regarded junior Patrick Matchett and sophomore Javan Torre whose resume includes playing time with the U.S. U-20 National Team. Transfer junior Edgar Conteras from Taft College should be in the hunt for playing time right away.
Redshirt junior Earl Edwards who is a team captain is among the most athletic and battle tested netminders in the country. He returns in goal after positing a 1.22 goals against average last year and recording four shutouts. Sophomore goalkeeper Juan Certantes who played in five contests last year with four starts also returns to give the Bruin two very polished keepers.
Really talented recruiting classes are the norm rather than the exception at UCLA. The twelve member 2013 Bruin recruiting class will have a very good chance of winning a national championship if they remain together long enough. Five of the Bruin freshmen who all happen to hail from talent rich California are ranked among the top twenty-five players in the class of 2013 by College Soccer News. The class includes number one rated player forward Paul Arriola from Chula Vista, the number five rated player defender Nathan Smith from Clovis, the number thirteen rated player midfielder Willie Raygoza from South El Monte, the number fifteen rated player defender Michael Amick from Sunnyvalle, and the number twenty-one rated player forward Kevin De La Torre from Winchester.
The Bruins always play a tough national slate and their opponents within the Pac-12 Conference appear to be becoming more formidable. UCLA will be a work in progress in 2013 with Salcedo facing the challenge of effectively merging his talented newcomers in with returning players as well as the on-going task of merging the individual talents of his players into a unified team. With a solid nucleus returning supplemented by a blockbuster recruiting class UCLA should again be the best of the best on the west coast and a contender on the national scene.
Michael Amick - Defender - Sunnyvale, California - The Harker School - Played club for De Anza Force. Member U.S. U-18 National Team. NSCAA Youth All-American. Ranked #15 by CSN.
Gregory Antognoli - Forward - Fresno, California - San Joaquin Memorial High School - Transfer from Cornell University. Ranked by CSN as the number 94 player coming out of the class of 2012.
Paul Arriola - Forward - Chula Vista, California - Rated by CSN as the number one recruit in the country in the class of 2013. NSCAA Youth All-American. 2012 NSCAA Player of the Year.
Edgar Contreras - Defender - Lamont, California - Arvin High School - A junior transfer from Taft College. Second-Team NSCAA All-American. CVC Defender of the Year.
Kevin De La Torre - Forward - Winchester, California - Temecula Preparatory - Played for the Pateadores. CSN #21 player in class of 2013. NSCAA Youth All-American. U.S. U-17 National Team.
Michael Griswold - Midfielder - San Diego, California - Mt. Carmel High School - Played for San Diego Surf Academy. Broke the Mt. Carmel single season record for goal scored. Speedster.
Willie Raygoza - Midfielder - South El Monte, California - South El Monte High School - Played for LA Galaxy. Rated by CSN as the #13 player in the class of 2013. Member U.S. U-18 National Team.
Nathan Smith - Defender - Clovis, California - Buchanon High School - Played for California Odyssey. Rated by CSN as the #5 player in the class of 2013. Three-time NSCAA Youth All-American.
Jordan Vale - Midfielder - Auckland, New Zealand - Mount Albert Grammar School - Sophomore transfer from Syracuse. 2012 CSN All-Freshman Third Team. All-Big East Third Team. Netted nine goals.
Gage Zerboni - Midfielder - San Clemente, California - San Clemente High School - Played for West Coast FC. Netted twenty one goals at San Clemente in 2012. South Coast MVP. First-Team All-Orange County.
Aaron Simmons - Defender - Mansfield, Texas - Mansfield High School - Junior transter from SMU where he started in forty games over the past two seasons. 2011 Texas Gatorade Player of the Year. Played Dallas Texans Academy team.
Brian Iloski - Midfielder - Escondido, California - San Pasqual High School - Played with the LA Galaxy Youth Academy. Member of the U.S. U-18 National Team. NSCAA Youth All-American.