It’s the way every USC athletics program was meant to end its season: playing UCLA.
That’s what the USC women’s soccer team has in store tonight when it takes on the No. 2 Bruins (14-1-3, 7-1-2) in Westwood. And for the Women of Troy (7-12-0, 4-6-0), it’s a chance to end a subpar season in a special way.
“We’re always pumped up to play UCLA,” senior forward Ashley Freyer said. “At this point, records don’t matter because we’re going to leave everything out on the field.”
That just about sums up the juxtaposition of these two teams’ seasons. Both opened the season in the top-25 — UCLA at No. 16, USC at No. 25. But while the Women of Troy lost their opening three games and 11 of their first 14, the Bruins surged. UCLA did not lose for nearly the first two months of its season before falling to No. 1 Stanford. The Bruins have won games by staggering scores, including 4-1 over Fresno State, 6-1 against Arizona and, most recently, 8-0 at Colorado.
“They’re one of the best teams in the country,” USC coach Ali Khosroshahin said. “No other way to say it.”
Bruin forward Sydney Leroux is one of the premier forwards in the nation with 14 goals in 18 games. To put that in perspective, sophomore forward Elizabeth Eddy leads USC with four goals. As a team, the Women of Troy have just six more goals than Leroux does individually.
“We’re really going to have to handle our business well in the back [against Leroux],” Fryer said. “But if we play the way we can then we will.”
The Bruins’ goal-differential is plus-28; USC’s is minus-10. The Bruins allow exactly half a goal per game — good for 11th nationally — and score 2.1 goals per game. USC, by contrast, scores slightly more than once per game and concedes 1.6 goals each contest.
“We know it’s going to be a challenge for us,” Khosroshahin said. “But this whole season has been a challenge. The ladies have battled through a lot.”
Obviously this season has not gone as expected for a team ranked in the top 25 to start the season. After an 0-3 start, the Women of Troy appeared to get back on the right track with three straight victories, including a 3-1 win over No. 18 Illinois. But things turned south.
The Women of Troy completely outplayed No. 2 Oklahoma State at McAlister Field in their own tournament in early September and took a tough 1-0 loss.
“That one really sticks with me,” Khosroshahin said. “We showed we could compete with anyone in the nation and win the stats with anyone in the nation. But we didn’t win the most important stat that mattered.”
Just two days later, the Women of Troy were only 10 minutes away from a big 1-0 victory over Texas. Instead, the Longhorns conceded a late equalizer and later fell in double overtime.
Those two losses kicked off a stretch of eight straight losses spanning more than two months. But six of those losses came by just one goal. In fact, of the Women of Troy’s 12 losses, just four have come by multiple goals.
“We’ve been so close this whole season,” Khosroshahin said. “Just a bounce here or there and things would be completely different.”
But those bounces haven’t been there, and that means tonight’s matchup takes on a greater importance.
USC has never beaten the Bruins in Westwood in 13 trips there, and USC is just 4-19-1 all time against its crosstown rivals.
Tonight’s matchup kicks off at 7 p.m at UCLA’s Drake Stadium.