Friday’s women’s soccer game between UCLA and USC had a playoff feel to it — which is a good thing since the next match for both teams will be in the playoffs.
So UCLA’s 4-2 win before a sellout crowd of 2,366 at Wallis Annenberg Stadium was as much a dress rehearsal for next week’s NCAA tournament as it was the final game of the Pac 12 season. Sure, there was more than just bragging rights at stake: The schools came in tied for second in the conference and with the win, No. 14 UCLA (14-4-1, 8-3-0) will take a head of steam and a slightly better seed into that tournament.
“Momentum’s huge going into the postseason,” UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell said. That may be the end of the advantages, though. With both schools ranked in the top 14 in the coaches’ poll and the top eight in the nation in RPI, both are likely to be home for their first postseason games. And neither is a stranger to that tournament: USC won the title in 2016 and UCLA lost to Stanford in the final a year later.
“This is the best series in college soccer,” Cromwell said. “This game is always a marquee game.”
USC’s Keidane McAlpine agreed.
“These are the games that prepare you to play in the tournament,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of quality players on both teams. And the environment’s fantastic every time we play.”
The winning goal came from Viviana Villacorta, who pushed a low shot through traffic in the 75th minute after USC keeper Kaylie Collins had lifted a ball off the crossbar. Lucy Parker added an insurance goal on a header three minutes later, securing UCLA’s fourth straight win over its crosstown rival.
Ashley Sanchez picked up her second assist of the night on Parker’s goal, giving her 39 for her career to break Iris Mora’s 14-year-old school record.
Ninth-ranked USC (14-4-1, 7-4-0), meanwhile, found its own bright spots in the loss, which came with Tara McKeown — whose 14 goals are tied for second on the school’s single-season scoring list — and captain Jalen Woodward resting injuries.
“This is a rivalry game. You want to win,” McAlpine said. “[But] I got great performances from some people who played more minutes than they probably should. That’s a win for me.”
The Trojans struck first, with Natalie Jacobs knocking home a low Alea Hyatt cross from the center of the penalty area in the fifth minute. It was just the second goal the Bruins have allowed since mid-October but it wouldn’t be the last.
After scores from Chloe Castaneda, in the 22nd minute, and Mia Fishel six minutes later put UCLA in front, USC sophomore Penelope Hocking tied the score just before the first half ended.
But the second half was all UCLA, with the Bruins outshooting USC 12-0 — and 27-4 on the night.
Still, McAlpine saw mostly silver linings. Four years ago his team ended its regular season with a loss to UCLA, then rebounded to win the national title in San Jose’s Avaya Stadium. The NCAA final will be returning there next month.
“It started here,” he said of the 2016 championship run. “Our senior class were the freshmen of that group. They know what it takes and they know it’s still possible.”