Pick up a dollar bill, turn it over and you’ll find the Latin phrase E pluribus unum — out of many, one — inscribed atop the Great Seal of the United States.
For nearly two centuries it was the country’s unofficial motto, a paean to the belief that the strength of a collective is built from disparate parts.
For USC women’s soccer Coach Keidane McAlpine, it’s also become a formula for success, one that explains how he took a group of disgruntled and discarded transfers and molded them into a fierce band of sisters, one that has USC in the NCAA College Cup for only the second time in school history.
The Trojans, ranked seventh in the nation, open play Friday afternoon in San Jose against No. 5 Georgetown. Top-ranked West Virginia meets No. 6 North Carolina in the other semifinal.
Yet none of that happens without McAlpine first taking the many and turning them into one.
“Almost all of us that transferred came from a situation that we weren’t very happy with. And that creates a bond,” said goalkeeper Sammy Jo Prudhomme, one of six players who came to USC from other four-year schools. “But that team has definitely done a great job with integrating everyone. I almost forgot that I transferred.”
McAlpine also came from somewhere else, leaving Washington State for USC in the winter of 2013. He concedes the high number of transfers is an anomaly, but offers no apology.
“You’ve got to do what’s right for you,” said McAlpine, whose team has lost just once since Oct. 9. “At the time and place we were in, in order to get to where we wanted to go, those were the right people. I don’t see anything wrong.”
Under Ali Khosroshahin, the previous coach, USC had gone 21-33-5 in three seasons despite having what many considered to be one of the Pac-12’s most talented teams.
“We knew there was a disconnect somewhere,” said McAlpine, who led the Trojans to 17 wins this season, the second-most in school history. “There was no lack of talent on the roster so it was just a matter of fine-tuning and making sure everybody’s mentality was where it needed to be. And adding some pieces that were missing.”
That started with Prudhomme, who had grown disenchanted during her two seasons at Oregon State.
“The soccer program wasn’t exactly what I was looking for,” said Prudhomme, who followed McAlpine to USC a couple of months later. “I really wanted an opportunity to be in the position that I’m in right now, where I have a team that’s able to go to the Final Four.”
The transfer forced her to sit out a year but this fall the senior has emerged as one of the nation’s best keepers, posting a school-record 14 shutouts in 23 games. She anchors a defense that has allowed just one goal in the last month and only 10 this season, fifth-lowest in the nation.
Next McAlpine added midfielders Amanda Rooney (North Carolina) and Morgan Andrews (Notre Dame), the latter a semifinalist for this season’s MAC Hermann Trophy, soccer’s equivalent of football’s Heisman.
“I just didn’t feel that it was the right place for me,” Andrews said of her time at Notre Dame, where she was a third-team All-American. “I wasn’t improving as the person that I wanted to be and as the player that I wanted to be.”
The Trojans’ makeover was completed this fall with the additions of midfielder Sydney Myers (Santa Clara) and forwards Leah Pruitt (San Diego State) and Alex Anthony (Maryland), with Anthony joining the senior Andrews to give USC an Alex-Morgan attacking duo.
“You could tell when I took my [recruiting] visit that the goal was to win a national championship this year,” said Anthony, a graduate student who leads the team with 10 goals. “[McAlpine] was trying to shape the team and bring players in who he thought were going to make that happen.”
It was more than just a goal, though; it was a carefully constructed plan, one designed by the coaching staff to bring USC a national title by their third season at the school. The Trojans haven’t taken the most conventional path to get there, but if they defeat Georgetown (20-2-3) it’s a journey they can complete in Sunday’s final, where they’ll have a chance to bring USC its second women’s soccer title.
“We were all misfits bound together with a cause,” said McAlpine, including himself among the transfers. “Obviously, something at USC had to change. Obviously, for each of these individuals something had to change.
“And so why not change together and see if we can’t build something that’s sustainable over time and not just a one-hit wonder?”