Young USC team did a lot of growing up

A lot has happened since the last time the USC women’s soccer team played a home game.

The Women of Troy left home as a young team struggling to find chemistry on the field. Questions lingered about the backline as junior Ashli Sandoval tore her ACL and All-American redshirt senior Meagan Holmes was still out with a knee injury.

Shutout specialist · USC goalie Kristin Olsen has held three of the team’s last four opponents scoreless, a major reason for USC’s turnaround. - Katelynn Whitaker | Daily Trojan

Shutout specialist · USC goalie Kristin Olsen has held three of the team’s last four opponents scoreless, a major reason for USC’s turnaround. - Katelynn Whitaker | Daily Trojan

But No. 19 USC (7-3) returns home as a new team. The Women of Troy are riding a six-game winning streak after defeating two ranked teams on their recent four-game road trip. The team is still young, but they are back in the rankings for the first time in a month. Apparently a long road trip was just what the team needed.

“Our chemistry has gotten better with traveling,” junior midfielder Alyssa Davila said. “Traveling helped a lot and we’ve come a long way by practicing and spending time together.”

Today, the Women of Troy will get a chance to showcase the team’s improved harmony in their last non-conference game against No. 25 San Diego (6-3-1) at McAlister Field at 3 p.m.

A big reason for USC’s winning streak has been the improved play on defense and the outstanding goalkeeping by senior Kristin Olsen. Olsen has recorded three shutouts in the last four games and became the third player to win back-to-back Pac-10 Player of the Week honors.

But that’s not to take anything away from a vastly improved offense that previously had trouble finishing. In the last two home games in mid-September against Gonzaga and Michigan, USC had 41 shots and only four goals, or one goal every 10.25 shots. However, the Women of Troy have more than doubled their efficiency in the last two games, scoring five goals on 24 shots, or one goal every 4.8 shots.

“What’s happening is everyone is focused on finishing a possession rather than just focused on getting a shot off,” sophomore forward Ashley Freyer said. “We want points on the board and everyone is hungry for a goal.”

Coach Ali Khosroshahin acknowledges that his team has come a long way from being the great team he knows they can be, but he knows that it takes time for new players to adjust to their roles and to the team. He finally sees that happening.

“As the season goes on, that’s what’s supposed to happen. People are supposed to get comfortable in their roles and decision-making,” Khosroshahin said.

One of the players finding comfort in her new role is freshman midfielder Kat Parker. Khosroshahin inserted Parker into the lineup in the second half against Pacific last Friday when USC was trailing 2-0. Parker calmed the team down and helped the Women of Troy dominate possession, something they weren’t able to do in the first half. As a result, they scored three goals and won 3-2.

Khosroshahin would still like to see ball control and possession improve this weekend. USC was able to knock the ball around well in one half against Pacific, but not in the other half.

“We need to play simpler and just take care of the ball. Our possession is still inconsistent,” Khosroshahin said.

USC might still have a lot to work on to become the best team it possibly can be, but there’s no denying that this is a different team than the one that left home three weeks ago with a 3-3 record. New starters scored the game-winning goals in all four road wins, and the players now know they can beat almost any team. But they are careful not to get too caught up in their recent success.

“We haven’t met our standards yet so we are going to keep focusing on that,” Khosroshahin said.