The USC women’s soccer team started the season at No. 8 in the nation, and expectations were high considering seven starters were coming back from a team that went 16-5-2 last year.
But now after two games (three if you count the 2-0 exhibition loss to the Mexican national team last weekend), the unranked USC is 0-2, troubled with injuries and just looking for a spark.
“We’ve beaten ourselves in the last two games,” redshirt senior forward Marihelen Tomer said. “Sometimes the results don’t go your way. But I think we haven’t been playing our best soccer or close to what we need to be playing..”
The Women of Troy are hoping to showcase an improved team this weekend as they travel to the University of San Diego to play in the USD Nike Classic, where they will face two teams that finished last season with losing records. USC will play Cal State Fullerton (0-2) on Friday and Ohio State (1-1-1) on Sunday.
However, even with these winnable games, the Women of Troy need to put the ball in the back of the net. They have been outscored 5-1 this season, and the lone goal came on junior Megan Ohai’s penalty kick in a 2-1 loss to St. John’s last Sunday. Yet, USC outshot the Red Storm 23-6.
“The result on Sunday, as much as it stung us and was disappointing, I think there’s a lot of valuable lessons we can take from that game,” coach Ali Khosroshahin said.
Part of the reason for the slow start for USC could be attributed to injuries and new players getting adjusting to the college game. Redshirt senior and All-American center back Meagan Holmes sprained her MCL last weekend against Mexico and is day-to-day, and junior center back Kasey Johnson is unavailable.
This means that last year’s leading points scorer, junior Ashli Sandoval, will play center back (she played this position over the summer and in Sunday’s game) along with two sophomores that saw little playing time last year, Claire Schloemer and Chelsea Buehning.
“We haven’t had a solid backline. People have been getting hurt, and people are moving different positions,” said junior defender Karter Haug, the only backline returner scheduled to play Friday.
Transitioning from offense to defense and from defense to offense has also been a spot the Women of Troy are looking to improve on. Often times this season, USC has gotten up in the attack but would only have one or two players in the penalty box as a cross came in.
The effect is more profound on defense, as the Women of Troy’s new backline still tries to find chemistry that only comes by gaining experience and playing together. Having an All-American at goalkeeper, senior Kristin Olsen, provides some insurance, but Khosroshahin sees a fundamental aspect in the transition game that everyone can work on.
“I think we’ve been reacting a lot and depending on our athleticism to get it done, but at this level athleticism isn’t enough. You gotta rely on intelligence, and that’s what we’re lacking right now,” he said.
Khosroshahin knows the only way to get his new players to learn this is to have them gain collegiate experience. While he desperately wants to win every game, he knows that the team is young and different. He is confident the team will be fine as the season progresses.
The Women of Troy stopped short of saying these are must-win games, but after an 0-2 start, coming off with two wins in winnable games would be a great boost for the whole team.
“I think [the wins] are going to come if we keep improving and working on the things we haven’t done well,” Tomer said. “We’re 0-2, so two wins would be nice.”