Westwood, CA – The clash to determine who will enter the second half of the league season with momentum and a clear path to the Pac 12 title took place Sunday evening at UCLA’s Drake Stadium. It promised to be a good one with the top two teams, and arguably the top two players, in the conferences going head to head. Kelyn Rowe vs Jose Altamirano turned out to be too much of a direct clash during the 90 minutes. Instead of each leading their respective team’s attacks and doing what they do best – being creative – Rowe was creating and Altamirano was chasing him around destroying. More on that in the recap below. The Bruins were clearly the better team that night and cruised to a 2-0 win that puts them as the clear favorites to win the conference.
Gk: #19 Brian Rowe
Def: #29 Patrick Matchett, #27 Joe Sofia, #6 Matt Wiet, #2 Shawn Singh
Mf: #9 Fernando Monge, #5 Andy Rose, #26 Evan Raynr, #10 Kelyn Rowe
Fw: #17 Chandler Hoffman, #8 Victor Chavez
San Diego State: 4-2-3-1
Gk: #1 Blake Hylen
Def: #16 Justin Davies, #17 Tyler Smith, #5 Daniel Steres, #12 Casey Meuser
Mf: #6 Pedro Adan, #7 Jose Altamirano, #10 Abraham Villon, #11 John Peg, #9 Miles Byass
Fw: #19 Jordan Ongaro
The Bruins keep looking like a more cohesive group each time I see them. I’m hoping it’s just not a sign of weak PAC 12 competition this year. Nonetheless, the Bruins barely worked up a sweat in the 2nd half of their big win and look destined to take the conference crown.
Brian Rowe rarely faced a true test and made a couple of saves in the first half. He is looking very comfortable in goal and I love the fact that he played out of the back almost every time he got the ball.
It looked calm and organized. They faced very little pressure from the Aztecs and came out of the back playing calmly with lots of time on the ball to make the right pass. I don’t rate the right back Patrick Matchett. He simply does not have quality on the ball nor the finesse needed to be on the field for the Bruins. I know this roster well, and there are countless other options that can be playing right back to make this team even more competitive . No Ryan Lee was good news! No Ryan Hollinghead was great news! Now if they can find a quality right back this defense would be more reliable come postseason play. Wiet and Sofia looked calm in possession and communicated well with the rest of the team. Singh had his best game – solid in defense and projecting forward often to give the left side of the attack constant 2 v 1 opportunities with either Arreola or Munoz.
The midfield has its strengths and weaknesses. Strength is obviously the best player in the nation hands down to date this season, Kelyn Rowe. The kid is just at another level. We half jokingly tell some of our colleagues who are at any UCLA game to watch closely because there is a player on the roster that has the class to be playing for Real Madrid. Rowe just oozes class in every facet of his game. Rose is doing better at holding mid. He is starting to move the ball faster and this bodes well for the Bruins. In my opinion this team’s outside mids need to produce more on both sides of the ball. First, they need to find who those guys are going to be come the postseason. Arreola seems to be a sure bet when fully fit. Raynr got the start against the Aztecs but produced very little on the right. Munoz is a one trick pony that always forces the issue with the forward, forward, forward approach. Hollingshead was absent, and is identical to Munoz. Salcedo’s team needs to find the right mix to give them work rate and quality on the wings if they are to make a deep run.
Up top is where the Bruins finally got it right. I like the Chandler Hoffman and Victor Chavez combination. They both apply defensive pressure on the opposing back line and have great mobility off the ball when Rowe receives. You need smart players up there to complement Rowe’s vision and passing ability. The other guys playing earlier this season don’t offer these qualities. Reed Mckenna, Reed Williams, Zack Foxhoven are not the guys to get the Bruins to the College Cup. Hopefully they continue with the Chavez/Hoffman pairing.
San Diego State Breakdown:
Blake Hylen had a quiet game. He was only needed to make 2 saves, and could do nothing on either Bruin goal. He was left 1 v 1 on the first goal, and the second one was a redirected deflection. He looked pretty secure in the air dealing with set pieces. Not the ideal game to rate Hylen since he wasn’t put under too much pressure.
The Aztecs back row had two players that stood out. The first was right back Justin Davies. His darting runs forward are something modern day right backs need to give their teams. Davies gave his team plenty of offense on the wing and was also steady in defense. Daniel Steres was also rock solid in the back and looked to connect through his center mids. The senior has anchored this defense for 4 years and needs to make sure the back row stays consistent in playing through their talented midfield and not just lumping the ball forward. Too much bypassing the midfield in the 2nd half made it comfortable for UCLA to maintain their lead.
The Aztec middle looked really good in the first half, but had a tremendous let down the second 45. First, let me say the Aztecs have two brilliant players here. Jose Altamirano and Abraham Villon are a formidable midfield pairing that very few programs in the nation can match with regards to creativity. The inexplicable thing to me was seeing “guero” (Altamirano) relegated to a defensive role for most of the 90 minutes on Sunday. He was busy chasing Kelyn Rowe and almost man marking him, instead of exploiting the Bruin’s weaknesses with his own creative play. He did a great job on Rowe for most of the night. The only time Rowe switched off of him was when he got free and sent a brilliant through ball that left Hoffman 1 v 1 to open the game up 1-0. However, Altamirano can match Rowe’s brilliance if given the freedom to roam the field and create. It’s like having an Andres Iniesta on your roster but telling him he has to chase Ozil on defensive duties all day, and not get forward to create for his team. Sorry, I don’t see that happening on Pep Guardiola’s team. Villon is a crafty wizard on the ball. He can leave you looking like a cone off the dribble and combine well. I’d love to see these two given more freedom to link up in the offensive third to carve opposing defenses to pieces. The holding midfielder that started the game, Pedro Adan, was doing good things but was subbed out late in first half and did not return.
Up top is where I didn’t see the hunger or bite needed to challenge the Bruins for the Pac 12 title. Miles Byass is a talented player going forward but has the typical “blinders” on. He sees nothing! Puts his head down and goes. Even worse, he is a complete ZERO on the defensive side of the ball. Just walks around. The other forwards are much the same. It was alarming to see this type of attitude in the attacking players when trailing in a pivotal game that could determine the conference championship. I will have to catch another San Diego State game to spotlight this detail in more depth.
The first half was a controlled game, with both sides having good possession and build up through their midfield. Their weren’t too many clear cut opportunities but some good soccer from both sides.
The scoring opened in the 69th minute after a brilliant through ball from Rowe left Hoffman 1 v 1 and he cooly blasted it home near post. After the goal, the Bruins completely monopolized possession out of the back. Wiet and Sofia would slow things down and connect through Rose. The Aztecs just sat and allowed the Bruins to continue to dictate the pace of the game. UCLA put the match out of reach in the 83rd minute. Some good combination play on the left side between Chavez and Munoz led to Hoffman’s 2nd goal.
The Bruins seem to be finding a good mix and peaking at the right time of the year. A perfect 5-0 start in the conference has them back in the top 10 national rankings. However, I really don’t know if it’s them finding their form, or weak conference competition, or a combination of both. With a special player like Rowe making the difference, they will always have a shot to win any game. We will keep an eye on UCLA heading into the second half of conference play and a non conference game against Cal State Northridge this week.
The Aztecs have put together a decent record in preseason and now trail the Bruins in the PAC-12 by six points. Their weak schedule will not help their RPI, so they will need to mount a serious run the second half of conference play if they plan on sneaking into the postseason. I say free up Altamirano and Villon and let them run wild on the opposition. Tying guero down defensively takes so much away from the offensive output he, and this entire team, can have. Up next for the Aztecs is a non conference game against Michigan.