UCLA

UCLA Men’s Soccer Aims to Take Next Step Under Ryan Jorden in 2022

The Bruins got back to the postseason last fall, and a veteran roster could help them reach new heights in year four under Jorden.

Looking to improve upon a Round of 32 finish in 2021, the Bruins are raring to take yet another step back towards the top of the mountain in 2022.

No. 23 UCLA men’s soccer will begin its latest campaign Thursday with a veteran-filled roster, pushing to improve upon last year’s 11-win season. Even coach Ryan Jorden is somewhat of a veteran at this point, entering his fourth year in Westwood, and he has a mix of new and old faces that could help his team ascend to new heights in the Bruins’ modern era.

Redshirt sophomore midfielder Tucker Lepley, American University graduate transfer defender Nicolas Blassou and sophomore defender Pietro Grassi were all named to the United Soccer Coaches Player Watch Lists for their respective positions.

Blassou joins junior forward Andre Ochoa – a transfer from Pac-12 foe San Diego State – as one of the new upperclassmen in blue and gold. Ochoa started 26 matches for the Aztecs through his two seasons south of Los Angeles, tallying 12 goals in those outings.

Jorden will have his selection of strikers besides the 5-foot-8 transfer. Redshirt sophomore forward Jose Contell and redshirt senior Kevin Diaz are likely to rotate with Ochoa up front, while senior forward Constantinos Michaelides will return to his role as a winger within the Bruins’ attack.

Lepley should lead UCLA through the midfield after his well-recognized freshman campaign. The College Soccer News All-Freshman First Team member led the team with 17 points last season – five goals and seven assists – and as an attacking midfielder, he could be the creative piece to help increase goalscoring overall.

Across the rest of the midfield, redshirt senior Jose Sosa and senior Riley Ferch provide the Bruins with additional veteran structure. The latter of the duo is in his fourth season in Westwood and, during his freshman year, he ranked first on the team with nine assists.

Junior defender Tommy Silva should slot in at left back for the second consecutive season. Junior defender Grayson Doody – who was listed as a forward during his first two seasons at UCLA – and sophomore Aaron Edwards seem to be options to drift wide and operate as the right back. The latter played both right back and right wing during his freshman campaign.

Sophomore defender Pietro Grassi was a cornerstone of the Bruins’ back line last season, starting all 19 games and leading the team with 1,708 minutes played. Standing at 6-foot-1, the Italian remains in his center back position.

The aforementioned veteran Blassou will compete alongside Grassi in the starting XI. The 6-foot-2, Maryland native was named to the All-Patriot League twice while with American and previously helped lead Kentucky to two NCAA tournament appearances in 2018 and 2019.

With former four-year starting goalkeeper Justin Garces now with Atlanta United, playing time between the sticks is now up for grabs.

Sophomore Nate Crockford and junior Tyler Kirberg both have experience at Wallis Annenberg Stadium. Because the former is wearing No. 1 – the traditional number for the starting goalkeeper – it seems likely Crockford will get the nod to start the season opener.

The Northfield, Illinois, native started the Bruins’ two 2021 NCAA Tournament games as well, tipping off that Crockford has additional trust from Jorden & co.

UCLA also welcomes seven freshmen to its roster. Tarun Karumanchi previously trained with the San Jose Earthquakes’ first team and was one of three midfielders named to TopDrawer Soccer’s preseason list of top freshmen in the country, while goalkeeper Sam Joseph and defender JC Cortez previously played with NY Red Bulls II.

During preseason exhibitions against Westmont and UNLV, UCLA’s backline and keepers earned two straight clean sheets – something the Bruins only accomplished four times in 19 matches in 2021. UCLA beat Westmont 2-0, but tied UNLV in a scoreless match despite firing off 17 shots.

The Bruins received two first-place votes in the 2022 Pac-12 Men’s Soccer Preseason Coaches Poll and were ranked third overall, just below co-first place squads Oregon State and Washington.

UCLA begins its season at 7 p.m. on Thursday against UC Irvine. The Bruins will host the Anteaters at Wallis Annenberg Stadium and the contest will be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks. Game No. 2 – another home match that will air on Pac-12 Networks – will be against Virginia Tech on Sunday at 6 p.m.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF JESUS RAMIREZ/UCLA ATHLETICS

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