Coming off a 1-0 win against No. 16 UC Berkeley UCLA women’s soccer prepares to face the final challenge of this year’s regular season against reigning national champions USC.
The two teams have had somewhat parallel seasons. They are both top ten teams who have been unable to crack the top tier. They are also conference rivals with embarrassing losses (UCLA’s to No. 48 Washington State, USC’s to No. 85 Kansas), recent 1-0 wins over No. 16 UC Berkeley and, of course, losses to No. 1 Stanford.
Before we get to my prediction here are four points to consider when viewing this game.
1. UCLA Could Clinch a Number One Seed
The NCAA women’s soccer tournament works essentially in exactly the same way as a March Madness bracket would. There are 64 teams in four regions with four teams seed No. 1, the next four seed No. 2.
The Bruins are currently seeded fifth in the nation, tantalizingly close to a one seed, a rank they last achieved in 2014. A win, especially an impressive win, over one of the nation’s top teams gives them a very high probability of landing that coveted position.
They also have several paths to the top four aside from a massively impressive victory. No. 2 Duke has a very tough road against a No. 10 Virginia team which has surrendered only four losses. No. 4 North Carolina also faces a major test in No. 24 NC State. Also worthy of note, No. 3 South Carolina ended their regular season with a loss which may leave a bad taste in voter’s mouths.
2. Is This College Soccer’s Best Rivalry?
When considering interconference rivalries it’s very difficult to think of a matchup more potent than USC vs UCLA. The campuses are located just twelve miles apart and each year the teams compete for the affection of a region largely divided between these two juggernauts. It’s also hard to imagine a relationship packed with more history; 215 total national championships, decades of fighting, thousands of clashes.
It’s a perfect combination of consistently top tier talent, geographical proximity, and history.
Historically, UCLA has dominated women’s soccer, winning 22 of their 28 matches however in the past few years the gap has narrowed as USC has clinched two national championships in the past decade and have found themselves perennial top ten contenders.
The late season spectacle between these two teams is becoming a yearly event to mark on one’s calendar and it means more than ever now that these two teams are of nearly equal strength.
3. USC Needs This Win More Than UCLA
Though the Bruins enter in only as slight favorites over the Trojans, one gets the sense that USC needs this win more than UCLA.
- The Trojans are coming off a 3-1 loss to Stanford. Earlier in the season they suffered an embarrassing loss to 85th ranked Kansas. They also had a very surprising 0-0 draw with Utah, a team which has won just over 27% of their games and is currently ranked outside of the top 100. In other words, the reigning champs have proved inconsistent and at this point must be scared of another humiliation.
- Last year’s Trojans (the team that won the national championship) lost 1-0 to a lackluster Bruins team at home on their last regular season game.
- The Trojans, could take a huge ranking fall with a loss. The Trojans started the season ranked No. 3 and many thought the Trojans had a strong chance of repeating as champions. Much of that confidence has faded with the team’s NCAA ranking falling to No. 6 this week. Other systems think this is overconfident, ESPN’s RPI ranks USC just 17th in the nation.
4. Can USC Control the Bruins’ Offense?
I consider this the major question heading into this game. UCLA is perhaps unquestionably the stronger offensive team, they’ve averaged 2.33 goals per game (11th in the nation) while having one of the toughest schedules. Aside from the leviathan that is Stanford, only Washington State has been able to hold the Bruins scoreless.
That being said, it remains to be seen how UCLA will adapt to the loss of star midfielder Jessie Fleming who is missing two games to work with the Canadian National team. The team’s offense will likely still be effective, they lead a multi-pronged attack led by talented junior striker Hailie Mace (13 goals) and wunderkind Ashley Sanchez who has been named the second best Freshman in the nation. However, in a year where USC’s offense often times proved unreliable and impotent, their defense was consistently elite. USC on the other hand has a talented defense which before a loss to Stanford had allowed a minuscule 0.56 goals per game. The defense is holds around defender Ally Prisock, the only player on USC’s team to be featured in the midseason Top 100 National Player Rankings.
My Prediction; UCLA 1, USC 0
I predict the same score as last year’s matchup. UCLA will be at a disadvantage without the strong play of Jessie Fleming but the Bruins will still have an edge. Boasting a more consistently productive offense and a more well-rounded star-studded team, UCLA will pick up a tough win before the NCAA Tournament run.