The game had been tight all afternoon.
But with less than two minutes left in the September game and USC clinging to a 1-0 lead, Arizona State had a free-kick from 40 yards out. Almost every Sun Devil was in the box, and USC senior goalkeeper Kristin Olsen was trying to see the ball through the crowd of players. As one of the tallest players on the field at 6-feet, opposing players swarmed around her, looking to distract her in any way.
As the ball sailed into the box, an Arizona State player got a head on it and it beelined for the back of the net. But seemingly from the other side of the goal, Olsen flied through the air and snagged it at the apex of her dive. Game saved, USC wins. Olsen records another shutout.
It was just another play for Olsen, who has quietly become one of the best goalkeepers in the nation.
“It’s her athleticism and her ability to dive post-to-post. She gets to balls that I know people are saying, ‘That’s a goal,’” coach Ali Khosroshahin said. “But more than that, she handles the routine play very, very consistently and that’s huge.”
The stat sheet wasn’t that impressive, as Olsen recorded only four saves in that game. But stats can’t begin to describe how the charismatic goalkeeper, who loves to sing Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus and can recite every line from Finding Nemo, keeps USC together on the field.
The funny thing is, Olsen didn’t want to be a goalkeeper. She hated the idea of it. She grew up playing on the field as a forward, and that was her passion. At Villa Park High School in Orange County, Calif., she was named offensive MVP her junior year.
But her coach for the Southern California Blues soccer club couldn’t ignore her height and athleticism. A three-sport star at Villa Park, Olsen was named the school’s Female Athlete of the Year her senior year. So her coach stuck in front of the net, much to her chagrin.
“I hated it at first. I cried,” Olsen said. “I threw a fit. But I started training with a really good goalkeeper coach and it became a challenge for me. I just wanted to get better at it.”
She did, but her skills didn’t all come at once. Olsen sat behind Veronica Simonton her freshman year and admits she wasn’t happy with that position.
Yet Olsen, a devout Christian, believes things happen for a reason — like what happened between her freshman and sophomore year.
Khosroshahin became the new coach and gave everyone a fresh start. Even with Simonton coming back for her senior season, there was no question for Khosroshahin who the starting goalkeeper should be.
“Our first impression was, ‘Wow, look at this kid, look how athletic she is and how comfortable she is with the ball at her feet,’” Khosroshahin said of Olsen, who is one of the fastest jugglers on the team. “She just had this presence to her, this confidence. There was no indecisiveness. It was obvious she was the best one.”
After playing in just two games during her freshman year at USC, Olsen saw the filed in just about every game her sophomore year and led the Women of Troy to their first national title. After the championship victory Olsen cried again, this time tears of joy.
“That year she just blossomed,” senior defender Meagan Holmes said. “She saved our butts in a lot of games and we couldn’t have won a national championship without her in the goal.”
Since then, Olsen has developed into a more complete player and a leader on and off the field for the Women of Troy. She is the all-time leader in wins and shutouts.
She also traveled with the US National Under-23 team this summer in England and Ireland and brought her game to a whole new dimension.
Olsen has needed to draw on all that experience this year as USC started two new players on the backline. Olsen was frustrated at first, but as a leader, she learned that the younger players needed her voice now more than ever.
“She’s able to help the younger kids see things defensively and offensively, because she can see the whole field. We count on her a lot to help us find solutions,” Holmes said. “I don’t hesitate twice when she tells me what to do. We respect her.”
Khosroshahin believes the sky’s the limit for Olsen.
“She has the potential to be one of the best keepers in this country,” Khosroshahin said. “Maybe the best goalkeeper this country’s ever had.”
Olsen plans on entering the Women’s Professional Soccer draft next semester and hopefully turning Khosroshahin’s prediction into reality. But she’ll be the first to say it’s not about her.
“Honestly, I don’t look at the numbers. I really rely on my teammates a lot. When we work well together, that’s when the results come forth. Statistics are one thing but what we do on the field is what really matters,” Olsen said.