From the beginning of its 1-0 victory over Auburn to advance to women’s soccer’s final four, USC set the tone and the pace of the game.
It is the first time the Trojans have advanced this far in the postseason since 2007, when they won the national championship.
The first and only goal of the game came just under four minutes in. Freshman Julia Bingham slotted a pass into the box and senior Alex Anthony dove in for the header. The ball hit the back of the net, and Anthony scrambled to her feet, running to her teammates in celebration.
From there, the Trojans didn’t look back. In a physical game riddled with fouls and punctuated with show-stopping saves by both goalkeepers, USC kept possession and disrupted Auburn’s offense. A solid showing from the backline punched a ticket for the Trojans to the College Cup in San Jose next weekend.
“We came out with a lot of intensity,” Anthony said. “It’s something that we’ve been trying to do throughout the season and build on. I think today was one of our best starts just in the sheer want and willingness to do anything in our power to get one early.”
With Anthony’s goal bolstering the team for the remaining 85 minutes of the game, the Trojans’ backline stepped up to smother the Auburn attack. The Tigers found success in counterattacks, streaking cross-field to level 12 shots on goal against USC. But six saves by senior keeper Sammy Jo Prudhomme — including a diving swat in the 73rd minute — kept the Trojans clean for 90 minutes.
The Trojans found their own comfort in maintaining possession, setting up series of touches that created offensive rhythm. This type of possession was vital in a physical game between two teams unafraid to challenge aggressively. Combined, the teams tallied 33 fouls on the game. The penalties were balanced — the Trojans earned 17, only one more than the Tigers — and reflect a desire to win that head coach Keidane McAlpine says should be expected in this level of play.
“It was one of those games where you saw two teams that wanted to win really badly,” McAlpine said. “I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary for a game of this magnitude. It prepares us for the intensity of the next game.”
After the final whistle blew, the elated team greeted a sold-out crowd of friends, family and fans. Two players took to the media booth alongside McAlpine for interviews — Anthony and senior Morgan Andrews.
Four years ago, none of the three Trojans seated for interviews were here. At the time, McAlpine was head coach at Washington State, Anthony was starting out at Maryland and Andrews was leading the Notre Dame offense in goals as a freshman. And at the time, the USC soccer program was struggling — winning only eight of its 20 games in 2013, not even cracking the national rankings or qualifying for a playoffs berth.
But a few years have made all the difference.
Three years ago, the Trojans hired McAlpine. The next season, they won 12 games. The next season, they made it to the Elite Eight in the College Cup. And this year, they’re entering the NCAA College Cup ranked No. 6 in the country.
The last three years have created the type of environment that highly-touted players such as Andrews — a staple of the U-20 U.S. National Team and one of two USC players on the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list — were willing to take risks on.
“This is why we came here,” Andrews said. “This is why we came to USC is to get to this Final Four, to get to that final match and win it. I’ve always been confident in this squad and I’ve always wanted to be with this team in the national final. As a senior, there’s nothing that you want more.”
The team is uncertain of who they will face to begin the College Cup, with Santa Clara and Georgetown facing off on Saturday at noon. Georgetown is also a No. 2 seed, while Santa Clara surprised No. 1 seed Stanford in the second round and battled their way into the Elite Eight. But no matter who the Trojans face next Friday, McAlpine said that the game plan remains the same — play their game.
That wasn’t always a known quality in past seasons. The team wasn’t sure of their definition, their style of attack, and it showed in wins and losses. But this season, McAlpine believes that the Trojans are beginning to define themselves. It’s a transition that he believes will carry them far.
“We’ve talked since day one about taking this journey together,” McAlpine said. “In year one it was finding ourselves again. Year two it was developing a style and adding new pieces. Year three, it’s now time to impose ourselves, and it’s great to see them reap the rewards of all that work that took such a long time.”
The semifinals of the tournament will take place next Friday at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.