#11 UCLA Women's Soccer (5-2-0)
Opponent: Long Beach State (4-3-1)
When: 6:00 PM PDT, Sunday, September 18, 2016
Where: Drake Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruins Live Audio
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
Despite struggling for much of the first half against 25th-ranked Pepperdine on Friday, the Bruins blitzed the Waves early in the second, scoring three goals in five minutes to secure a big victory against a tough opponent. The 3-0 win improved the Bruins record to 5-2-0 and gives UCLA momentum heading into the start of the Pac-12 season, assuming of course that Coach Cromwell's side can beat Long Beach State (4-3-1) this evening.
Before discussing today's match, let's review how the Bruins pulled off an impressive victory over a tenacious Pepperdine side after spending much of the first half on the back foot. Although Coach Cromwell left freshman sensation Jessie Fleming on the bench to begin the game, the Bruins started brightly enough and looked the more threatening of the sides in the first 10 minutes . Then converted fullback MacKenzie Cerda had to leave the pitch after going down under what appeared to be a heavy challenge, and the momentum immediately swung to the Waves. In fact, for most of the remainder of the half, Pepperdine was effective in pressing high up the pitch, and created several good scoring chances.
The Bruins turned things around after the halftime break. Within five minutes of the restart, the Bruins had a lead courtesy of a cool finish from 18 yards out by Darian Jenkins. Less than a minute and a half later, Gabrielle Matulich doubled UCLA's lead when she ran onto a long pass from Hailie Mace and hit a brilliant shot that curled beyond the reach of Peppedine's 'keeper.
Less than three minutes later, senior midfielder Gabbi Miranda added another for UCLA. After the Waves failed to clear a corner kick, Zoey Goralski lofted the ball back into the box, and Miranda out-jumped the Waves goalie to loop the ball into the back of the net.
Three goals was plenty for the UCLA defense. After allowing seven shots in the first half, the Bruins limited Pepperdine to just three in the second frame. Freshman goalkeeper Teagan Micah registered her fourth clean sheet of the season, and the Bruins earned a big win without their best player (Fleming) stepping onto the pitch.
It's unclear why Coach Cromwell didn't play Fleming against Pepperdine, and it's unclear if she'll play against the 49ers today. I find it hard to believe that Cerda will be available today after being carried from the pitch on Friday. In fact. Pepperdine played a surprisingly aggressive, physical game, and Cerda wasn't the only Bruin to pick up a knock. Therefore, Coach Cromwell may be experimenting today with different player combinations as a matter of necessity.
Long Beach State isn't in the latest NSCAA Coaches Poll, but the 49ers were receiving votes earlier in the season. LBSU has a good win over 12th-ranked Southern Cal on its résumé, and also a narrow loss against 16th-ranked Penn State, a team that UCLA defeated 1-0 in overtime. The 49ers are an underrated team and have certainly proven to be a tough opponent against good competition. However, this is the first game that the Beach have played away from home in 2016, so for the first time this season, the 49ers will have to adjust to different field conditions.
Long Beach State is coming off a 3-2 loss to San Diego on Friday. The 49ers took a 2-0 lead into the half, and then saw the Toreros strike back three times in the second half to claim the win. LBSU's leading scorer, junior Ashley Gonzales, notched a goal and an assist in the loss, but importantly, she left the game late in the first half and didn't return. She has to be considered questionable for this evening's contest. Senior Mimi Rangel is the 49ers' other big scoring threat; she enters today's game with 3 goals and 3 assists.
Considering the possible unavailability of the top players for each team, the importance of squad depth, versatility, and adaptability can't be stressed enough. Based upon each team's performance on Friday in adapting to the absence of key players, the Bruins seem to have a significant edge in tonight's match. And if UCLA can notch another victory this evening, the Bruins will head into Pac-12 play on Thursday with plenty of momentum.