Women's Soccer: Bruins handle 'Eaters

LOS ANGELES – The same folks who bristled at water being wasted during the ice-bucket challenge, might have been similarly miffed about the gasoline used to transport the UC Irvine women's soccer team to its nonconference match at top-ranked UCLA on Sunday night.

But for UCI Coach Scott Juniper, whose packed-in, defensive game plan, he believed, gave his Anteaters the best chance to pull an upset, such disappointment over a 3-0 loss to the defending NCAA champion Bruins would be an overreaction.

UCI (0-2 including a 2-0 season-opening setback at No. 10-ranked Santa Clara) did manage just one shot the entire game. And that offering, off the foot of senior midfielder Cami Privett from 30 yards out in the 87th minute, sailed well wide of the goal.

The Bruins, who went 22-1-3 in 2013 to win the program's first national title, posted a 22-1 shot advantage and a 14-0 advantage in corner kicks.

Coach Amanda Cromwell hosts (2-0), who outshot Maryland, 22-0, in a 3-0 season-opening win Friday, extended their unbeaten streak to 23 matchups, during which they have posted 17 shutouts. UCLA has allowed just one goal in its last eight matches and has now outscored foes, 27-2, in its last 12 contests.

UCI, meanwhile, has not scored this season and its back-to-back shutouts thus far, happened only once last season.

"That's the national champion and we want to play our team against the best teams in the country," Juniper said. "When you're the best team in the country in the U.S., you are one of the best teams in the world. We played against some of the best players in the world today [five of whom trained with the U.S. national U23 team after last season].

"So, you've got to really think about it in the context of the game. We're disappointed, but we kept it at 1-0 into the 78th minute. If we could have just kept it tight, we thought that in the last 10 or 15 minutes, we could have changed the tempo and the rhythm a little bit. But that second [UCLA] goal was a real killer.

"We came with a plan and we executed that plan to perfection but for three moments. And a team like UCLA is going to hurt you in those three moments and it hurt us in all three. We knew, going into the game, we wouldn't get many scoring chances. But we restricted [the Bruins'] shots. A lot of their shots were from outside 30 yards. They couldn't break down the two [defending] lines of our team. We made it very difficult for them to get crosses. They had a lot of corners because they couldn't get crosses. The shot count is the shot count, but from my perspective, the stats don't matter."

UCI's defensive focus, which one broadcaster compared to a rope-a-dope in boxing, virtually sacrificed the opportunity to formulate offense. It allowed the Bruins to maintain possession on the UCI half of the field most of the night. UCI crammed eight players into the six-yard box on most corner kicks.

Juniper, who guided the Anteaters to two NCAA Tournament appearances, including one Sweet 16, said it was difficult, as a competitor, to place such restrictions on his players.

"But you have to realize who you are playing against," Juniper said. "Had we committed to having three forwards, that would have been three more attacking players that we couldn't play with on the [defensive] half of the field. [The Bruins] had Maryland down, 3-0, at halftime and the game was over. We held it to 1-0 until the 78th minute. It's hard [to virtually concede an offensive thrust], but you can be very aggressive from that [defensive] shape. We didn't get as aggressive as we would have liked, but we have some athletes on this team that, had we strung together a couple more passes in transition, we might have given ourselves a couple of better chances."

UCI was not completely without chances. Senior forward Bianca Frontino lofted a ball toward the far post in the 18th minute that UCLA goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland batted down after colliding with the post as she tracked the high-arching delivery.

In the 48th minute, Rowland, a senior who recorded her 38th career shutout to tie Valerie Henderson's school record, came off her line to intercept a free kick delivered into the box by junior midfielder Cassandra Robles. Rowland's aggressive action prevented streaking senior forward Laura McGrail from getting her head on the pass and potentially directing it past Rowland, a 2013 All-American who was the last line of defense.

But UCLA, for which former Corona del Mar High standout Annie Alvarado is a sophomore starter in the midfield, had more quality chances than the three that produced goals.

The first goal was a blast from Taylor Smith from 25 yards out that whistled into the top half of the net in the 29th minute.

Sam Mewis banged in a rebound in the 78th minute and Darian Jenkins, another 2013 All-American, converted a rebound off the crossbar that UCI goalkeeper Jennifer Randazzo (four saves) nearly corralled before Jenkins punched it past her to finalize the scoring.


Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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