Tuesday, November 30

UCLA men’s soccer ends postseason run with loss to Duke in NCAA tournament

Redshirt freshman midfielder Tucker Lepley (right) dives for the ball in front of Duke midfielder Peter Stroud (left) in UCLA men's soccer's loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Lepley assisted on the Bruins' lone goal of the night. (Courtesy of Reagan Lunn/Duke Athletics)

Men's Soccer

No. 7 seed Duke2

The Bruins held on for 86 minutes, but in the end, 11 proved to be greater than 10.

UCLA men’s soccer (11-7-1, 5-4-1 Pac-12) was three minutes from a clean sheet and a berth into the Round of 16 of the NCAA tournament, but playing a man down was too much to overcome as No. 7 seed Duke (14-4-1, 5-2-1 ACC) scored two goals in 39 seconds to down the Bruins 2-1. Freshman goalkeeper Nate Crockford and the Bruin defense denied 25 Blue Devil shots before the 26th and 27th ended the blue and gold’s season Sunday afternoon in Durham, North Carolina.

To open the match, Duke started with a high press against UCLA’s backline and forced two saves from Crockford. The first of those shots was a free kick attempt from forward Thorleifur Ulfarsson – who is tied for fifth in the nation in goals scored – leading to a corner in which a mistimed volley fell into the hands of Crockford.

The Bruins countered the pressure, eventually using a semi-transition opportunity to strike first and jump out to an early lead in the ninth minute.

“The first few minutes, we were getting used to their style of press,” said sophomore defender Tommy Silva. “We turned it around quickly and got a goal, so that was a great start to the game.”

After a series of passes around the 18-yard box, redshirt freshman midfielder Tucker Lepley used a fake shot to create enough space to slip a ball to redshirt junior midfielder Jose Sosa. Sosa settled the ball before slotting it past Duke goalkeeper Eliot Hamill for his first goal of the season.

“I felt a little bit of relief,” Sosa said. “I was scoreless for the season, so … it did feel pretty good to feel like I was putting my team on my shoulders.”

In the 34th minute, the flow of the game changed as graduate student midfielder Yoni Sorokin earned his second yellow card of the contest after a hard challenge on Ulfarsson.

His expulsion meant the Bruins would finish the remainder of the game with 10 men.

“It was difficult mentally to cope with the idea we had to hold onto this lead for the remainder of the match,” Sosa said. “Our goal from the moment of the red card was to make it to halftime so we could regroup and talk about what we want to do.”

Throughout the half, Duke had the bulk of the chances as it compiled nine shots, with six on target compared to one shot on frame for UCLA – the period’s lone goal.

Coming out of the halftime break, the second period started similarly to the first as Duke used the man advantage to dominate possession, coming close to scoring on multiple occasions. After nearly doubling the Bruins’ shot output in the first half, the Blue Devils held a 19-1 shot advantage in the second.

An equalizer was within inches as Ulfarsson’s left-footed volley in the 56th minute hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced on the grass but remained out of the net.

After a scramble ensued in the Bruins’ box in the 87th minute, the Blue Devils’ 26th shot of the day and 17th of the half found the back of the net to square the game at one apiece. Seconds later, Duke midfielder Peter Stroud’s left-footed score put his team ahead for good.

“We knew what was coming in the next 45 minutes,” Silva said. “We knew it was going to be difficult to keep possession with a man down, so we were ready to go out and defend. We did the job for 42 minutes, but unfortunately, the last three didn’t go our way.”

Following the goal, a scuffle between freshman defender Pietro Grassi and Ulfarsson led to a red card for Grassi, and he became the second Bruin to be sent off early.

UCLA will end its season with 11 wins – its highest total since 2015 – and its first tournament victory since 2016.

“After the season we had last year, we had a lot to come back from,” Sosa said. “We had the mentality that we had nothing to lose, so let’s take a hold of what we can and control what we can control. … Though we did lose some games throughout the season, we stayed tightknit as a team and overcame any obstacles that came our way just like this last game.”

Sports reporter

Farinha is currently a Sports reporter on the women's soccer beat. He was previously a contributor on the women's soccer beat.

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