The NCAA women’s soccer regular season gets underway next week. So, it’s time for Bruins Nation’s preview of the 2019 UCLA Bruins women’s soccer team. Read on!
The Bruins, who are returning one of the most talented squads in the nation and bringing a equally talented crop of freshman, have been ranked second in the Pac-12 behind Stanford and fourth in the nation behind last season’s champion, Florida State; North Carolina, who last season knocked UCLA out of the postseason in the quarterfinals on penalties in Cary, North Carolina; and Stanford.
UCLA has had the talent to win a national championship most years under head coach Amanda Cromwell, but this year’s squad. maybe more than most, appears to have several factors in its favor. Unlike 2018, when two of UCLA’s best players, Hallie Mace and Jessie Fleming, missed half of the college season due to World Cup qualifying, all hands appear to be on deck in 2019, barring injury. 2018 was also derailed a bit due to the season-ending injury to Anika Rodriguez in the middle of the year. Rodriguez was missed as she helps the Bruins in so many different ways. She’ll be back in 2019.
The Bruins, as usual, boast a tough non-conference schedule but, unlike last season, when they traveled to the East Coast, UCLA will welcome some of those same teams to the friendly confines of the Bruins’ Wallis Annenberg Stadium in its second season as UCLA’s home venue for the beautiful game.
UCLA faces Florida State and Florida, two tough teams that UCLA struggled against on the road last season, at home. The Bruins also face Wisconsin at home, Long Beach State and Santa Clara on the road, and will play two games in the Rainbow Wahine Shootout in Hawai’i versus Hawai’i and Pepperdine. Of course, the Bruins will play the usual eleven-game Pac-12 slate, culminating on November 8th when the Bruins take on the Southern Cal Trojans at Wallis Annenberg Stadium.
Also, circle the date now on your calendars: Saturday, October 19th, 7 pm PT. That’s the day that UCLA plays at Stanford in what will likely be a nationally televised road contest that will no doubt have Pac-12 and national implications.
Before the real games start, however, the Bruins have a pair of exhibition matches this weekend, the first of which is at home tonight at 7 pm versus Loyola Marymount. UCLA then travels for another exhibition match at UC Irvine this Sunday at 6 pm.
UCLA lost some talent last season, including the talented and exciting Hallie Mace, who could score goals and defend, and who single-handedly and heroically won UCLA’s first ever game at Wallis Annenberg Stadium last year. The Bruins, however, are stacked in 2019 and perhaps their weakest link, the back line, will see a significant upgrade.
UCLA brought in ten freshman and one significant junior transfer in what was considered to be one of the top classes in the nation. Obviously, it is difficult to predict any immediate impact that one or more of these freshman players could make on this team, although three of the ten freshman made our player analysis. Shoot us your thoughts in the comment section if you think one of the other seven that we did not mention is going to have a big impact on UCLA’s season.
Junior defender Karina Rodriguez, sister of Anika, was one of just two Bruins to start all of UCLA’s games in 2018. Rodriguez helped the Bruins to twelve clean sheets last season, while also finding the back of the net three times. Rodriguez, now in her third year playing significant minutes, is poised to take a big step forward this season, and help UCLA’s back line become ever more stout.
Senior defender, Kaiya McCullough is the anchorwoman of UCLA’s back line, having made 52 straight starts for the Bruins including all of 2018, all of 2017, and stretching back into her 2016 freshman season. McCullough was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week twice last season.
The Bruins defense is getting a vital upgrade with the transfer of junior center back Lucy Parker to the squad. Parker, who started all of LSU’s games during her freshman and sophomore years and earned first team All-SEC Honors last season, will not have to sit out a year and will immediately upgrade the UCLA defense. The English native helped the Tigers to ten clean sheets last season.
Junior Delanie Sheehan figures to lock down the final spot on on the Bruin back line. Sheehan knows how to get up field and score from the back line. She netted five scores to go with three assists as a freshman and added four more goals and seven assists as a sophomore last year.
Sunny Dunphy, now a senior, seems like she has been a Bruins forever. Indeed, she played in every game of her junior and sophomore seasons. More of an attacking player in her early years as a Bruin, she now plays primarily defense for the Bruins at the outside back position.
Senior midfielder Jessie Fleming returns from her second World Cup, in which she scored a goal in the group stage to help Canada vanquish New Zealand, 2-0. Check out Fleming’s clinical finish:
Way to go Jess!
Fleming missed a lot of UCLA’s 2018 season due to national team duty, as Canada were busy qualifying for said 2019 World Cup. In the 11 games in which Fleming donned a UCLA jersey in 2018, she tallied five goals and five assists. The Bruins will look to her leadership to hopefully achieve a successful 2019 campaign.
Junior midfielder Viviana Villacorta opened my eyes with her play as a freshman in the 2017 Women’s College Cup and she continued to impress in her sophomore season last year. Villacorta has played in every game of UCLA’s 2017 and 2018 seasons, finding the net last year four times, to go with four assists. Villacorta does very well in the middle of the field and is a great two-way player. She’s able to get forward and also solid on defense.
Junior midfielder Marley Canales saw increased playing time last year, appearing in 17 games after only seeing time in 12 in 2017. Of course, Canales will always be known by UCLA fans for one of those 12 appearances in 2017, when she hit the deciding penalty to advance the Bruins over Duke in the semi-finals of the 2017 Women’s College Cup. Canales will look to continue to improve in 2019 and should see even more playing time than she did as a sophomore.
Junior midfielder Olivia Athens had a fine sophomore season last year, starting 20 of UCLA’s 22 games, and scoring four goals to go with eight assists, good for second best on the club. Two of Athens’ goals were gamewinners and that makes it tough to keep her off the pitch. Athens cemented her Bruin soccer legacy by leading UCLA to a 3-2 victory over Southern Cal last season with a double-overtime, game-ending goal.
Sophomore midfielder Miracarmen Reyes burst onto the scene last year as a true freshman, turning heads with her play. Reyes played in 21 of UCLA’s 22 games and scored three goals.
Freshman Mia Fishel is the first true freshman to make our list. Out of Surf Soccer Club in San Diego, Fishel knows how to score goals and has done so at the international level including the 2018 U-17 World Cup and CONCACAF qualifying for same. She is a pure attacking midfielder who can score and assist. She will find a way to get time in a crowded UCLA lineup as she is too good to sit.
Rachel Lowe is another true freshman with extensive international experience. Lowe has played for the Australian National Team. She also captained the Matildas’ U-20 national team. Like Fishel, Lowe is too good not to see the field, even as a freshman.
Junior forward Ashley Sanchez looks to continue to wreak havoc on opponents in 2019. Sanchez was one of the most impressive Bruins last season, if not THE most impressive Bruin. She scored ten goals and chipped in 15 assists, the latter of which was second-best in the nation and tied a UCLA school record. Sanchez was a first-team All-West and All-Pac-12 in 2019.
The talented senior Anika Rodriguez will return to the lineup after unfortunately missing the second half of the season after suffering a season-ending knee injury. UCLA missed the versatile Rodriguez, who can play forward or offensive midfielder, during the postseason.
Redshirt senior Chloe Castaneda will play her final season in a UCLA kit this year. Castaneda took a big step forward in her junior year, scoring five goals, third-best on the squad. Castaneda also chipped in four assists will playing in all of UCLA’s games.
Junior forward Kennedy Faulknor, who showed flashes last season, is poised for a breakout season. Faulknor played in all of UCLA’s 22 games, starting seven.
Senior goalkeeper Teagan Micah also returns from the World Cup last summer in France, although she did not see the field. Micah started 14 of UCLA’s 22 games last season and played in 17.
Redshirt sophomore Lauren Brzykcy, who started five games as a freshman last season, figures to get a similar amount of starts as she transitions into the expected Bruins starter for 2020 and 2021.
There is a lot of talent on this team and, with the liberal substitutions allowed in college soccer, predicting a starting XI is relatively meaningless, but I am going to go ahead and do it anyway. I am assuming a 4-4-2, although that could obviously change as well from game to game and even within games. This would be my first choice lineup:
Attack: Sanchez; A. Rodriguez
Midfield: Fleming; Athens; Villacorta; Reyes
Defense: Sheehan; McCullough; Park; Rodriguez
If Cromwell wanted to play five midfielders, two defensive and three offensive (i.e. a 4-2-3-1), she could simply drop Anika Rodriguez back.
Barring a spate of injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, UCLA should receive a #1 or #2 seed in the postseason. The team’s chances to win the Pac-12 Conference hinge on its ability to go on the road and beat Stanford, something it has not been able to do in recent years. With home field advantage likely in UCLA’s favor in the early rounds of the tournament, the Bruins should be able to make it to at least the quarterfinals of the postseason where anything can happen. The Bruins definitely have the talent to win it all this year. They just have to seize it and have a couple of balls bounce their way.
I hope that you enjoyed Bruins Nation’s preview of the 2019 UCLA Bruin women’s soccer team. Personally, I cannot wait for the season to start look forward to interacting with you readers as the campaign progresses.