UCLA women’s soccer hadn’t been in this position before.
The club boasted an undefeated record for the first ? weeks of the year before Washington State put an end to that last Friday. With the loss, the Bruins could have become unraveled, putting their season and shot at a conference title in jeopardy.
But they didn’t let that happen.
No. 6 UCLA (13-1-2, 6-1-1) Pac-12 rebounded with a 3-0 thumping of Washington (9-6-2, 2-4-2) to split the road trip. The Bruins haven’t had trouble against the Huskies in recent bouts, pushing their record to 5-2-1 since 2010.
UCLA’s offense struggled to notch first-half goals against Washington State and Utah. That changed against Washington.
Just seven minutes into the match, sophomore midfielder Jessie Fleming saw an opening.
The Canadian phenom dribbled up the field, looking for options. She then blasted a shot from way outside the box. The ball curved into the top-left corner of the goal just above the opposing keeper’s hands.
It was just Fleming’s fourth goal on the campaign, as coach Amanda Cromwell hasn’t had to rely as much on the wunderkind offensively. Fleming led the team in goals last season with 10 – the only Bruin to tally double-digits in goals.
UCLA wasn’t finished yet.
Freshman midfielder Ashley Sanchez dribbled into Huskies’ territory scouring the field for an opening. Junior forward Hailie Mace snuck past Washington’s defenders, received a ground pass near the box, dribbled a few feet ahead and booted one past the goalie to make it 2-0.
The Bruins complemented their offensive onslaught with a sturdy defense. The Huskies managed to record just one shot in the first half, the fewest allowed by UCLA in any opening half.
Neither team could for much of the second half. But the Bruins broke the dry spell in the 86th minute with the the dagger, putting the game out of reach.
Sophomore forward Sunny Dunphy teased a through ball into the Huskies’ box for Sanchez. Sanchez faked out her defender and blitzed toward the ball, then easily slid her shot past the goalkeeper to extend the lead to 3-0, where it would stay.
With the defensive effort, UCLA tallied its sixth shutout of the year. Sophomore goalie Teagan Micah didn’t break a sweat in the cage, compiling zero saves. The backfield brigade held its own against Washington, surrendering just five shots, all of which weren’t near goal.
Cromwell’s crew has reached its most arduous portion of the schedule. And it starts with arguably the biggest challenge – a date with No. 1 Stanford (15-1, 8-0).
The Bruins and Cardinal are arguably the nation’s most complete squads. Both teams possess the most infiltrating offenses in the conference – Stanford and UCLA rank first and second in goals per game, respectively – and stifling defenses as well.
But one glaring difference sets the two clubs apart – the Cardinal have won 13 straight games. The goal differential in those 13 games is 54-2. Stanford possesses the nation’s most efficient, averaging more than four goals per game.
The Cardinal’s defense isn’t that bad either. It ranks fourth in the nation in goals-against average. The defense allowed just five goals in 16 games thus far.
Much like UCLA, Stanford owns a deep squad, with 14 players that have each contributed at least one goal. But two players shine in nearly every affair, as they head the overpowering offense: redshirt junior Kyra Carusa and freshman Catarina Macario.
Not only can they finish inside the box, they also facilitate. Together, the pair of flashy forwards have 60 points overall, including 24 combined goals and 12 assists.
Both demonstrate different tactics while in the opponent’s third. Carusa is choosy, only forcing shots when she is certain a goal-scoring opportunity is in play. Macario shoots blind at times, hence why she’s attempted 91 shots on the year, 45 more than Carusa, who boasts the second-highest shot count on the squad.
If the Bruins hope to steal away a victory, they will have to deny both players of any opportunities in the box, while also crafting a strategy to outmaneuver the Cardinal’s stringent back line.
This could be a preview for a future NCAA College Cup game, possibly even the championship game.
This is your UCLA women’s soccer vs. Stanford game thread.