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Friday, September 7, 2007
UCLA still a contender despite early losses

Doug McIntyre

If what transpired last season is any indication, UCLA's 0-2 start could actually be a good omen.

After the Bruins' march to the College Cup final a year ago, it is easy to forget that it also took that team a while to notch its first win. UCLA kicked off last season by going 0-2-2, including a tie in their lone preseason match.

But then Jorge Salcedo's side won four straight matches and laid the foundation for a successful season that didn't end until the Bruins lost to SoCal neighbor UC Santa Barbara in the national title game.

So despite an OT loss to Notre Dame in the Hoosier Classic opener on Aug. 31, followed by another loss to host Indiana two days later, it is hardly time to panic in Westwood. (For the record, UCLA also lost its 2005 curtain-raiser.)

It's not like the Bruins fell to a couple of also-rans. The Irish and Indiana went into last weekend boasting top-10 rankings in the NSCAA/adidas preseason poll. Unlike on the NCAA gridiron, the top teams in college soccer are eager to test themselves against one another, and are willing to travel thousands of miles to do it. And the time for these matchups is September, before the schedule is loaded with conference games. That's part of the reason why few elite schools stay undefeated going into October.

The pollsters apparently recognize this, too. Consider that despite the 0-2 mark, UCLA dropped only nine spots to 11th, and remains ahead of Connecticut (14th), Fairfield (17th) and Akron (18th), squads that closed out the opening weekend of play 2-0.

That said, look for the Bruins to climb above .500 over the next 10 days. They head to Omaha to face Creighton on Saturday before returning to the Drake to host games against OSU and Penn State next weekend.

Big ups to Hoosiers fans, who broke a 20-year-old record by filling "The Bill" in record numbers for the UCLA win. Indiana's Bill Armstrong Stadium was packed to the gills for the team's second match of the campaign (IU tied Maryland 1-1 on Aug. 31), as 7,243 turned out, smashing the previous attendance benchmark by more than 1,200.

Junior forward Kevin Noschang was the hero for Mike Freitag's side, his goal breaking a 75th-minute deadlock to give the Hoosiers the win. Noschang also had his team's goal in the tournament opener. The consecutive strikes were enough to earn the Cincinnati native NSCAA Player of the Week honors.

Three ACC teams top the new season's initial rankings after starting out 2-0. Wake Forest sits in the pole position after taking the Nike Carolina Classic with victories over Monmouth and Old Dominion in Chapel Hill. Duke, which is second, trounced Delaware 6-1 and then cruised by Valparaiso 2-0 on Mike Grella's pair of goals. And Virginia is snapping at the heels of its conference mates after besting Columbia and Richmond by a 7-0 aggregate.

Another ACC team, Maryland, is ranked sixth after a win and a tie in its first two matches. But North Carolina is still looking for a victory. That it couldn't get it in its own tournament against average competition could mean a long season for the Tar Heels, who lost 2006 standouts Corey Ashe, Ben Hunter, Justin Hughes and Michael Harrington to MLS this season.

Maybe it's a championship hangover, but UCSB is also looking for its first W. Like UNC, the Gauchos also are rebuilding with nine seniors gone from its Cup-winning squad. But they still shouldn't have lost to Gonzaga, a program that went 9-8-2 last season. On the bright side, UCSB did outshoot the Bulldogs 19-8, a sign it will start bulging nets as soon as forwards Tino Nunez and Nick Perera find their form.

I told you to keep an eye on George Mason freshman Fro Adu in my 2007 preview. I love it when I look smart. The defender/midfielder found the target twice in the second half of his first collegiate match, helping the Patriots best Howard in the D.C. College Cup. Adu couldn't prevent his team from dropping the final to American U, but he was named the Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week for his efforts.

What to Watch For:

Only one game on tap this week, a tape-delayed tilt between Maryland and West Virginia on Sunday (5 p.m. ET, CSTV). The game will be played Friday in College Park. Fox Soccer Channel begins men's coverage on Sept. 14, when Virginia Tech takes on Tulsa. Look for more on that one in next week's column.

Of course, there is the high-profile U.S./Brazil match Sunday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in Chicago. Coach Bob Bradley's roster features 10 former NCAA standouts from nine schools. German Bundesliga defenders Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96) and Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock) both played at Portland.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.


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