Last Saturday night, on the eve of the NCAA men's soccer final,
UCLA senior goalkeeper Matt Reis grappled with some weighty
questions in his Richmond hotel room. Should he paint his
toenails yellow? Or should he keep them blue? Then again, what
about the more radical suggestion of his girlfriend, Nicole
Odom, who would be the one to apply the polish? "She wanted me
to switch colors on every other toenail, but I like to have just
one solid color," Reis explained later. "So after I wore blue
for the semifinal, we changed it to yellow for the final."
As Made in California as that sounds, it was hardly the most
far-out tale that emerged from the UCLA Confidential file at the
Final Four. Take the story told by Bruins junior forward Seth
George, a self-described skateboard junkie. A year ago, after
finishing his final exams, George couldn't find a lift home.
Although a steady rain was falling, he decided to ride his board
from Westwood to Mission Viejo, Calif., a 70-mile trip. "My mom
was pissed," said George, "but it was an awesome ride."
Totally. Anyway, now that you've met a couple of these Valley
Boys, perhaps it's easier to appreciate their team's talent for
surprises. On Sunday, UCLA pulled off another one at University
of Richmond Stadium, defeating favored Virginia 2-0 for its
third national championship.
Leading the way for the Bruins were--who else?--the skate punk
and the toenail artiste, former teammates at Santa Margarita
High in Mission Viejo. George, the NCAA tournament's most
outstanding offensive player, scored both of UCLA's goals, in
the final 12 minutes, but Reis (pronounced REESE) was clearly
the man of the match. The most outstanding defensive player, he
kept the game scoreless during the first half with leaping saves
on two point-blank shots by forward Brian West and a diving stop
on a try by forward Chris Albright. Then, in the 52nd minute,
Reis charged outside the penalty box and dived
yellow-toenails-first to deny midfielder Jason Moore on a
breakaway. "We had some great chances," said Virginia coach
George Gelnovatch, "but it was like a wall back there."
Indeed, the Bruins have acquired a reputation for producing some
of the nation's best goalkeepers. That can be attributed to
coach Sigi Schmid, a UCLA midfielder on three NCAA final four
teams in the early 1970s. Shoddy play in goal kept those teams
from winning the championship, a fault that Schmid set out to
rectify when he took over as Bruins coach in '80. "I promised
myself we would always have solid goalkeeping," he says. "So the
first player I ever recruited was a goalkeeper, and we've had
solid goalkeeping all the way through."
During Schmid's tenure UCLA has played in--and won--the 1985,
'90 and '97 national championship games without allowing a goal.
Along the way Schmid has developed current U.S. team keeper Brad
Friedel and '90 World Cup veteran David Vanole, a Bruins
assistant coach whom Reis considers his mentor. "He's had all
this experience in the Olympics and the World Cup, and he knows
the game," says Reis, a full-time starter for the first time in
'97. "He even told me about playing for the U.S. down in El
Salvador, where they threw batteries and bags of urine at him."
Though the 20,143 spectators on Sunday spared UCLA such
projectiles, the atmosphere was decidedly pro-Virginia. (Perhaps
the only support the Wahoos were missing was that of the
Virginia band, which was banned by the NCAA after it stood
behind the St. Louis goal during Friday's semifinal and
successfully distracted a Billiken attempting a penalty kick.)
"We knew coming into the game that the crowd would be against
us," said Schmid, "but there's nothing like quieting a crowd for
the other team."
No one did that better than Reis, who allowed only one goal in
five NCAA tournament games. "He's the guy who gets the whole
team going," said George. "When he's in a zone, we're in a zone.
When he made that first huge save, there was no doubt in my mind
that we were going to win." Schmid's strategy helped, too. Early
in the second half, in an attempt to milk more offense from his
team, he moved George from forward to the midfield, where he
could make more dangerous runs. When forward Martin Bruno found
him open on a counterattack in the 79th minute, George put away
an easy shot for a 1-0 lead. He scored on another counter two
minutes later, and soon the Bruins were storming the field to
Theirs was a hard-earned championship. UCLA suffered so much
attrition that the Bruins adopted the slogan You Gotta Be a
Soldier, which Schmid scrawled on the locker room chalkboard
before every tournament game. UCLA lost star midfielder Sasha
Victorine for the season in September when he tore the ACL in
his left knee, and two other starters also sat out the final
with injuries. What's more, the Bruins prevailed though they had
only one day of rest after a draining 1-0, triple-overtime upset
of top-ranked and previously undefeated Indiana in their
semifinal, a match that finally ended, after 132 minutes, on
freshman McKinley Tennyson Jr.'s golden goal. (Virginia,
meanwhile, enjoyed a regulation 3-1 win over St. Louis in the
As if the games weren't exhausting enough, nine Bruins had to
take three-hour final exams in a hotel conference room last
Thursday, and a crisis was barely averted on Saturday night
after the NCAA demanded that UCLA's long-sleeve undershirts be
the same dark-blue color as its uniform jerseys. Unable to
obtain the correctly colored apparel, associate athletic
director Betsy Stephenson spent the evening dyeing 22 white
shirts in a third-floor washing machine at the Embassy Suites.
But after the tournament was over, after seemingly every L.A.
story had been told, George had one more--one for the road, no
less. "My brother told me before the game that if we won, he
would rent me a Ferrari for a couple of days," he said with a
A skate junkie trading in his board for a sports car? You bet.
After taking the Bruins on one awesome ride last weekend, George