Women’s soccer kicks off conference play at Utah

Alex Zhang | Daily Trojan

After two come-from-behind wins this past weekend, the No. 10 women’s soccer team will start their Pac-12 season when they travel to Salt Lake City for Saturday’s matchup against No. 25 Utah.

Utah (5-2-1) will present a tough challenge for the Trojans in their Pac-12 opener having never lost at home this season — with four wins in four games — and outscoring their opponents 17-2 while in Salt Lake City. The Utes’ last game was last Friday against a Kansas team responsible for the Trojans’ only loss of the season, and they defeated the Jayhawks 2-1 at home. This result should be noted by the Trojans as even though Utah was outshot by Kansas 19-12, the Utes were more clinical in their finishing, which allowed them to collect all three points.

Out of the Utes’ 12 shots, they were able to get more than half (7) on target, suggesting that they take smart shots that have high probabilities of testing the goalkeeper. The Trojans must prevent the Utes from occupying the dangerous space in and around the penalty box if they want to prevent them from taking high-percentage shots, leading to more dangerous goal-scoring opportunities.           

The Utes are led in scoring by the dual threat of junior forward Hailey Skolmoski and junior midfielder Paola van der Veen, who have scored 7 and 6 goals respectively in eight games this season. These two goal-scoring threats have contributed (goal or assist) to 15 of the 21 goals scored by Utah this season, a little over 70 percent. What makes these goal scoring exploits even more impressive is that both Skolmoski and van der Veen have hit the target around 60 percent of the time, making them even that much more dangerous to the USC backline.    

As opposed to last weekend’s opponents, who did not have any main goal-scoring threats that the Trojans could identify and mark, the Utes will force the Trojans’ back line to constantly note the positions of both Skolmoski and van der Veen to keep these threats to a minimum. This task will be led by both redshirt senior defender Dominique Randle and junior defender Ally Prisock, who as the senior leaders of the Trojans’ back line will have the responsibility of keeping the entire defense organized and focused on stopping the Utah attack.

On the other side of the field, the Trojans’ front line cannot afford another performance like last weekend. Utah has a very stout defense, which has only surrendered seven goals in eight games this season and 10 shots per game. Coming from behind against this Utah team will be difficult. To prevent a repeat of last weekend’s performances, the Trojans must take the initiative and start strong. This task will be led by leading goal scorer freshman midfielder Savannah DeMelo, who has four goals in seven games this season, scored two goals this past Sunday at San Diego. The Trojan attack must come ready to play and produce if they want to leave Utah with all three points.     

This game will be a challenging test for the Trojans to start off their Pac-12 season. Utah is a solid team that shares many characteristics with the Trojans, with both outscoring and outshooting their opponents. The result of this matchup will be decided by whether or not the Trojans can get off to a fast start and break the Utes’ home-winning streak.