Thursday, September 20, 2012
After a run that took them within a penalty shootout of last season’s College Cup Championship Game, UCLA has began the current campaign on the front foot. Entering Friday night’s big non-conference showdown with No. 3 UC Santa Barbara, the No. 12-ranked Bruins are on a four-game winning streak as they continue what has been a rigorous early-season schedule.
One of the keys to that success has been midfielder Fernando Monge. The redshirt senior has played almost every minute this fall for the Bruins, scoring a goal and adding an assist, as he and his fellow returnees from last year’s squad have the side off to a faster start than they have been accustomed to in previous seasons.
“I think it’s due to the leadership in the team now,” Monge said by phone this week. “There are guys that have been here a while like myself, Chris Cummings and a bunch of guys who know what it takes to win games early on. In the past, we’ve lost games we shouldn’t have lost because we were unlucky, but this year I think we know how to take care of games, especially early in the season.”
Monge has also been sharp from the outset of the season thanks in part to spending the summer with the Sounders FC U23, whom he helped claim the Western Conference Championship before they fell to eventual PDL Champions FC London in the National Semifinals. Having spent the previous two summers with the Orange County Blue Star, Monge returned to the Pacific Northwest this summer to prepare for the fall.
“I enjoyed it a lot, they had a great system going over there,” Monge said. “They trained every day and really took everything really seriously. Not that Orange County didn’t, but it was a pretty consistent work group that really went to push us each day, so it was a good system, I thought. The coaches really did well getting us focused for the summer especially, because some guys can not be as focused, but this time the whole group was really focused and it paid off fitness-wise, soccer-wise and all of that stuff.”
The talent, and attitude, that the Sounders U23s brought in their first season in the PDL after taking over the Tacoma Tide was especially evident in their games against Cascadia rivals the Portland Timbers U-23s and Vancouver Whitecaps FC U23, where the Sounders went 3-0-1 to claim the PDL’s version of the rivalry trophy. Monge said being part of that rivalry was special for him.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “Knowing that you’re part of something that’s bigger than you, it really made a difference in those type of games. You felt the rivalry coming along, and things like that, and you felt like you had to win those games especially for the whole group, for the whole organization.”
While he’s now back in Los Angeles, Monge is also keeping an eye on his Sounders teammates as they go through their college seasons, with a number of the club’s players from this past summer having a big impact into the fall.
“It’s actually pretty exciting to see all of these guys doing well every week, I hear about someone winning or scoring goals,” Monge said. “I was actually able to see Akron play the other day on Fox Soccer, and DeAndre [Yedlin] looked great, so it’s really encouraging to see that, it makes you want to do better as well, so it was fun playing with them over the summer.”
Monge has also stayed in touch with his former UCLA and Blue Star teammate Chandler Hoffman. An All-PDL selection in 2011 for the Blue Star, and an NSCAA All-American for the Bruins, Hoffman was selected in the MLS SuperDraft this past January by the Philadelphia Union, as was his Blue Star teammate Luis Silva by Toronto and UCLA’s Andy Rose by Seattle. All three have made the jump Monge hopes to make soon.
“I’ve talked to Chandler a lot, he’s a good friend of mine, and it’s really about the commitment you’ve got to make on and off the field,” Monge said. “I’m really happy to see all of them doing well right now at the professional level.”
And while Monge is certainly hoping his name will be one of those called next January, his focus now is on helping the Bruins continue to improve, and contend for a national championship.
“Honestly, right now, I’m just focused on us winning games and then whatever happens after that happens,” he said. “I’m just trying to make a good run, keep winning, and hopefully all goes well after that.”