Smooth Transition to Semifinals


When the UCLA men’s soccer team takes the field today in the NCAA semifinals, the program’s longtime figurehead, Sigi Schmid, will not be on the bench. But that doesn’t mean his presence won’t be felt on the field.

Todd Saldana is the coach now, but the experienced team that will play Indiana in the College Cup at Ericsson Stadium was built and led down the path of greatness by Schmid.

After 18 years as coach of the Bruins, Schmid, the fifth-winningest coach in NCAA Division I men’s soccer history, resigned to coach the Galaxy of Major League Soccer, setting up an interesting situation at UCLA.


Schmid was with an MLS team, but he wasn’t too far away from Westwood. Saldana, who coached the UCLA women in 1998, moved over to coach the men, keeping him close to his old team.

Despite being a former assistant with Schmid in the early ‘90s, and although he got to know the men while coaching the women last season, Saldana had to go through a transition with his new team as if he were coming from a school on the other side of the country.

With a veteran team, he took his time making adjustments.

“He didn’t want to jump in and coach like he’s been here for years,” said co-captain Sahsha Victorine, who was named the Missouri Athletic Club player of the year Wednesday. “At first he let [second-year assistant Steve Rammel] coach and he just sat back and added his input here and there.”

The Bruins are loaded with upperclassmen, and having won the national championship in 1997, are loaded with playoff experience. But this year, UCLA was coming off a disappointing loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Refocusing, not redesigning, became Saldana’s concern.

“In terms of teaching something new about the game, there wasn’t much of that done with this veteran team,” said Saldana, an assistant at UCLA in 1989-95 and interim coach for eight months in that tenure. “This team needed to be pushed and focused and have the standards set high.”

Said senior midfielder Pete Vagenas: “Todd came into a unique situation. He inherited a veteran team, a proven team, that needed guidance, and he did that to a tee.


“He kept going with what’s been building for years. Todd recognized the situation and dealt with it perfectly.”

But it wasn’t too long before Saldana made one major change that has been the key to the Bruin offense.

Because of injuries to key scorers, Saldana moved Victorine from midfielder to forward about five games into the season. The result: Victorine is the team’s leading scorer with career highs in goals (12), assists (eight) and points (32), and has collected numerous individual awards and honors along the way.

The change has worked for the team too. After losing their third game, the Bruins won 14 in a row before losing in the conference title game. Since then, UCLA has won three consecutive tournament games, including games at Saint Louis and Virginia, both seeded teams.

And with all the injured stars back, the Bruins are playing their best soccer.


NCAA Men’s Soccer

at Ericsson Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.


* Santa Clara (16-3-2) vs. Connecticut (19-4-0), 1 p.m. PST.

* UCLA (19-2-0) vs. Indiana (19-3-0), 6:30.


Sunday, 10 a.m., ESPN