In front of a NCAA-record crowd of 11,925 fans, the No. 6 women’s soccer team traveled to Westwood last Friday to take on crosstown rival No. 5 UCLA, but fell 3-2 in overtime.
The Women of Troy were looking for a rebounding win coming off a disappointing loss to top-ranked Stanford last week.
“We don’t get a better teacher than this game,” head coach Keidane McAlpine said after his team’s loss to the Cardinal. “To get to play this game will prepare us for every game moving forward.”
The Trojans appeared to take McAlpine’s words to heart, seizing the early momentum against the Bruins. USC dominated possession, and when UCLA controlled the ball, the defense pushed the Bruins to the edges of the pitch and quickly regained possession.
The Trojans opened the scoring early into the match. In the 11th minute, sophomore defender Julia Bingham launched a cross in front of the Bruins’ goal. In traffic, senior midfielder Nicole Molen elevated and landed a powerful header, sending the ball past UCLA goalkeeper Siri Ervik.
Despite USC’s control on the game, the Bruins found the equalizer in the 26th minute. Sophomore defender Kaiya McCullough broke up the field past redshirt senior forward Alex Anthony and shot a long, rolling ball from outside the 18-yard box inside the far post to knot the score at one.
Just minutes later, the Bruins threatened to steal the lead from USC with a header on frame, but redshirt freshman goalkeeper Kaylie Collins denied the attempt, setting up the Trojans to go on the attack.
The Women of Troy returned to the attacking third and strung together a series of scoring opportunities but were turned down on all attempts — until the 34th minute. Freshman midfielder Savannah DeMelo launched a corner kick into a scrum in front of the net. After a scramble at the goalmouth, the ball eventually found its way to Molen once again. The captain tapped in from point-blank range to record a brace with her fourth goal of the 2017 season.
“We knew that, on set pieces, they were weak, and we could exploit them there,” Molen said. “So I believe that’s where that second goal came from. It was just kind of bouncing around, and I just poked it in.”
The remainder of the first half was scoreless, and USC led 2-1 at the intermission. The Trojan offense was blazing through the opening 45 minutes, tallying nine shots while the USC defense limited the Bruins to just four. It seemed as if the Women of Troy had ironed out their problems from the Stanford game, but the bane of USC’s season returned in the second half.
UCLA dominated possession in the second period, allowing the Trojans to spend very little time in the offensive zone and holding them to only two shots.
In the 65th minute, a defensive breakdown resulted in a breakaway for UCLA redshirt sophomore midfielder Anika Rodriguez. One-on-one with Collins, Rodriguez sent the ball past the keeper to tie the score at two.
The match ended in a stalemate after regulation time, but overtime proved to be a short-lived venture. In the 92nd minute, UCLA’s sophomore forward Sunny Dunphy entered the Trojans’ box and played a backward pass to fellow freshman forward Ashley Sanchez. Freshman forward Tara McKeown was able to get a leg on the ball to change its course, but it was not enough as Sanchez’s shot found the back of the net for the game-ending golden goal.
“You hate to lose to your rival,” McAlpine said. “You hate to lose a game, but knowing that [we] have the postseason coming up, just like last year, we have a chance to redeem ourselves.”
USC fell 1-0 to the Bruins in 2016’s regular-season finale, but the team rebounded to reel off seven consecutive postseason wins — all the way to a national championship.
The Women of Troy conclude their 2017 regular season with a 14-3-1 overall record and an 8-2-1 conference mark. USC now awaits the NCAA Selection Show on Monday at 1:30 p.m. for the team’s seeding and matchup in the NCAA Tournament.