LOS ANGELES - After UCLA and Mexico’s U20 men’s national team ended their friendly in a scoreless draw, the crowd half-heartedly booed the final whistle partly because no one scored and to a (lesser) degree due to an entertaining affair coming to an end.
On a chilly, damp night in the San Fernando Valley, Mexico’s squad continued its search for potential players for next year’s U20 CONCACAF Championship, as head coach Sergio Almaguer shuffled the lineup in the second friendly for El Tri on this trip through the States.
Last weekend, Almaguer’s squad beat USL team, LA Blues, 1-0, behind a goal by Alfonso Tamay.
UCLA was also in search mode, as head coach Jorge Salcedo examined his roster after losing eight players in the offseason to graduation or early entry into MLS.
The adjustment to new faces was obvious in the first half with neither team grasping control of the game or looking entirely comfortable on the narrow, slick field.
Escoboza nearly cracked the Bruins defense with a skillful chip in the 21st minute, but keeper Earl Edwards was sharp off his line and blocked the shot by striker Guilermo Madrigal.
“Earl read the game really well [tonight],” Salcedo told TopDrawerSoccer.com after the game. “He anticipated through balls well. I was pleased with his performance. He had to make two saves and he did.”
UCLA should have taken the lead in the 26th minute when Evan Raynr deftly slotted Andrew Tusaazemajja past the Mexico defense with a through-ball, but the speedy forward decided to try his luck with a chip from distance. It cruised harmlessly over the bar.
Mexico had two more chances before half, but neither posed a threat for Edwards. And the teams went to the break scoreless.
The Bruins’ superior athleticism and hustle showed in the second half, as Salcedo’s midfield outworked the Mexican side and frustrated the visitors for long stretches of the latter stanza.
“We showed them it was going to be a difficult night,” Salcedo said. “I think they realized it was going to be difficult to penetrate our defense in the first half and they went with more direct play in the second half.”
UCLA center backs Joe Sofia and Matt Wiet gobbled up most of the long passes to the target forwards, which made it an easy 45 minutes for Edwards after the break.
Mexico did have one noteworthy chance in the second half. Escoboza expertly struck a long corner kick to the far side of the box on a full volley but did not completely rotate his hips and the shot went wide by a few feet.
UCLA was frustrated on the other end, as no one could put a chance into the back of the net.
“I thought we played pretty well up to the final touch,” Salcedo added. “We were unlucky not to be rewarded for our build-up play.”
Raynr had the best opportunity of the second half when he combined with Ryan Hollingshead down the right side of the field for a perfect wall pass through the defense in the 76th minute. Yet Raynr’s feeble final touch went wide of the net, to the frustration of the outside midfielder who was very lively in the attack.
Salcedo was pleased with the overall effort of his squad and saw some improvement from the first game of the spring schedule, which was also a scoreless draw against Montreal Impact.
Mexico continues its tour on Saturday with a game against Cal in Santa Maria, California. The remaining spring schedule for UCLA has yet to be finalized.
UCLA: Earl Edwards; Chris Cummings, Matt Wiet, Joe Sofia, Patrick Matchett; Ryan Hollingshead, Fernando Monge, Ryan Lee, Evan Raynr; Reed Williams, Andrew Tusaazemajja
Mexico U20: Alberto Gurrola; Francisco Flores, Antonio Briseno, Carlos Guzman, Bernardo Hernandez; Uvaldo Luna, Jorge Espiricueta, Pedro Hernandez, Jesus Escoboza; Guilermo Madrigal, Martin Zuniga