Editor’s Note: Check your pulse if you haven’t gotten excited yet about University of Louisville soccer. Our resident expert on the sport, Andrew Melnykovych, a former Courier-Journal writer with college soccer officiating experience, previews the UofL-UCLA quarterfinal NCAA match coming up Saturday.
By Andrew Melnykovych
Expect a very different game this weekend at Cardinal Park when the University of Louisville takes on UCLA in an NCAA quarterfinal. Unlike last Saturday, when the Cards faced a very physical and direct Ohio State team in a game that at times resembled a street brawl, the Bruins can be expected to play a much more creative, flowing game that emphasizes passing and ball possession combined with stout defense in the back.
UCLA is one of the storied programs in college soccer ... They have been to the College Cup final four a dozen times, with eight appearances in the title game.
UCLA is one of the storied programs in college soccer. The program was built under legendary and Soccer Hall of Fame Coach Sigi Schmid, who led UCLA to three NCAA titles. They have been to the College Cup final four a dozen times, with eight appearances in the title game. Under current coach Jorge Salcedo, UCLA won the 2006 title and reached the quarterfinals last year. The 8th-seeded Bruins are on a run of 28 straight NCAA tournament appearances.
Over the years, the Bruins have produced scores of US national team players, including 100-cap stars such as Cobi Jones, Carlos Bocanegra, Paul Caligiuri, Joe-Max Moore, Frankie Hejduk and Brad Friedel. They have sent 56 players to Major League Soccer and several, notably Friedel, to the English Premier League.
Although a record of 16-4-1 might suggest otherwise, this is a rebuilding year for UCLA. The Bruins lost seven starters from last yearâ€™s team, and the roster includes 10 freshmen, nine sophomores and only two seniors. The top two scorers are freshmen Victor Chavez and Kelyn Rowe. Top â€˜keeper Brian Rowe (no relation to Kelyn) has allowed only .88 goals per game and has eight shutouts. As in the past, the roster is dominated by Californians â€“ 18 of them.
UCLA clearly has improved dramatically since a 5-1 beatdown at Indiana (which ended up seeded 14th and went out of the NCAAâ€™s last weekend at the hands of Akron, the team Ken Lolla coached before coming to Louisville) at the start of the season. But, throughout the season, they have fared much better at home than on the road, with three of the four losses coming away from home. UCLA and the Cards have had one common opponent in Notre Dame. UCLA beat the Irish 1-0 in their season opener in the Indiana tournament, while the Cards have defeated Notre Dame twice, 2-0, at home and 1-0 during the Big East Tournament at Newark.
The real home field advantage should come from another packed house dominated by loud and enthusiastic Louisville fans who have discovered that a premier college soccer program is being built in their city ... "
So this Saturday will be a match-up of one of college soccerâ€™s up-and-coming programs against a long-time mainstay in the sport. A contrast, to be sure. But it also will be a clash between two teams that resemble each other in many ways. Both sides are loaded with young players, many of whom are playing key roles in the team. Both will â€“ given a referee with limited tolerance for overly rough play â€“ display a very attractive style of soccer that features precision and pace. And both can play tough defense â€“ and tough the length of the field â€“ when required.
As is so often the case when similar teams meet, this game will be about being able to control the midfield. If the Cards can improve on their finishing touch â€“ they did not convert on a number of excellent chances in the Ohio State game â€“ they ought to prevail.
The chilly and damp weather should favor the Cards. But the real home field advantage should come from another packed house dominated by loud and enthusiastic Louisville fans who have discovered that a premier college soccer program is being built in their city and have embraced it. That will give the Cards the boost they need to reach what might well be the first of many College Cup final weekends.