The No. 4 USC women’s soccer team looks to remain undefeated as it faces off against two non-conference opponents — Northern Arizona and Nebraska — this weekend.
Coming off a thrilling overtime win against defending champion Florida State, the team shows no signs of slowing down. Despite its impressive start to the season, though, junior forward Tara McKeown believes there is still room for her team to grow.
“I think that there is always something that we can work on and improve,” McKeown said. “During that [Florida] game, we focused a lot on getting our width and moving the ball … I think we executed that well.”
The Trojans should move the ball in McKeown’s direction if they want to be successful on Saturday. McKeown was named both the National Player of the Week and the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week for her performance last weekend. She was involved in every score against Florida State, scoring the first 2 goals and assisting on the game-winner. McKeown has now scored in every game this season and has already tied her 6-goal total from last season.
Although the Trojans beat one of the nation’s fiercest opponents in Florida State, McKeown says they will not rest easy in their preparation for Northern Arizona.
“[Florida and Florida State] were really big wins for us so it’s good to have that in our back pocket,” McKeown said. “This whole week at practice we have just been focusing on doing the things that we have been doing well and continuing that into [the game against] NAU.”
While Northern Arizona is unranked, it might prove to be one of the Trojans’ toughest opponents yet. The Lumberjacks are coming in with a two-game win streak, a 2-0-1 overall record and last week’s Offensive Player of the Week junior forward Paige Maling.
Maling took seven shots — including five shots on goal — in 80 minutes of play on Sunday and scored 2 of NAU’s 4 goals against Detroit Mercy in less than two minutes. She already has doubled her offensive production from last season in the first three games.
Head coach Keidane McAlpine said that containing Maling would be one of the most important factors in his team’s success on Friday.
“What we try to do is to take away what they like to do [and] limit her touches, which will limit the crosses into the box,” McAlpine said. “If we’ve got the ball, they can’t score.”
McAlpine also said that along with slowing down Maling, the Trojan defense must hold up under the consistent high-pressure approach of the Lumberjacks.
“Their style is very [much] push the ball forward, go, go, go, try to get high pressure, lots of pressure,” McAlpine said.
The Trojans will go on to face Nebraska Sunday with the hope of extending their winning streak to six games. Nebraska has gotten off to a sluggish start, especially in terms of scoring. The Huskers average less than a goal per game this season, while their opponents are scoring more than 2 goals per game. In their last two matches, Nebraska has struggled to score in the second half, resulting in a loss and a tie.
Given their track record this season, the Huskers will step on the pitch with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove, so the Trojans must remain ready.
“The key for us is the consistency in terms of our work rate and our aggression and in terms of how we compete,” McAlpine said. “If we start there then we allow our technical ability, our talent, our individual skills to show up on the field.”
The Trojans will kick off against Northern Arizona 3 p.m. Friday before facing off against Nebraska noon Sunday. Both games will be at McAlister Field.