The No. 3 USC women’s soccer team fell to No. 2 Stanford Saturday at home in a tight 3-2 battle for its first loss of the season. The Trojans are now 7-1-1 on the year.
The loss will set USC back in the hunt for its first outright Pac-12 title, while Stanford will have a headstart in taking the conference crown for the fifth year in a row.
All of the scoring was concentrated in the first half of the match. The Cardinal struck first after junior forward Madison Haley headed in a long free kick by junior forward Catarina Macario.
USC tied it up just six minutes later thanks to the partnership of junior forward Tara McKeown and sophomore forward Penelope Hocking, which the Trojans have relied on all season. Hocking slid the ball in perfect position for McKeown to fire it into the back of the net off one touch.
The goal put McKeown back at the top of USC’s season leaderboard, but her position alone there was short-lived. Hocking tallied a goal of her own off a pass from graduate defender Natalie Ward just two minutes later to tie her teammate with 8 goals.
However, after Hocking’s goal USC was stymied by Stanford’s defense for the rest of the game — and the Trojans’ 2-1 lead quickly evaporated. Macario scored the equalizer after dribbling through USC’s defense four minutes later. She notched the eventual game winner to close out the first half on a shot that bounced off the left post and in.
The second half was like a whole new game, and the scoring was over.
“I think both teams were a little fatigued by the time the game ended,” said head coach Keidane McAlpine of the dropoff in action during the second half.
Although the final score indicated a close game, Stanford dominated statistically throughout the match. The Trojans had trouble dealing with Macario as sophomore goalkeeper Anna Smith faced 26 shots and was forced to make eight saves in the game.
The Trojans also notched 20 fouls while Stanford had only 10, and USC also received three yellow cards in the second half. Meanwhile, the Trojan offense only got off six shots — their lowest total of the year — with only three shots on goal.
“In every position of the field they’ve got quality,” McAlpine said of the Cardinal. “They have a chemistry about them that’s very good and when you have that is difficult to break down and difficult to deal with.”
For Stanford, the win is proof that its loss to unranked Pepperdine was a fluke and that it is still the powerhouse it was to start out the season. As for USC, the team is likely to drop a few spots in the rankings, and each Pac-12 matchup from now on will carry extra significance because it can’t afford to lose many more games.
The bright spot for the Trojans, as has often been the case, was the continued success of Hocking and McKeown. Their two scores in the first half were vital in keeping USC in the game, but they were unable to pull another one out of the bag during the second half.
“It’s an opportunity for us to really check ourselves … and figuring out how to be a little bit better in terms of the small moments in the game that could’ve changed the game,” McAlpine said. “We played a little bit frantically.”
USC will now play two more tough Pac-12 opponents as it travels to Arizona to play Arizona State Thursday and Arizona three days later. Both teams are quietly having solid seasons, and those games will be must-wins for the Trojans if they want to keep their Pac-12 hopes in strong position.