After a long streak of road games that included seven overtime periods, three losses and two ties, the USC women’s soccer teamn is more than happy to end the regular season with a five-game home stand.
“With all the traveling and playing overtimes back to back, it was just physically exhausting,” freshman forward Jamie Fink said. “Now that we’re home, we kind of get to relax and take it easy on our legs.”
USC (4-7-3, 1-3-2) is tied for ninth in the Pac-12 — though, has yet to face No. 2 Stanford or No. 3 UCLA with five conference games remaining.
That doesn’t bode well for the team, which has been outscored 12-6 during its current five-game winless streak.
But the players are hoping that they can still turn their season around with the aid of a home-field advantage — after all, they won their only home conference game, a 1-0 victory over Washington, to open Pac-12 play.
“It’s kind of refreshing,” redshirt sophmore defender Mia Bruno said. “Even though we haven’t won many games, we’re excited; I think we will start winning.”
Fink says is taking a relaxed approach from here on out.
“We’re not really focused on winning or losing, or going to the [NCAA] tournament,” Fink said. “We’re more focused on playing soccer and having fun and being a team.”
But if USC does have any shot at making the NCAA tournament, it’ll have to make strides this weekend in its matches against Utah and Colorado.
The Utes (8-4-2, 3-3-0) stand at fifth in the conference standings, and are receiving votes in the NCAA coaches’ poll. The Utes boast a stellar defense, having allowed only 12 goals in 14 games, and are 5-0-1 when scoring two or more goals.
USC’s offense has shown it can hold possession against strong defenses, as the team leads the conference in shots per game (18.64), but it also ranks just fifth in goals per game (1.64).
“It’s positive that we are leading the conference in shots, which means we’re creating opportunities, but we’ve just been lacking a little composure,” USC coach Ali Khosroshahin said. “We’ve been lacking a better understanding of finding another player with a higher percentage opportunity.”
But Khosroshahin insists his team is close to breaking that habit.
“I’ve been saying this all year, and I probably sound a little hypocritical, or like I’m lying, but we’re really close,” Khosroshahin said. “We’ve been close for a while, there’s just been a bit of a disconnect … between knowing the game plan and really understanding the game plan. And I think we’ve been able to sort it out this week [in practice].”
After facing off against Utah on Friday, the Women of Troy will host the Buffaloes (6-6-3, 0-5-1), who sit in last place in the Pac-12 on Sunday.
USC is 3-0-0 all-time against Colorado after a 1-0 victory on the road last year, but the Buffaloes do have a lethal scorer in forward Anne Stuller, who ranks third in the Pac-12 with eight goals this season.
Stuller could cause some issues for the Women of Troy, who have struggled defensively all season. USC ranks last in the Pac-12 in goals-against average (1.94) and has shut out only one opponent all season.
But Bruno, who was injured for the first half of the season along with senior defender Kristina Noriega, thinks the squad is up to the challenge.
“We’ve kind of had rotating personnel [on defense], but I think we’ve found our four [starters],” Bruno said. “We have some new players back there, we’re still getting used to each other, getting that camaraderie, but it gets better with every game.”
The Women of Troy kick off against Utah at McAlister Field on Friday at 3:30 p.m., then face off against Sunday Colorado at 1 p.m.