The #6 UCLA women’s soccer team (13-3-1, 8-2 Pac-12) closes out its regular season tonight with the annual Crosstown Showdown against the #2 Southern Cal Trojans (15-1-2, 8-1-1). Kickoff is at 7 pm PT at the StubHub Center.
The Trojans and Bruins are second and third, respectively, in the Pac-12 Standings, trailing undefeated Stanford (15-0-2, 8-0-1). Since the Cardinal still has two games to play (at UC Berkeley and at ASU), the conference championship is technically still in play, however unlikely, for both the Bruins and Trojans tonight. But Pac-12 Championship or not, this is still a huge rivalry and will have postseason implications.
Last Time Out
UCLA is rolling. The Bruins made it through a few stretches without two of its biggest players, Jessie Fleming and Hailie Mace, who both missed significant time due to international duty and, in Fleming’s case, injury as well.
Now, the band is back together, sans Anika Rodriguez who still is not playing due to a knee injury, and the result has been an eight game winning streak. UCLA is now coming off a 2-1 win at Colorado and a 5-1 shellacking of Utah, the same Ute team that Southern Cal tied, 0-0, three days later.
Ashley Sanchez, who leads UCLA in both goals (eight) and assists (seven), had one of each in the 2-1 win against the Buffs. As a result, Sanchez was named UCLA/Muscle Milk Student-Athlete of the Week for the second week in a row.
Against Utah, five different Bruins scored UCLA’s five goals. In fact, 14 different Bruins have scored a goal this year. That is balance in the attack.
And this is a talented, deep UCLA team.
Southern Cal Trojans
The Trojans will be hungry to beat the Bruins tonight, having lost in heartbreaking fashion last year, 3-2, in overtime and 1-0 at StubHub the year before. Southern Cal, ahead of UCLA in both the Pac-12 Standings and the national rankings, wants to end its two-game slide against UCLA not only for pride, but for postseason positioning.
The Trojans have not found an opponent’s ball in the back of their net since Wazzou scored on October 13th. That’s four straight clean sheets for Southern Cal. In fact, opponents have only scored seven goals on the Trojans this season (by contrast, UCLA has allowed 13). That is some good Trojan defending.
But Southern Cal also has loads of attack, scoring 46 goals on the season. By comparison, UCLA has 41. Freshman forward Penelope Hocking leads the Trojans with 12 goals and also has five assists. Senior forward Leah Pruitt is right behind her, with 11 goals and eight assists. Sophomore midfielders Savannah DeMelo and Tara McKeown can also put the ball in the back of the net or find an open teammate to score. Southern Cal’s offense is going to challenge UCLA’s back line in a big way.
The Trojans played four different goalkeepers this year but only one has started in all 18 games: sophomore Kaylie Collins. With an amazing goals against average of 0.40, Collins has nine clean sheets this year and played in four others, where the back up goalies were brought in with Southern Cal up big.
UCLA is going to have to play very, very well in order to solve the puzzle of Southern Cal’s defending while, at the same time, defending against a potent Trojan attack.
This is going to be a competitive game. It will be interesting to see how each team approaches the game, as both squads are aggressive and like to possess the ball.
On paper, the Trojans have a slightly better record, but UCLA did not have Jessie Fleming in any of its losses or its tie. Further, the Bruins missed Mace in all but one of those games as well, with the exception being that Mace played in the Washington State loss. UCLA is back, clicking, and riding an eight-game winning streak. The Trojans are unbeaten in seven, but just tied Utah. And Southern Cal’s back line might be a shade better than UCLA’s.
Part of this prediction is with my heart, as Southern Cal could just as easily emerge victorious in a shootout, with the score something like 3-2. But I predict that we will see another 1-0 UCLA victory (just like at StubHub in ‘16), in a hard fought, physical battle. Let’s hope so.