The USC women’s soccer team returns to McAlister Field for two games this weekend, as the team will try to regroup after consecutive gut-wrenching losses. Washington will visit the Women of Troy for a 2 p.m. matchup this Friday, while Washington State will be in town for a 3 p.m. tilt on Sunday.
It will be another bounce back effort for USC, who suffered a 1-0 defeat to Arizona State last Sunday, a week after a 2-1 double overtime loss at the hands of Cal State Fullerton. The two losses dropped the team’s record to 5-4-1.
Senior defender Autumn Altimirano believes the losses have motivated her team going forward.
“We’ve always struggled with ASU, dating back to last season,” Altimirano said. “So losing to them instilled a fire in a lot of our players.”
Washington brings a 4-5-1 overall mark to Los Angeles, with a 1-1 tie against Oregon State being their only Pac-12 result. The squad will also be looking to regroup after a tough shutout loss to No. 14 Portland last week.
Spearheading the Husky offense is freshman Becca Shoales, whose three goal total leads a balanced attack that features five other goal scorers. Supporting Shoales are midfielders Lindsay Elston and Isabel Farrell, who both enter Friday’s game with four assists. On the defensive end, goalkeeper Megan Kufeld has amassed 33 saves, but has also allowed 10 goals in her 10 appearances.
Sophomore forward Katie Johnson said that a strong week of practice has the team physically and mentally prepared for this weekend’s contests.
“We’ve been working on possessing the ball a lot more,” Johnson said. “We’ve also been shooting and working on combining a lot of things together. We’ve changed the way we play to avoid some of the mistakes we made last week.”
Washington State has been enjoying an impressive 2013 season, recording an unbeaten 7-0-3 record thus far and landing just outside the NCAA top 25. While the Cougars have yet to face a ranked team, they do have a 1-0 victory over Cal State Fullerton, their one common opponent with the Women of Troy. In Wazzu’s only Pac-12 matchup so far, the squad played Oregon last week to a scoreless draw.
Senior forward Micaela Castain leads a formidable Cougar attack with 10 goals, tops in the Pac-12, and is also tied for the team lead with four assists. Goalkeeper Gurveen Claire has been stellar so far for Washington State in 2013. Incredibly, she has been scored upon only three times this season, in a 2-2 tie against Oklahoma and a 3-1 season-opening win over Seattle University. Claire has 18 saves for the Cougars, and her eight shutouts and 0.295 goals-against-average both rank among the nation’s leaders.
“We’re going to attack them hard,” Johnson said, referring to Washington State’s backline. “We’re going to attack the flanks and the middle, and just try to be confusing instead of predictable.”
“We’ve been preparing to play these types of teams all season.” USC head coach Ali Khosrohahin said.
Breaking through the Cougars’ tight defense could be a struggle for the Women of Troy, who have scored just once in their last two games. Even in the midst of this scoring drought, hope is certainly not lost on the offensive end for USC. The team scored four goals in each of their first three games, and five goals in a later game versus LMU.
Senior midfielder and leading scorer Elizabeth Eddy has returned from injury, and should be a major contributor this weekend. Including Eddy, five USC players have at least three goals on the season. Freshman Kayla Mills leads the team with four assists to go with her three scores. Getting back on track on offense has been a point of focus for the Women of Troy in practice.
“[Converting opportunities] is something we’ve been working on all season,” Khosroshahin said. “We’ve had some tough games to finish this season, and we hit a bit of a hiccup against ASU, but we’re determined to sort it out.”
On the defensive end, goalkeeper Caroline Stanley and her teammates have been more consistent, allowing multiple goals in only two games thus far. The USC backline, which routinely rotates between eight or nine players per game, has grown into one of the most cohesive units in the Pac-12. Altimirano has been not been surprised by the defense’s strong play.
“We have a bond in the back,” Altamirano said. “I think we’ll do anything to keep the ball out of the back of our net and that’s what’s keeping us strong.”
Both Washington and Washington State made runs to the NCAA playoffs in 2012, adding to the importance of this weekend series. The Women of Troy defeated the Huskies 1-0 at home last year, but took a 4-0 loss at Wazzou.
Both games will be televised live on the Pac-12 Network, with Friday’s commentary coming from former U.S. soccer star Cobi Jones.
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