The No. 9 USC women’s soccer team will face No. 14 UCLA to close Pac-12 play Friday.
The Trojans have not beaten their crosstown rivals since 2015, as UCLA has taken the final game of USC’s season three years in a row.
“We’ve been really unfortunate in some of the breaks that have happened in the game; some of our own doing but also just the way soccer is,” McAlpine said of the losing streak to the Bruins. “I thought last year we controlled a lot of the game and [then] let it get away from us.”
USC and UCLA have both established themselves as powerhouse soccer programs in recent years and have historically played competitive, intense games in their matchups. However, UCLA has had the upper hand in the all-time series, as USC has only knocked off its foe six times in 32 matchups.
The game this year is shaping up to be another high-stakes affair as the winner will claim outright second place in the Pac-12 behind Stanford. USC and UCLA are currently tied with a 7-3 record in conference play.
“It helps us in preparation long term, because they are such a quality team,” McAlpine said. “[And] in terms of the atmosphere, it gives us the feel of the later rounds of a national championship run.”
USC started out the year strong, achieving one of the best starts in school history while ranking as high as No. 2 in the nation. However, the team began showing signs of weakness after a tie with Baylor and has since dropped three crucial conference games.
On the flip side, UCLA also got off to a quick start, knocking off then-No. 1 Florida State in dominant fashion. But the Bruins fizzled out after getting upset by Santa Clara, which is now ranked No. 20 in the nation and dropping two straight to Cal and Arizona.
Neither USC nor UCLA have many wins against quality opponents. Aside from both teams’ wins over FSU, UCLA beat No. 11 Wisconsin, while USC has beaten no other relevant team.
However, both programs have put together successful enough resumes to maintain their national championship aspirations.
USC heads into the game returning from a successful trip to Oregon and Oregon State, where the defense allowed no goals and has built some momentum after faltering against Cal and Washington.
This season, the Trojans have relied heavily on the offensive duo of sophomore forward Penelope Hocking and junior forward Tara McKeown. The two are responsible for a hefty load of USC’s scoring, but redshirt senior midfielder Natalie Jacobs has quietly accumulated six assists on the season to go with her 2 goals as well.
The return of redshirt junior goalie Kaylie Collins from an injury has also been huge for the Trojans, although sophomore goalie Anna Smith was impressive in her place. Collins is 5-1 as the starter and has totaled 19 saves on the season.
However, the Trojans have faced a few injuries as the season has progressed, and the team looks different than it did early on.
“We definitely have some different personnel, but I think all in all, I think it will be a really good game,” junior midfielder Alea Hyatt said.
UCLA will field a defense that has totaled 10 shutouts on the season to pair with a highly-balanced offense that has yet to see a player reach double digit goals. UCLA has passed the ball well this year — eight Bruins have scored at least 2 goals on the season, compared to only four for the Trojans.
“Every last player has to be locked in defensively to their assignments,” McAlpine said of the team’s defensive approach. “We have to recognize who their most dangerous players are, but at the same time be committed to communicating all the switches and movement they have within their offense.”
Hyatt echoed McAlpine’s emphasis on playing defense as a cohesive unit in order to stop the Bruins’ potent attack and pointed to the other things USC will need to keep in mind ahead of Friday’s game.
“Defending together, being a unit, making sure we’ve got everybody behind the ball and really working hard for each other,” Hyatt said of the Trojans’ keys to emerging victorious.
USC vs. UCLA has been and will always be a competitive matchup in women’s soccer, and this week should be no different. A win for USC would mean snapping a three-year losing streak to the Bruins, gaining sole second place in the Pac-12 and making a solid statement win before the postseason.
The Trojans’ regular season finale kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday at UCLA Wallis Annenberg Stadium.