#11 UCLA Women's Soccer (4-2-0)
Opponent: #25 Pepperdine (4-2-1)
When: 3:00 PM PDT, Friday, September 16, 2016
Where: Tari Frahm Rokus Field, Malibu , CA
Live Stats: Pepperdine Waves GameTracker
The 11th-ranked Bruins (4-2-0) wrap up the nonconference portion of their schedule this weekend with a match against #25 Pepperdine (4-2-1) this afternoon in Malibu, and a home game against Long Beach State on Sunday evening. It marks the conclusion of a challenging run-up to the Pac-12 season which saw UCLA face five Top-25 opponents. With four Pac-12 teams currently ranked in the top-25 of the NSCAA Coaches Poll (#1 Stanford, #11 UCLA, #12 Southern Cal, #21 California), and another two (#29 Washington and #32 Arizona) on the cusp of qualifying for a spot in the top-25, the difficulty of UCLA's nonconference schedule should prepare the Bruins well for what promises to be a tough Pac-12 title race.
Last Sunday UCLA defeated San Diego (3-3-1) at Drake Stadium by a 3-1 margin, but the match was closer than the score suggests. The Bruins got on the scoreboard first when freshman sensation Jessie Fleming tallied her fifth goal of the season near the end of the first half. Less than four minutes after the restart, USD pulled even when the Toreros' Julia Sherwood looped a header over Bruin 'keeper Teagan Micah.
Nine minutes later the Buins were ahead for good. Fleming found Darian Jenkins at the top of the box, and Jenkins buried her shot into the top corner of net for her fourth goal of 2016.
The Toreros applied heavy pressure in search of an equalizer, and frankly, the Bruins' defense looked vulnerable. However, when redshirt freshman Anika Rodriguez notched her first career goal in the 83rd minute to give UCLA a two-goal cushion, the Toreros were finished.
It's worth noting that Coach Cromwell used the match against USD to give a handful of players their first career starts. Freshman forward Sunny Dunphy, redshirt freshman Chloe Castaneda, freshman defender Jacey Pederson, and senior defender Alyssa Alarab all were awarded places in the starting XI, and for the most part, they acquitted themselves well.
UCLA and Pepperdine last met 365 days ago at Drake Stadium. On that occasion, UCLA entered as the underdog after struggling through a similarly challenging nonconference slate of games. Pepperdine, on the other hand, was ranked 19th and boasted a 5-2-1 record. It took the Bruins over 89 minutes to break a scoreless deadlock, but when Annie Alvarado slotted home a penalty kick with just 51 seconds left on the clock, UCLA claimed a victory that sent the Bruins into Pac-12 play with a 4-4 record.
Unfortunately, the momentum from last season's victory over the Waves didn't last long, and UCLA slumped to a highly disappointing season that saw the Bruins finish with more losses than wins. The Bruins are in a much better position this season, however.
Although Coach Cromwell's side has already lost two games this season, both losses were against top-10 opponents (#4 Florida and #7 North Carolina), and UCLA fell short by just one goal in both matches. Furthermore, while it is probably too early to say that the Bruins' defensive problems of last season have been completely sorted, it's reassuring that UCLA has kept clean sheets in three of its four victories. And aside from a pretty shaky performance by Coach Cromwell's defense against Florida in a 4-3 overtime loss, the Bruins defense has looked more assured in its performances.
The Waves will present a much different challenge than Florida, though. Pepperdine does not feature a particularly prolific attack; the Waves are averaging just a tad over 1.4 goals per game, which is nearly a goal less per game than the Bruins average. The Waves two main weapons are redshirt senior forward Rylee Baisden with four goals in 2016, and freshman midfielder Nicole Leggio with three goals. On the other hand, Pepperdine boast a stout defense that is surrendering on average just .82 goals per game. By way of comparison, the Bruins are conceding about 1.14 goals per game on average. The Waves have a good, experienced goalie in senior Hannah Seabert, so the Bruins aren't likely to score any soft goals this afternoon.
While UCLA may not be a particularly young team, Coach Cromwell is relying on a lot of relatively inexperienced players, especially on the defensive end. Therefore it's important that the Bruins develop consistency in their performances. Coach Cromwell has no shortage of talent in her squad. Now we need to see these talented student-athletes exhibit the level of organization and discipline that we saw from the 2013 and 2014 teams.