On Friday night in Cary, North Carolina, the remaining four teams in Division I men's soccer begin the final leg of their quest for the 2014 College Cup. The second game of the evening, set to kick off at 7:30 p.m., will feature a former champion versus a College Cup newcomer.
UCLA (13-4-5) had quite the journey to the College Cup. The Bruins were truly tested in their 32nd consecutive postseason. They had to go through the No. 1 offense in the country in California, whom they beat 3-2. This past Sunday, although it took 90 regulation minutes, two overtimes and eight rounds of penalty kicks, the Bruins rose triumphant 7-6 in PKs against the No. 2 scoring team in the nation, North Carolina.
“The game was really entertaining for the fans,” UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo said. “It was a fantastic game overall that was challenging for the players and coaching staff.”Salcedo is no stranger to the College Cup. As a Bruins’ player, he scored the game-winning penalty kick in their 1990 championship. He helped to win the Cup again as an assistant coach in 2002. He has returned to the post season every season as a head coach and has UCLA back for their 14th College Cup appearance. He brings decades of experience to this Bruins squad.
“I am fortunate and blessed to have won it as a player and an assistance coach and then to have been there three times as a head coach,” Salcedo said. “I always tell the team that old expression that the most important play is the next play. If we continue to play at the same level we have all season then good things will happen.”
UCLA is led by senior midfielder Leo Stolz, a two-time Hermann Trophy finalist. He had a team-best 24 points and hasn’t relented in the playoffs, as he scored the game winner against San Diego in the second round.
“Each year he has gotten better.” Salcedo explained. “He has a competitive greatness about him. He was left heartbroken last season getting knocked out in the round of 16 and did a great job getting us back here. Leo is without a doubt our leader on the field and brings a lot more than what the numbers show to the team. He has been fiercely competitive in the 2014 playoffs.”The Bruins square off against yet another powerful scoring team in the Providence Friars. Coach Craig Stewart, in just his third year with Providence (16-4-2), has had a magical season with the Friars, leading them to their first Big East championship with a victory against Xavier. They put up 1.86 goals per game, good for 19th in the country, but were no slouches on the defensive side of the ball -- the Friars had five shutouts on the season as well. Providence now finds itselft in its first College Cup against a Division I men’s soccer powerhouse.
“You have to respect them,” Salcedo said. “[Providence was] up 3-1 against a very tough Michigan State team. They are a team that can score goals and they have been at it all year. Sometimes a team scores early in the year or in bunches, but they have been consistent all throughout the regular season and right through the post season. You have to respect a potent offense like that.”
The Friars are led by senior co-captains Brandon Adler and Phil Towler. Adler, a defender, and Towler, a midfielder, were both members of the All-Big East second team. They also have senior Fabio Machado and sophomore sensation Dominik Machado who have combined for a total of 30 points in leading their potent offensive attack.
While the freshness of Providence’s first appearance may have them on edge and have them a case of the nerves, it’s curious to wonder if UCLA is feeling the pressure. They are the highest-ranked seed (No. 2 overall) left in the tournament and have the pedigree and history to bring home another championship.
“We take a lot of pride in the previous two College Cups appearances so we respect all of our opponents. The pressure is on us to play to our full potential as a group and as a team,” Salcedo concluded. “At the end of the day it’s a soccer game that we’ve played over and over again this season. We go through the same routine to prepare, watch game film, and will be ready for this game just like every other.”