As the USC women’s soccer team wound up its regular season with a weekend road trip to Arizona, its two matches had noticably different storylines.
It didn’t start well at all for the No. 17 Women of Troy (12-5-3, 5-3-1), as they were ambushed by the Arizona State Sun Devils (9-6-3, 3-4-1) on Friday, taking a 3-0 loss.
“Nothing went our way,” USC head coach Ali Khosroshahin said. “Not the whistle, not the ball — nothing.”
Arizona State scored on a penalty kick in the sixth minute, setting the tone of the game. The Women of Troy were called for 11 fouls in the first half, and 20 for the game. On the other side, the whistle blew 11 times against Arizona State.
“We got called for that penalty kick early and just never recovered from it,” Khosroshahin said.
With less than one minute remaining in the half, Arizona State found the back of the net again, this time off a corner kick. It was representative of a half dominated by the Sun Devils. Arizona State racked up five shots — all on goal — and three corner kicks, while USC did not force a single corner and managed just three shots, none on goal.
“We dug ourselves a hole quickly,” Khosroshahin said. “But we’re used to it. We’ve been doing it all season.”
To the Women of Troy’s credit, they came back strong in the second half.
“2-0 is a very dangerous score,” senior forward Megan Ohai said. “We knew if we came out strong we had a good chance.”
And come out strong they did. During a three-minute stretch from the 54th to the 57th minute, the Women of Troy forced four consecutive corner kicks but could only get off one shot during that span.
“We dominated possession in the second half,” Khosroshahin said. “The ball was on their half of the field almost the entire time.”
In the 67th minute, USC was awarded a penalty kick of its own, but senior forward Alyssa Dávila was stoned by Arizona State goalkeeper Alyssa Gillmore. Just three minutes later, Arizona State scored again to put the game away.
“It stings, but we need to recover quickly,” Khosroshahin said. “We need to be smarter and more disciplined.”
Ohai thought the loss helped resharpen her team’s focus.
“We have a young team, and we just got rattled out there,” Ohai said. “It was a big wake up call for us. We [knew] we [had] to take care of business on Sunday.”
And that they did. On Sunday in Arizona, the Women of Troy overwhelmed the Arizona Wildcats (5-13-2, 1-8) by a lopsided score a 5-0. In just the third minute, sophomore midfielder Courtney Garcia found the back of the net. Ninety seconds later, Dávila joined the scoring party. The early goals were a change of pace for USC, whose slow starts in games have been a chronic issue for the team this season.
“It was really nice to get those two goals early so I could catch my breath,” Khosroshahin said. “The ladies felt the pressure, and it’s really amazing what a team can do when it’s focused and motivated.”
Sophomore forward Samantha Johnson, freshman forward midfielder Autumn Altamirano and junior forward Ashley Freyer also found the net for USC, whose five goal output tied its high for the season. The five-goal margin of victory, however, was USC’s most lopsided win since 2008. Freshmen goalkeeper Shelby Church recorded her sixth shutout of the season, and the Women of Troy all but assured themselves a spot in the NCAA tournament.
“We knew we needed a result,” Dávila said.
Senior defender Karter Haug agreed.
“We had a ‘win or go home’ mentality,” Haug said. “It was good preparation for the tournament — a real confidence booster.”
The Women of Troy end the regular season with a 12-5-3 record and finish third in the Pac-10 at 5-3-1. The team awaits its fate in the NCAA tournament bracket, which will be announced on ESPNU today at 1:30 p.m.