On February 1, 2011 or thereabouts, a group of young soccer players put pen to paper with UCLA, with the Bruins inking what looked to be, on paper, one of the greatest recruiting classes of all time. It’s easy to forget that these players were delving into the unknown to a certain degree, with the program in the middle of a coaching transition. Jill Ellis had taken a spot within the U.S. Soccer hierarchy, leaving assistant B.J. Snow to take helm of the club. That he managed to keep the class together should not be overlooked.
National titles aren’t won on paper and aren’t won in February, a fact too evident for the Bruins just two calendar years later. The Golden Generation that was supposed to bring a national title to Westwood hadn’t won anything in two years under Snow, instead still looking for all the world like playing second fiddle to Stanford in perpetuity. Looking for a national title, UCLA instead hadn’t even made it to the College Cup, with Snow’s tenure ending in a disappointing defeat to the Card, the second time they had taken a lead against Stanford, only to buckle under the pressure and lose.
Snow’s shortcomings with the Bruins was proof enough that winning titles is about more than just playing fantasy football with the cream of the crop of youth footy. The hiring of UCF head coach Amanda Cromwell was mooted as a masterstroke by most, and the general popularity of UCLA’s triumph on Sunday underlines the respect and admiration the former USWNT defensive midfielder has collected during her time coaching. It was hard to disagree with Cromwell being the perfect coach for the situation in Westwood. A club that had struggled mentally in the biggest games was being wed to a coach whose previous club often did their best work when the odds were longest.
Cromwell didn’t face long odds upon taking control of UCLA, but it wasn’t necessarily a glamour cruise either. The new manager had to bring Ally Courtnall back into the fold after the full-back seemed set to focus on her track career with the Bruins. She also inherited a squad full of youth superstars but had to find a way to mold all that talent into a working framework, including going against some of the tactics she utilized at UCF. Early signs were promising, but the Bruins also followed up a dominant win at Notre Dame with a real clunker at North Carolina, where the Bruins were fortunate to lose by just one.
Cromwell’s Bruins hardly let the setback define the season though, as they wouldn’t lose another game all season. There were some soporific draws against the likes of Washington and Utah in the league, but UCLA still marched to a league title in a very competitive Pac-12, vanquishing rivals Stanford at long last in the process. UCLA’s resume clearly looked to be good enough for a coveted #1 seed and a comfortable march towards their ultimate target destination, Cary.