A record-breaking crowd turned out to watch USC defeat UCLA in women’s soccer Friday night at the Coliseum.
The 8,527 fans — 323 more than the previous NCAA record for a women’s soccer regular-season match in 2006 at Texas A&M — were kept on the edge of their seats until they erupted in celebration five minutes before the end of the game.
That’s when freshman midfielder Autumn Altamirano scored the most important goal of her young career. In the 86th minute, Altamirano received a long lofted pass from senior defender Karter Haug, let the ball bounce once and volleyed it over the head of UCLA goalkeeper Chante’ Sandiford to give No. 23 USC (9-4-3, 2-2-1) a 1-0 victory and its first regular-season win over No. 19 UCLA (9-6-1, 2-3-0) since 1998.
“I’m speechless. It’s such an unbelievable feeling,” Altamirano said. “It’s probably the best feeling I’ll ever feel in my life — easily the best goal I’ve ever scored.”
The crowd still had to wait five minutes to celebrate just the fourth USC victory over UCLA in history, as the Bruins poured it on after the goal. Finally the whistle sounded after what USC coach Ali Khosroshahin called “the longest five minutes of my life.”
“The ladies really responded this evening,” Khosroshahin said. “They showed the Trojan faithful that if you put us under the lights we’ll go for it. And they really went for it.”
The Women of Troy had been building up the game for a long time, which was advertised as “Break the Record Night.” USC almost broke the attendance record two years ago against the Bruins in the Coliseum but fell just short of 8,000 people with an attendance that ranked second at the time. Friday’s crowd not only broke the record, but gave the Women of Troy an extra boost.
“The crowd was amazing,” Haug said. “They kept our energy up, especially when we were tied going into the last 15 minutes. They were a big part of our game.”
The Spirit of Troy was also there in full force, playing almost continuously throughout the game. And when the band wasn’t playing music, it mimicked a vuvuzela-like sound, creating quite the atmosphere.
“What an unbelievable evening,” Khosroshahin said. “What an awesome crowd. Everything was incredible.”
The late goal was fitting for a game that was heavy in action.
In the 28th minute, senior forward Megan Ohai had a goal waved off for running into the goalkeeper, and suddenly the pace picked up for the Women of Troy. Although lacking in shots on goal, much of the remainder of the half was a clinic in ball possession and steadfast defense by both sides.
The Women of Troy nearly broke through in the 42nd minute as well. Sandiford came out of the goal to clear a ball but ended up playing it right to senior midfielder Alyssa Dávila. Dávila immediately fired on net, but Sandiford managed to recover her position and was able to stop the shot to keep the game scoreless.
The second half featured much more back-and-forth action and a very noticeable increase in scoring chances for each team. In the 48th minute, redshirt junior midfielder Ashli Sandoval — who scored the game winning goal two weeks ago against Cal on a free kick from about 20 yards out — had a free kick from nearly the exact same location but was shut down by Sandiford.
With tension mounting, the game started to get physical. Sandoval picked up a yellow card just two minutes after her free kick, and two more yellow cards were issued to UCLA during the next 25 minutes.
“It got a little dirty out there,” Altamirano said. “They had some dirty plays, but we gave it right back to them. It’s a rivalry game.”
And like every great rivalry, the game was not without controversy. In the 73rd minute, junior defender Claire Schloemer appeared to intentionally pass the ball with her feet to freshman goalkeeper Shelby Church, which by rule is a penalty kick. The referee, however, ruled that Schloemer’s touch was inadvertent, and therefore legal. UCLA coach Jillian Ellis vehemently disagreed and could be seen yelling at the referee for some time afterward.
The back-and-forth play continued for the next 10 minutes until, finally, Altamirano broke through.
In addition to the importance of a rivalry game, the Women of Troy were in dire need of a win after a rough weekend in Oregon where they lost to Oregon State and could only manage a tie against Pac-10 bottom feeder Oregon.
“We needed a result tonight,” Khosroshahin said. “It’s nerve-racking to play in front of a crowd like this, but I thought the ladies handled it well. They really kept their composure.”