When UCLA lost two of its first three games, some worried if the preseason expectations placed on the Bruins – championship contenders to many – were too high.
But instead of panicking and see a promising season go for naught, the Bruins have since steadied the ship.
“We obviously didn’t get off to a great start, but it takes time to become a good soccer team,” head coach Jorge Salcedo told MLSsoccer.com this week. “We lost a couple games early on, it hurts the team’s morale and confidence, you’ve got to build that back up and find ways to grow and develop as a team.”
Since going winless in those first three games (losing twice and drawing once), UCLA has won seven of its last eight games, and is starting to meet those lofty preseason expectations.
Salcedo didn’t lose heart from the slow start, attributing it in part to some new things he tried to impose on his experienced team.
“I changed things up in our system a little bit, the way we were playing,” he said, “and although I think we went through some growing pains at the beginning of the year, it will help us in the way we keep some possession of the ball.”
With the talent UCLA has on its roster, those early struggles were surprising.
Kelyn Rowe, a key member of the US Under-20 national team, is the midfield general, and he’s supported by talented forwards Eder Arreola and Chandler Hoffman, who leads the team with nine goals.
“He’s obviously having a good year so far, he’s scored some really good goals,” Salcedo said of Hoffman, a junior from Alabama. “He’s finished chances that the team has created in terms of the overall team buildup.”
While Rowe hasn’t put up the same kind of numbers in years past, the nature of his goals has stood out to Salcedo.
“Kelyn maybe hasn’t had the stats that he had at this point last year, but the goals he scored have been very high-quality finishes,” he said.
The Bruins open a tough stretch this weekend, however, with a trip to the Pacific Northwest to play Washington and Oregon State. Salcedo hopes the two-game swing can set the tone for the remainder of the year.
“If we can win these two games on the weekend, it puts us in a great spot towards the last part of the season and it will help us get to where we want to be.”
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com.