UCLA's Todd Saldana inherits plenty of talent and championship hopes from Sigi Schmid
Todd Saldana's primary job this autumn, and in the next few to follow, is to convince that this new era in UCLA soccer isn't all that much different than the one that has passed.
The immediate task might be simple ù he inherits a squad with a distinct U.S. flavor, one with nine starters back from fizzled campaign in defense of its '97 title ù but the new Bruin coach's test is just beginning.
"I haven't come here thinking I'm here to replace Sigi [Schmid], or to try to be the next Sigi," Saldana says of his predecessor and mentor, who won 322 games and three NCAA titles in 19 years in Westwood. "I've never seen a season at UCLA where you have a rebuilding year or a transition year, I don't think in any sport. We're expected to continue on."
And Saldana, a former NASL player who played for Schmid as a teen and served six years as his Bruin assistant (and guided the UCLA women to a 17-4-0 mark and the Pacific-10 title last season), doesn't see why that shouldn't occur.
"I think that's part of the reason I was hired," says Saldana, who retained assistants Steve Rammel and Dave Vanole (who also was the Bruin women's goalkeeper coach last season). "There's every chance of a very smooth transition over a short period of time. ... Initially, I don't think you'll see a vast difference [between Saldana's Bruins and Schmid's]. We'll build on what's already been established."
That means the national championship remains the annual goal, no more so than this season. Only striker Seth George and central midfielder Tom Poltl are gone from last year's 17-4 squad, which stumbled out of the playoffs with a second-round loss to Creighton.
Since then, most of the key players have been busy playing for national teams. Defender Carlos Bocanegra, midfielders Ryan Futagaki and Shaun Tsakiris, and goalkeeper Nick Rimando played in the U-20 World Cup in Nigeria last April; Bocanegra, Futagaki, midfielders Pete Vagenas and Sasha Victorine, and defender Steve Shak won bronze medals at the Pan-Am Games.
"There's a number of quality players there, and more so than anything there's a number of hungry players there," said Schmid, who left UCLA to become the Los Angeles Galaxy's coach in May. "They're players who want to win a title, pretty self-motivated. That always makes a coach's job easier."
The Bruins were disappointed to do so little in defense of their '97 title last season; nobody wants a second crown more than Vagenas and Victorine, seniors who missed the '97 final four with injuries. They, and Bocanegra, are part of Soccer America's preseason All-America team.
To reach Charlotte, Saldana, 37, must replace George's numbers: 15 goals last season, 49 over four years ù fourth on the all-time Bruin list. Martin Bruno, McKinley Tennyson Jr. and Shea Travis, who have been uneven up front, will get the opportunity to pick up the slack.
"We have to get goal production out of this team," says Saldana, whose men's teams at Cal Poly Pomona and Loyola Marymount went 18-31-3. "Typically, someone will have an exceptional year, but we're not sure who that is. That's a void we're trying to fill."
More balance is likely. Vagenas, Victorine and Tsakiris are capable of scoring out of midfield, and Bocanegra from the left-back spot. "We have enough guys who can be dangerous," Saldana says. "We could be a more difficult team to stop."
Schmid doesn't expect things to change much now that he's gone.
"It's always different under every coach, and Todd has to bring his own personality to the team, his own way of doing things," he said. "Todd knows what the program is all about."
Said Saldana: "I've watched very closely what Sigi has done here to be successful, and I've studied a lot of other coaches. ... I'm a firm believer in not complicating things, in not overcoaching or overanalyzing.
"I think we have a chance, because of the homework I've done, to continue on what's been established here."
by Soccer America senior editor Scott French
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