“Happens from time to time,” USC coach Keidane McAlpine said of the flight which, not unexpectedly, was rocked by turbulence.
Friday the teams shared a field at UCLA and the ride was equally as wild until the Bruins escaped with a physical 3-2 victory in overtime before an announced crowd of 11,925, the largest ever for an NCAA regular-season women’s soccer match.
The winning goal came 80 seconds into the extra period when Ashley Sanchez banked a shot off a defender and over USC keeper Kaylie Collins.
UCLA (15-2-2, 8-2-1 Pac 12), ranked fifth nationally, not only pulled into a tie with USC for second in the conference standings, but it also improved its chances of earning a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament bracket, which will be announced next week. No. 6 USC (14-3-1, 8-2-1), the defending national champion, also is likely to open the postseason at home next Friday, but if the Bruins are given a top-two seed, they could play as many as four tournament games at home.
“Before the overtime, I told the girls this is a playoff game. Our playoffs start right now,” UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell said. “This team is super resilient. I knew it was going to be a game like this.”
USC struck first with Nicole Molen heading home a feed from Julia Bingham at the near post in the 11th minute for her third goal of the season. UCLA evened things briefly on Kaiya McCullough’s rolling, right-footed shot from outside the box, but Molen restored the Trojans’ lead in the 34th minute, poking the ball in during a wild scramble inside a crowded six-yard box.
That would be the Trojans’ last score.
Anika Rodriguez pulled UCLA even again 20 minutes into a second half the Bruins dominated, stripping the ball from a defender deep in the USC end to set off a 2-on-1 break she finished with a deft shot. Sanchez then ended things on a golden goal on the first shot of overtime.
“It was a playoff game. The ebbs and flows, the ups and downs were all there,” McAlpine said. “To lead twice, I expect us to win those games.”
The crowd, which included the UCLA band, shattered the regular-season attendance record of 10,128 set three years ago when the Bruins and Trojans met at the Coliseum.
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11