As the USC women’s soccer team opens up Pac-12 play this weekend against Washington, it’ll do so with a discomforting distinction involving defense.
USC (3-4-1) is the only team in the Pac-12 not to have shut out an opponent yet this season, having allowed 2.12 goals per game so far — the worst in the conference by a wide margin. The second worst defensive squad, Washington State, has allowed 1.14 goals per game.
“We just need to stop giving goals away,” USC coach Ali Khosroshahin said. “If we’re lackadaisical defensively and give the ball away, and [opposing] teams are good, they punish you for those types of errors.”
Fortunately for the Women of Troy, they will likely have two veteran defenders returning from injuries in senior Kristina Noriega (concussion) and redshirt sophomore Mia Bruno (quad strain) just as conference play begins.
Khosroshahin pointed out that the two would be game-time decisions, and also said that he’s “very, very hopeful” that the pair will be able to play against the Huskies (7-1-1).
Freshmen Marlee Carrillo and Erin Owen, who are both taller than 6 feet, have taken most of the starts at the center back positions for the Women of Troy thus far. Junior Elizabeth Eddy, who led USC in scoring last year as a midfielder/forward, has mostly played on the back line this season.
“We’re going to have to make some changes in the back,” Khosroshahin said. “The way we’re leaking goals right now, I want some experience back there [on defense].”
Things have been looking brighter on the other side of the pitch, as the Women of Troy haven’t been shut out yet this year, either.
Junior midfielder Jordan Marada, senior midfielder Samantha Johnson and freshman forward Katie Johnson each have three goals to lead USC in scoring, and Marada tops the squad with four assists.
Eddy credits the success on offense to the team’s focus on possessing the ball in their opponent’s defensive third of the field.
“We can shoot from outside as well as work it inside,” Eddy said. “We throw a ton of numbers up top and when we’ve got great attacking center midfielders like [Marada], it’s really good for us.”
USC is second in the Pac-12 with 19.6 shots per game, but is tied for fifth in goals per game.
“Our possession has improved tremendously,” Khosroshahin said. “We just need to improve the quality of our opportunities.”
The Women of Troy might be hard-pressed to do that against the Huskies, who have averaged only 0.44 goals allowed per game.
Washington goalkeeper Kari Davidson leads the Pac-12 with 5.25 saves per game, helping the Huskies record five shutouts in nine games.
“They’re really athletic,” Marada said. “They’ll run at you, so we need to show them what we got and come out as the better team.”
Junior midfielder Lindsey Elston acts as the offensive hub for Washington, leading the Huskies with six goals and four assists, which ties her for the Pac-12 lead with 16 points.
“They’re a good side — they’re very disciplined, they’re very hardworking,” Khosroshahin said. “It’ll be a real tough match, but we like our chances.”
Despite USC’s defensive struggles and the Huskies’ prowess on both sides of the ball, the Women of Troy have some advantages.
Washington won its first seven games of the season, but tied Utah State 1-1 and lost to BYU 3-1 in its last two matches.
And last season, the Women of Troy didn’t record a shutout through their first 14 games —and ended that streak against Washington in a 1-0 road win.
The Women of Troy have defended their home turf against the Huskies, who haven’t won at USC since 2001.
USC will try to keep that streak going Friday at 2 p.m. at McAlister Field. The game will be shown on the Pac-12 Network.