UCLA 2015 Team and Recruiting Class Review

School - UCLA 
Conference - Pac-12
Coach - Jorge Salcedo (12th Season)
Background - UCLA is among the elite men's college soccer programs in the country. The Bruins annually bring on board one of the top if not the top recruiting class in the country. As a result a good case could be made that no program is more scrutinized nor has higher expectations than UCLA. With the level of talent to work with at UCLA some view anything less than a trip to the Final Four as unacceptable. The last time the Bruins won a national championship was in 2002 under the direction of Tom Fitzgerald. Last year looked to be the year that the Bruins secured their fifth national championship and their first under Jorge Salcedo and get that monkey off Slacedo's back. They came close but it didn't happen. Regardless, UCLA is a program that has continued to thrive under Salcedo earning trips to the Final Four in 2006, 2011 and 2014. The Bruins were 14-4-6 overall last year with a 6-2-2 mark in conference play. They were awarded the number two seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament and topped San Diego, California, North Carolina and Providence to advance to the national championship where they lost to Virginia in a match that was determined by penalty kicks. The Bruins have won four out of the last seven Pac-12 Titles. They have earned thirty-two consecutive NCAA Tournament berths and have advanced to the Final Four fourteen times. UCLA won the national championship in 1985, 1990, 1997, and 2002. Midfielder Leo Stolz was the 2014 Hermann Trophy winner and was named a First-Team All-American by NSCAA and College Soccer News. Defender Michael Amick was named a 2014 Second-Team All-American by College Soccer News and a Third-Team All-American by the NSCAA. Stolz, Amick and goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. were named 2014 All-Pac-12 First Team selections. Forward Seyi Adekoya was a 2014 All-Pac-12 Second Team selection. Adekoya, forward Abu Danladi and defender Chase Gasper were named to the 2014 College Soccer News All-Freshman Team. 
Offense - The great news at Westwood on the offensive side of the ball heading into the 2015 season is that the Bruins will have three of their top four goals scorers from the 2014 team back in 2015. The challenge is that the one that will not be returning due to graduation is midfielder Leo Stolz who was the 2014 Hermann Trophy winner, their top scorer goal, and the team catalyst. Despite the departure of Stolz, the Bruins will have one of the most dynamic attacking front lines in the country in 2015. If their freshman seasons are any indication, forwards Abu Danladi (5g, 6a) and Seyi Adekoya (5g, 4a) should find the back of the net a lot in 2015. Danladi missed a large part of the 2014 season with injuries but looks to be back stronger and healthier than ever. Senior Larry Ndjock (7g, 0a) who is a proven goal scorer also returns to add yet annother dimension to the Bruin attack. The fact that all three elected to return instead of entering the professional ranks is a huge boost for the UCLA offense. Sophomore Christian Chavez (2g, 0a) who played in twenty-three games last year with eight starts will also add to the attack up-top. There could be some trial and error throughout the early part of the 2015 season in the midfield as the Bruins seek to find the right combination to fill the void that obviously exists due to the graduation of Stolz. His departure opens the door for attacking center midfielder junior Brian Iloski (2g, 1a) to have a breakout season since he will have the opportunity assume a greater role. Junior Willie Raygoza (0g, 2a) who has been hampered by injuries at times during the past two seasons is among other returning midfielders whose role will likely increase in 2015. Juniors Felix Vobejda (0g, 3a), Jordan Vale (1g, 1a) and sophomore William Cline are among other talented returning linkmen who should play key roles. Highly regarded freshmen Jackson Yueill and Jose Hernandez should also challenge for playing time in the midfield from the get-go. Senior defensive midfielder Grady Howe (0g, 2a), who is among the best in the country at his position, returns to set the pace and add value on both sides of the ball.    
Defense - A team can only go so far in Pac-12 play or on the national scene without a strong defense. Things are looking good for the Bruins on the defensive side of the ball with the entire starting backline consisting of center backs and team captains Michael Amick and Edgar Contreras (0g, 2a) and outside backs Nathan Smith and Chase Gasper (2g, 4a) slated to return along with defensive midfielder Grady Howe. As a result the backline looks to be a team strength heading into the 2015 campaign and should be a plus for the Bruins out of the gate when they open the season at home with New Mexico and then travel to the east coast to tangle with Maryland and Georgetown. Senior Javan Torre (1g, 0a) also figures to be in the mix in the back. Midfielder Felix Vobejda who did a great job of filling in for Smith when he broke his leg late in the 2014 season could also be utilized in the back if needed. Freshmen backs Malcom Jones and Erik Holt are among the newcomers who will add depth to the backline. The biggest unaswered question heading into the 2015 season exists in goal due to the graduation of Earl Edwards Jr. who was a three-year starter and team captain. Redshirt junior Juan Cervantes looks to be in line to take over the starting goalkeeper role. Sophomore Pepe Silva and freshmean Dakota Havlick are among those who will provide depth between the pipes.  

Newcomers - Five Star Recruiting Class  

Dakota Havlick - Goalkeeper - Murrieta, California - Murrieta Valley High School - Played for the LA Galaxy Academy. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number 116 player in the class of 2015. Attended several U-18 U.S. National Team camps.

Jose Hernandez - Midfielder - Casa Grande, Arizona - Vista Grande High School - Played for the Real Salt Lake Academy. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number twenty-five recruit in the class of 2015. 2014 NSCAA Youth All-American. 

Erik Holt - Defender - San Diego, California - Vista Grande High School - Played for Real Salt Lake Academy. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number twenty-one player in the class of 2015. 2014 NSCAA Youth All-American. 

Malcolm Jones - Defender - Chino Hills, California - Ayala High School - Played for the LA Galaxy Academy. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number eight player in the class of 2015. Member of multiple U.S. National Teams. 2014 NSCAA Youth All-American. 

Robert Knights - Forward - Irvine, California - Northwood High School - Played for the LA Galaxy Academy. Attended the U.S. U-18 National Team camp in 2014. Previously paid for Strikers FC. 

Blayne Martinez - Forward - Dana Point, California - San Clemente High School - Played for Patedores Academy. First-Team All-County. First Team South Coast League. Netted a total of forty-two goals in two high school seasons.

Cole Martinez - Goalkeeper - Dana Point, California - San Clemente High School - Played for Pateadores Academy. Had ninty-three saves and recorded fifteen shutouts in two high school seasons. Previously paid for West Coast FC. 

Stephen Payne - Forward - Riverside, California - Lake Forest Academy - Played for the Chicago Magic PSG Academy. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number twenty-eight player in the class of 2015. IHSSCA Illinois All-State. Netted a total of twenty-four goals and contributed fourteen assists as a senior in high school.

Alberto Poleo - Midfielder - Miami, Florida - Gulliver Preparatory - Played for Kendall SC Academy. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number 137 player in the class of 2015. First Team All-Dade County.  Previously played for West Pines Strikers where he scored forty-two goals in three seasons.

Matthew Powell - Midfielder - Castro Valley, California - Bishop O'Dowd High School - Played for DeAnza Force Academy. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number eighty-seven player in the class of 2015. 

David Villegas - Forward - Sacramento, California - Da Vinci Charter Academy - Played for DeAnza Force Academy. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number twenty player in the class of 2015. 2014 NSCAA Youth All-American. Has attended camp with multiple U.S. National Teams.

Jackson Yueill - Midfielder - Bloomington, Minnesota - Bloomington Jefferson High School - Ranked by College Soccer News as the number six player in the class of 2015. Played for the Minnesota Thunder Academy. 2014 NSCAA Youth All-American. Member of the U.S. U-18 National Team. 

Prognosis for 2015 - Eight starters return but the one that will be missing, All-American and Hermann Trophy winner Leo Stolz, looms as a big loss and huge void to fill. The graduation of netminder Earl Edwards Jr. also creates an unanswered question. Regardless, few teams can match the level of talent that UCLA will have in 2015. The Bruins have again added a deep and talented recruiting class that consists of both blue chip recruits and a few late bloomers who could surprise. In addition UCLA has a very good distribution of seasoned veterans like Ndjock, Howe, Contreras, Vale and Amik to compliment the extremely talented younger players like Danladi, Adekoya, Gasper, and Chavez who will play key roles in 2015. The team chemistry of the 2014 team appeared to be really strong. Replicating that in 2015 will be a critical success factor. The bottom line is that the Bruins will continue to play an attractive brand of soccer on the offensive side of the ball with the speed, touch on the ball, elusiveness, and power that makes them difficult to defend.  With all the offensive weapons returning, led by Danladi, Adekoya, and Ndjock, UCLA will continue to be a force on the offensive side of the ball. The backline including defensvie midfielder Howe will be experienced and barring injuries should be among the best in the country. If the midfield led by junior Brian Iloski gels and matures as the season progresses and the play in goal is solid then the Bruins will be a legitimate contender for another trip to the Final Four and perhaps a fifth National Championship. 

 

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