For the fourth time under Head Coach Jorge Salcedo, the UCLA Bruins have been recognized as having the top recruiting class for 2013, having also been seeded seventh in the preseason polls.
And despite their disappointing 5-2 defeat to San Diego in the second round of the 2012 College Cup, Salcedo is hoping that his new recruits can slot straight into what is a very prestigious program at UCLA.
“We lost five players who were among some of the best players in the country,” Salcedo said. “Our expectation is that these new guys can slot in right away. It’s a completely different game coming from youth soccer to college soccer – the standard of play, the physicality, the aspects required in a player’s game. It’s a completely different level that they’ll experience in their first year of college.”
Seven of Salcedo’s recruits have experience playing with Youth National Teams: Michael Amick, Gregory Antognoli, Kevin De La Torre, Brian Iloski, Willie Raygoza, Nathan Smith (all USA) and Jordan Vale (New Zealand). Given their involvement with their countries from such a young age, the Bruins Head Coach believes it puts them in a perfect position to slot into one of the most competitive programs in the country.
“Part of the responsibility of being a Youth U.S. soccer player is living up to expectation, and we have an expectation that they do well with us, in the inter-state tournament and hopefully in the National Championship,” he said. “The expectations are something they have experienced as youth national team players before they have even come to UCLA. The expectations have been at a high level and at a high standard with the national team. Being one of the best players in the country at youth level comes with a responsibility to be successful on a daily basis.”
However, Salcedo is aware that his new charges will have to work hard, especially given that the Bruins have lost five players from last year and the step up to college soccer is a very difficult one for young players to take.
He said: “Having one of the top recruiting classes in the country, it is a completely different level they’ll be entering, and their youth national team experience and the expectations they’ve had before will prepare them. But nothing can prepare you like going through preseason and going into the regular season with a college team like UCLA.”
The Bruins are returning a number of players from last year, however, so while they have plenty of fresh faces to integrate into the squad, UCLA will have plenty of experience to draw on during the NCAA season.
“One of the most important factors of being successful is the experience and going through challenging moments over and over again and understanding how we want to play the game,” Salcedo added. “The fact that we have guys here who will have been here for four years is going to bode well for the season.”
It could be a challenging season for UCLA though, but Salcedo is hopeful that his new players will be capable of playing a high tempo game that puts their opponents under pressure, the type of soccer that the head coach is always keen for his sides to play.
He said: “Year-in and year-out, the first couple of weekends are weekends where I hope we can get to the point where we’re playing good soccer, that we are dominant and that we keep the ball and have good possession of the ball and that we move the ball well and retain the ball and try and get the ball back as quickly as possible. That’s something we’ve identified a lot more this preseason as I feel very strongly that we are going to be the team has more possession than the other team we play against.
“I also want us to play the game in the other team’s half of the field and want us to be where we understand how to do that as a group. The first few weeks that’s our goal, to slowly become a team that plays in the opposing team’s half of the field and keeps possession in the other team’s half of the field. Those are our two main focuses, our two main goals moving into the early part of the season.”
With just one exhibition game left after a 3-0 win over Westmont College on August 17, the time to integrate all these new recruits is fast running out as the Bruins prepare for the NCAA season. However, with a vast array of international talent swelling their ranks this year, UCLA will present a tough test for any opponent as they look to avenge last year’s shock defeat.