Soccer sweeps Washington schools

USC soccer celebrates after a win.
With just one game left in the regular season, the Trojans hope to end strong and get their first win against UCLA since 2015. The Bruins are ranked No. 1 in the nation and have lost just once. (Tomoki Chien | Daily Trojan)

On a sunny Los Angeles Sunday, USC wasted no time in opening the scoring against Washington State, but their hot start did not last. 

In the 4th minute, junior midfielder Zoe Burns made a darting run unmarked into the Washington State 18-yard box. Spotting her teammate, senior left back Jaelyn Eisenhart slid a pass to Burns, who took a touch to settle then hit the ball with her left. The shot curved away from Washington State goalkeeper Nadia Cooper and hit the right post, bouncing into the net.

After Burns’ goal, Washington State settled into the match and began to create opportunities of their own. The Cougars’ direct, physical style led to a few successful counterattacks, using forward Margie Detrizio as an outlet for long balls forward. A loose ball fell to Detrizio’s feet from a corner kick in the 23rd minute and she scored, tying the match at 1-1.

USC came flying out the halftime break, but the Cougars shocked the Trojans once again. Detrizio carried the ball into a shooting position and unleashed a powerful effort towards graduate goalkeeper Anna Smith, who saved the ball low to her left. The ball deflected back to Detrizio, who did not waste her second chance. She lifted the ball over Smith for Washington State’s second goal. 

For the next four minutes, it seemed like it just wasn’t USC’s day. The Trojans peppered Cooper with shots, but two second-chance strikes at the other end meant that Washington State had taken the lead, 1-2. 

It didn’t take long for USC to regain their mojo. Sophomore midfielder Helena Sampaio stood over a free kick, not far outside the box. She struck the ball low and around the wall. The ball collided with Cooper and it bounced off her just back into play. The ball found the feet of junior forward Angeles Escobar, who tapped it in to tie the score with her first goal of the season.

After the equalizing goal, USC’s play had acquired a new energy. The Trojans played crisper forward passes, linking play smoothly. Sophomore forward Simone Jackson and sophomore midfielder Aaliyah Farmer charged up the field with confidence, carrying the ball forward and troubling Washington State defenders with their ball control. 

For a brief moment, Washington State threatened again, pushing the ball into USC’s half and winning a corner kick. Smith snatched the ball cleanly out of the air from another Washington State cross, then punted the ball upfield to Jackson. With the ball at her feet, Jackson turned around her defender at the sideline and surged forward into the box. Unmarked, Jackson struck the ball into the left side netting with her left foot for her sixth goal of the season. 

With the lead reestablished and heaps of positive momentum, USC established control over the match and never looked back. Washington State tried to break through with their kick-and-rush style, sending long balls forward to challenge USC’s backline, but the Trojans’ defenders held their ground and ensured that the remaining 25 minutes of the second half were relatively calm.

Around the 83rd minute, Washington State’s frustration at losing the lead became evident. Jackson dribbled up the left touchline. She looked unhurried, taking as much time as possible off the clock. Realizing Jackson wanted to get to the corner, Washington State defender Sydney Studer tackled Jackson hard, eliciting loud protests from the home crowd. Under pressure from the crowd, the referee didn’t award a yellow crowd, despite Jackson staying on the ground in pain. 

Washington State attempted to piece together a shot in the final minute, but USC maintained their composure and the whistle blew to end the match. 

After the match, Head Coach Jane Alukonis commended the team for fighting hard against the Cougars.

“Washington State is a really hard team to play against,” Alukonis said. She expected the Cougars to play in a direct, long-ball style and emphasized the importance of winning 50-50 balls immediately at the backline and in defensive midfield areas.“We focused recently on using the width and also following everything because we know [Washington State’s] a team that gives up second-phase balls sometimes. Angie’s [Escobar] goal was off one of those plays.”

With the win against Washington State, USC improves their record to 7-1-2, sitting on 23 points in the Pac-12 standings.

Burns, the opening goalscorer, had plenty of praise for her teammates after the match. 

“I thought everyone was killing it,” Burns said. “Aaliyah [Farmer] was getting to every single ball in the air, Helena [Sampaio] was fighting all the time and giving great services, all of our subs that came in were impactful and amazing.” 

After UCLA’s 3-0 win against Washington on Sunday, USC cannot finish higher than third in the Pac-12, even with a win against UCLA in their final regular season match. More importantly, though, a positive result against the Bruins would help secure USC a high seed for the NCAA Women’s College Cup Round of 32.

According to Burns, UCLA will pose a different stylistic challenge to the team, one that the group is looking forward to.

“[UCLA will be] the opposite kind of opponent [in terms of] style of play as WSU, so it’s going to be a completely different approach for us mindset-wise, but I think we’re really excited because I think UCLA matches more what we like to do and how we like to play… [we’ve] been ready for that one,” Burns said.

USC will play UCLA Friday at 2 p.m. at Soni McAlister Field.