Bruin Defensive Leader Ray Fernandez Makes a Sweeping Statement : Soccer: Senior standout said soccer team won't lose another game, but UCLA meets two tough opponents in four-team tournament.


Not recognized in the past as a vocal soccer player, Ray Fernandez made what he called "a bold statement," earlier this week.

"I don't think we will lose another game this year," said the UCLA sweeper, a graduate of Torrance High.

How bold was it? Depends on who you ask. But coming after the Bruins' first defeat of the season at Rutgers, Fernandez's prediction will be put to a test at 8 tonight at El Camino College against the Air Force Academy in the feature game of UCLA's Sixth Annual Met-Life Classic.

San Diego State and Wake Forest play tonight's preliminary game at 6. On Sunday, the action moves to UCLA, where San Diego State battles Air Force at noon and the Bruins meet Wake Forest at 2 p.m.

A three-time Parade High School All-American and a former member of the United States National B Team, Fernandez, a senior starter, wasn't bragging last week. He explained his prediction this way: "We have an excellent team with a lot of good, young players who are coming on strong. You don't always see the young players taking over and playing this well, particularly at this level."

Bruin Coach Sigi Schmid, who called Fernandez one of the best players in the country, was also unruffled when asked about the prediction.

"I think that what he said is a fair assessment of where he is coming from, of how focused he is and how he is not distracted," Schmid said. "It brings chills to my back when I hear that my defensive leader says we won't lose again."

The loss to Rutgers, which dropped UCLA's record to 11-1-3, might have been good timing, Fernandez said.

"If there is such a thing as a good loss, this was it," he said. "It was a surprise, but a minor setback. It opened our eyes. We will make some adjustments defensively. We realize we can't go on playing the way we did there."

A year ago Fernandez was a starting midfielder and was second on the team with three game-winning goals. But after several early season injuries plagued the Bruins this fall, Schmid asked Fernandez to move to the back, something Fernandez had experimented with in spring play.

"The big plus was that it allowed us to keep another skilled player on the field," Schmid said.

There was little time for transition. However Schmid and Fernandez seemed pleased with the result.

Said Schmid: "He surprised me a little bit, I wasn't sure how he would do. But I think this proves that he had a lot better defensive ability than a lot of people, including me, gave him credit for."

The 5-foot-9, 155 pound Fernandez has always exhibited talent when the ball is at his feet, but he was not portrayed as superior player with his back to the net or when a lot of dribbling skills were called for up front.

"I was not a hammer," he said. "I was more of a finesse player."

He also was not a vocal player.

"He was not a rah-rah player," Schmid said. "He made an impact just by playing."

Fernandez credits the defensive switch for making him a better player.

"It has given me added qualities, like heading and tackling, that I didn't have before."

He is also more vocal, Schmid said.

All this added experience is a bonus that Fernandez hopes to capitalize on when invitations to try out for the national team are extended.

Schmid said Fernandez may have the final say in UCLA's destiny.

"In his senior year, now, more than anyone else, Ray wants to win a national title," Schmid said.

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