Keith’s Keys: Fans should care about the better ’SC football

Soccer and King Sisyphus have a lot more in common than you think.

Much like the mythological Greek king who was forced to roll a heavy boulder up a mountain over and over for eternity, soccer faces a similar uphill battle in becoming the new predominant pastime in the United States and at USC.

In the past 30 years, it seems that every time non-American football starts to dribble the rock up the mountain, sports traditionalists push it right back down. Fortunately, for well-rounded sports fans, the world’s most popular game is slowly but surely making its way into the hearts of millions.

Major League Soccer franchises in Atlanta, Minnesota and Seattle have been setting their respective cities on fire with record-breaking attendance. This year’s World Cup — a faux Olympics for footy head’s alike — reignited America’s passion for the great game as powerhouse teams like France and underdog teams like Croatia roared their way past some of the world’s best. I believe that those similar World Cup sentiments should translate from the fields of Moscow to the fields of McAlister.

As one of six schools in the Pac-12 without a men’s soccer team, the USC women’s team is constantly overlooked despite its rampant success, including winning the 2016 NCAA Championship. Much like they sleep on mass-produced dorm mattresses in Pardee Tower, USC students are sleeping on this talented group of gals.

Although the women’s soccer program was founded years after prestigious programs like UCLA, Stanford and UC Berkeley, USC ranks fourth in the Pac-12 and is tied for 23rd in the nation with 16 NCAA Tournament appearances. Of those, four of them have come in the past four years under the tutelage of head coach Keidane McAlpine.

Going to the NCAA playoffs that many times in a row is impressive enough, but to win a second national title in a sport that many USC students don’t pay attention to? That is flat out awesome, and somehow discouraging at the same time.

There is a theory known as the little fish, big pond theory: In a big pond, big numbers of little fish will have the opportunity to grow because of the sheer size of the pond.

The Women of Troy are little fish in the huge pond that is NCAA Division I soccer. Despite other programs recruiting talent from all over the country and scoring crowds of thousands — not hundreds — of people to each of their games, the USC women’s soccer team is excelling and few people on campus know about it.

Everybody and their mother remembers each of USC’s football titles, yet very few know about USC’s most recent soccer ring.

Perhaps it’s soccer’s lack of popularity in the United States. Perhaps it’s USC Athletics’ poor marketing campaigns. Perhaps it’s the unfortunate but prevailing notion that sports like soccer -— or even USC’s highly-successful water polo — just aren’t that exciting. Perhaps it’s the noncoverage from mainstream media and student media’s inability to cover each and every game.

Or perhaps it’s just a continuing campus-wide apathy for any sport that doesn’t include tailgating hours beforehand that is preventing USC’s non-revenue sports from achieving community-wide acclaim.

Despite the lack of fan interaction, the squad has many returning stars to fill the gaps left by the seniors who graduated last year.

Although the Women of Troy lost top scorer forward Alex Anthony (8 goals, two assists) and over 50 percent of their offensive production from the 2017 season, they bring back flashy forward senior Leah Pruitt (6 goals, four assists), sneaky sophomore midfielder Savannah DeMelo (4 goals, five assists) and one of the best-kept secrets in sophomore goalkeeper Kaylie Collins (0.87 goals against average).

And along with a plethora of first-year talent, the Women of Troy welcome in solid transfers graduate student midfielder Megan McCashland (Notre Dame), graduate student defender Jessie Holmes (Florida), redshirt junior forward/defender Natalie Jacobs (Notre Dame) and sophomore midfielder Alea Hyatt (North Carolina) from top-flight programs.

Regardless of USC’s ability to get goals on the board, its defense will surely lead them into the NCAA playoffs for the fifth-straight season. If Collins can replicate her outstanding 2017 season, the Trojans will be in a fantastic position to ensure they have a shot at glory come December. If the new faces can rise to the challenge of their new starting roles, I believe that this 2018 squad has as good a chance as any to win yet another national title.

With a 1-0 victory last week over UC Irvine, the Women of Troy are already on their way toward the program’s first undefeated season in history. That may sound far-fetched, but their schedule features a multitude of should-be wins that will give them the resume they need for a solid run in the playoffs.

While games on the road against Florida, Florida State, Cal and Stanford are likely to be tough, home field advantage against Pac-12 foes UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Washington State will give USC the edge it needs to finally get people to care about USC’s more successful “football” team.

Keith Demolder is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. His column, “Keith’s Keys,” runs every other Tuesday.