The women’s soccer team enjoyed the unveiling of its national championship banner on Friday, and No. 3 USC celebrated by topping unranked UC Davis 2-1 to open the regular season.
Before the pre-game national anthem, players, coaches and fans at McAlister Field watched a black cover lift to reveal the 2016 NCAA National Championship banner in the northwest corner of the stadium. The title now accompanies the team’s 2007 banner, reminding visiting Pac-12 rivals that USC stands as the only program in the conference with two national titles.
Coming off a 1-0-1 preseason — during which the Women of Troy drew against UC Irvine and beat Long Beach State — the reigning champions got off to a hot start on opening day against the Aggies. Redshirt senior striker Alex Anthony opened the scoring in the 22nd minute. Junior forward Leah Pruitt rifled a shot on net from just inside the 18-yard box, but Alexis Smith turned it away in the UC Davis net. Fortunately for the Trojans, Anthony was stationed in front of the goal and tapped the ball home with the outside of her right foot.
While USC saw a few more opportunities, the remainder of the first half was scoreless on both sides. But the Women of Troy wasted no time on offense at the start of the second half.
Just four minutes in, Pruitt found herself with a one-on-one breakaway versus the Aggies’ keeper. Smith denied the junior once again, but USC regrouped and finished what Pruitt started. Freshman midfielder Arlie Jones netted her first career goal in the 50th minute, pounding in the team’s second goal on a spectacular diving header off a cross from redshirt freshman forward Samantha Bruder.
UC Davis responded with a goal of its own seven minutes later. Senior midfielder McKeegan Mandy placed a free kick into the top corner to cut the Trojan lead in half. But it would not be enough for the Aggies. USC maintained ball control and fashioned several more scoring opportunities, and UC Davis was unable to establish its rhythm.
“I thought offensively we were better than we have been,” head coach Keidane McAlpine said. “We have been working on it, and we got a chance to show that today.”
But McAlpine also noted that his players need to maintain their intensity throughout the full 90 minutes.
“All in all, we need to be a bit more offensive in the final third,” he said. “[We] need to be more disciplined in the back and not give up set pieces.”
While USC’s offense ripped off a whopping 22 shots, the team’s real success stemmed from its defense. The Women of Troy limited the Aggies to a measly four shots, of which only two were on goal.
Though McAlpine was critical of his team’s discipline, he had a positive outlook on the 2017 season.
“Overall, great first game to get us going,” he said. “But we still have a lot of work to do.”
USC has a 13-day recess before it travels to Columbia, Mo. to battle Missouri on Sept. 1. The Tigers opened the season with two comfortable victories, and they will have played four regular-season tilts by the time McAlpine and company take the field next Friday.