Now in his second decade as UCLA's soccer coach, Sigi Schmid looks back at the first 10 years and is almost satisfied. And why not? His numbers were practically Woodenesque during the '80s, when the Bruins won or tied 85% of their games and earned invitations to the NCAA playoffs eight times.
But when the playoffs began, so, usually, did Schmid's frustrations. Faced with stiffer competition, increased pressure and some occasional bad fortune, the Bruins did not fare well in the postseason tournament during the last decade. They won the national championship in 1985 but advanced out of the West Region only one other time.
"One thing I hear a lot is, 'With all that talent, you should have more titles,' " Schmid said in an interview at his office this week.
"But it's like one of my coaching friends told me. In the regular season, the cream rises to the top. But the playoffs are like 'Fantasy Island.' Everyone's wish comes true once in a while."
Perhaps it is the Bruins' turn again.
After finishing the regular season as the nation's second-ranked team with a 15-1-4 record, they won the West Region for the third time in 11 years under Schmid with victories over No. 18-ranked University of San Diego, 2-1 in overtime, and No. 17 Southern Methodist, 2-0.
Today, they will meet No. 4 North Carolina State (18-4) in the NCAA semifinals at Tampa, Fla. In the other semifinal, No. 1 Evansville (24-0-2) will play No. 3 Rutgers (19-2-2), the only team to beat UCLA. The winners will meet Sunday for the championship.
If not this year, perhaps in 1991 it will be the Bruins' turn. There are only two seniors in the starting lineup. Or maybe the next year if too many of UCLA's players do not bypass their college seasons to play for the U.S. Olympic team. One thing virtually certain is that the Bruins, under Schmid, will always be considered among the contenders.
Like most successful coaches, Schmid credits the players.
"We're getting good players here now," he said. "One thing I always say to coaches at clinics is that you've got to realize you can polish a diamond. But you can never polish a rock."
Of course, Schmid, 37, and his assistants deserve credit for recruiting good players. That is easier than it was in 1980, when UCLA, like many U.S. schools, had a reputation for relying on foreign students who already were enrolled.
One reason was scholarship limitations. Schmid could offer only two scholarships when he became the coach after two years as an assistant to Steve Gay. That increased to five in 1985, eight last year and the NCAA maximum of 11 this year.
Another reason was the relatively shallow talent pool in the United States. There were not enough good players to go around. Now, with increased attention to soccer in U.S. high schools and suburban youth programs, UCLA has no foreign players.
Most of the players are Californians, although this year's team has three out-of-state starters--midfielder Chris Henderson of Everett, Wash.; defender Dan Beaney of Cherry Hill, N.J., and goalkeeper Brad Friedel of Bay Village, Ohio.
All three were recruited by some of the nation's most successful programs, including Virginia, Indiana and Rutgers. They said in interviews that they came to UCLA not only because of Schmid's record but also because he has a reputation for developing players for the U.S. Soccer Federation's junior and senior national teams.
"I have always felt that the measure of a good coach was not only to get the Ws," said U.S. Coach Bob Gansler. "Just as important, or maybe more important, is to prepare the players for the next level."
UCLA has sent 27 players to various national teams, including more than 20 who have been coached by Schmid. Four were selected to represent the United States during the World Cup.
Three, including starting midfielder Paul Caligiuri, were members of UCLA's 1985 national championship team. The other was Henderson, one of only three current college players on the 22-man team. At 19, he was the youngest player in the World Cup.
UCLA has 10 players this year with national team experience, significantly more than any of the other NCAA semifinalists. North Carolina State and Rutgers each have two, and Evansville has none. Five UCLA players are members of the USSF's under-23 pool from which the 1992 Olympic team will be chosen.
Some rivals complain that Schmid has an advantage because, as a USSF national staff coach, he has been selected to coach teams in international tournaments.
But USSF officials point out that there are 50 national staff coaches, including many from universities.
"I don't think it's necessarily because of me that we get good players," Schmid said. "Our tradition, the school, the area, that's what sells the players."
For instance, Henderson played four games with a local club team, the L.A. Exiles, when he returned from last summer's World Cup. The manager of the team is British rock and roll star Rod Stewart, who also plays right back.
"That's not an experience I could have had in Virginia," Henderson said.