UCLA Men's Soccer: 2020-2021 Season Preview and Game Preview vs. San Francisco Dons
UCLA Head Coach Ryan Jorden finally gets a chance to highlight the changes he made to the Bruin program with an eleven player 2020 recruiting class.
The 2020-2021 UCLA Men’s soccer season will finally get underway today after being postponed from its traditional Fall season, due to COVID-19. The Bruins are slated to play thirteen games with three non-conference games and a full Pac-12 schedule, which consists of home and away games against the five other members of the Pac-12 Conference — Stanford, UC Berkeley, Oregon State, Washington, and San Diego State. The Bruins were supposed to kick-off the season versus Westmont College last week but, due to COVID-19, that game was postponed until next week.
Now, the Bruins will begin their campaign this afternoon at 2 pm PT at Wallis Annenberg Stadium versus the University of San Francisco Dons. This is your preview of the ’20-21 team as well as of today’s game.
The Bruins are unranked heading into the season. In fact, only two Pac-12 teams—Stanford and Washington—were picked in the Top 25. In the Pac-12 preseason poll, UCLA was projected to finish fourth behind the aforementioned Cardinal and Huskies as well as the Oregon State Beavers.
UCLA is led by second-year Head Coach Ryan Jorden. In his first season after the departure of Jorge Salcedo, Coach Jorden led the Bruins to a 6-9-3 record. UCLA started the 2019 season pretty well, but faded at the end, going 1-5-2 in their last eight games and failing to qualify for the postseason. UCLA’s 2-6-2 conference record was the worst in program history.
Coach Jorden, however, has a history of building programs in his two previous head coaching stints. He first molded Cal Baptist into a powerhouse in his five years there. In his final two seasons, Coach Jorden led the Lancers to back-to-back national championships in the National Christian College Athletic Association in 2011 and 2012. He then left for University of the Pacific and resurrected a program that had been discontinued for almost 30 years. Although his first two seasons were tough sledding, he went 13-4-2 in both 2016 and 2017 and 12-5-2 in 2018, leading the Tigers into the NCAA Tournament in all three years. With this pedigree and the availability of considerably better talent at UCLA’s disposal, Coach Jorden has Bruin fans expecting similar results in the coming years, if not this season.
2020 Recruiting Class
In order to improve in his second year, Coach Jorden has reloaded with eleven new players for this season. UCLA’s 2020 class was ranked #15 by CBS Sports. Next year’s 2021 recruiting class has the potential to be even better, but that’s a story for another day. With only his new recruits, three forwards, three midfielders, three defenders, and a goalkeeper, Coach Jorden could hypothetically field an entire team in a 3-3-4 formation! This is not accident. Coach Jorden wants more balance, competition, and depth at each position.
Given that there are so many new faces this season, it is difficult to predict a starting XI, although the eleven starters do not mean as much due to the more liberal substitution rules in the college game. There are, however, some players who figure to be major fixtures in UCLA’s lineup.
One player whose spot appears to be solid is senior midfielder Eric Iloski. Iloski was drafted by the Vancouver Whitecaps last month but, due to the pandemic, MLS is permitting this year’s college draftees to finish out their college careers before joining teams for the 2021 season. So, Iloski returns to UCLA for his senior season after scoring two goals and assisting on four others in 2019. Iloski has been a mainstay in UCLA’s midfield since he was a freshman and figures to be one of the leaders of this year’s team.
The same can be said of senior midfielder Marcony Pimental, who started every game for UCLA last year, recording two goals and three assists.
Milan Iloski, Eric’s brother, scored 17 of UCLA’s 29 goals in 2019. No other player scored more than two goals and two of those guys have graduated. With Milan now plying his trade in the Real Salt Lake organization, who is going to score goals for UCLA this season?
Kevin Diaz, a junior forward who transferred from Cerritos College, scored 39 goals in 50 games in his junior college career. The kid has a nose for the net. The question is whether he can continue to do so against the heightened competition of the Pac-12. UCLA certainly hopes that he can.
Expect the midfield to shoulder a lot of the scoring load. The Bruins only list three other forwards on their roster, two of which are freshman and the other, sophomore Ollie De Visser, played only 47 minutes last season.
Junior goalkeeper Justin Garces should spend most of the time between the pipes for UCLA this season, just as he has done in his freshman and sophomore years. Garces has a strong pedigree with United States U-19 experience and hailing from the Atlanta United Academy, but his record at UCLA is only 12-12-2, with six clean sheets. Garces will look to improve on those numbers in 2021.
Of course, Garces’ .500 record is not all on him. The Bruins allowed 37 goals in 18 games last season, and 21 goals in 19 games in 2018. The defense in front of him has to be better.
Ahmed Longmire, a 6’3”, 190 lb. junior transfer from Utah Valley, hopes to bring some more physicality to the center back position and bolster the defense. Longmire was a First Team All-WAC selection in 2019, playing every minute of the season for the Wolverines. Can he transfer that skill to the more competitive Pac-12? That remains to be seen.
Senior right back Ben Reveno, who started every UCLA game last season as a junior transfer from UC Irvine, should also be a consistent contributor.
Game Preview: San Francisco Dons
San Francisco upset UCLA in the teams’ last meeting on September 2, 2018, at Wallis Annenberg Stadium. The Dons prevailed 1-0 and ultimately went 6-10-1 on the season, showing how far UCLA’s program had fallen under previous Coach Jorge Salcedo. The Dons had an even worse showing in 2019, going 2-14-1, and are on an eleven-game winless streak. San Francisco last won a game on September 15, 2019. In fact, USF’s last road win was . . . you guessed it . . . against UCLA in the aforementioned game in September, 2018, over 29 months ago
USF only scored nine goals last season, which were scored by six different players. Of those six, only defender Shayan Charalaghi returns this year. So most of what little scoring the Dons had last year is no longer with the team. San Francisco does return its goalkeeper, senior Ruben Stulver, a Dutch international. Stulver allowed 34 goals last season,with 72 saves and he had one clean sheet.
The Dons’ backline survives mostly intact from last season, but that might not be saying much, considering the results they had in 2019.
I think that Bruins win this game, but it is not going to be smooth sailing due to all the new faces and limitations placed upon the program due to COVID-19. I predict that the Bruins will win this one on the talent advantage alone by a score of 3-1. A tight 2-1 game will look better for UCLA as the Bruins extend their lead and relieve the pressure of a possible late equalizer by scoring in the final ten minutes.
Thanks for reading! This is your UCLA v. San Francisco men’s soccer open thread.
UCLA Men’s Soccer (0-0)
Opponent: San Francisco Dons (0-0)
When: 2:00 pm PT, Monday, February 8, 2021
Where: Wallis Annenberg Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Live TV/Stream: None
Audio: uclabruins.com with Nick Koop
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast