The spectators filed in by the thousands, buzzing over an evening bout that featured a city’s most cherished rivalry.
And for the first 45 minutes, the two opponents sized each other up, the UCLA and USC women’s soccer teams exchanging shots here and there, with the Bruins seemingly possessing a slight edge.
But amid the physicality that lit up the second half, it was the Women of Troy (9-4-3, 2-2-1 Pac-10) who delivered the decisive blow, a piercing strike in the 86th minute that sank the visiting No. 20 Bruins (9-6-1, 2-3) 1-0 in front of a raucous, record-breaking crowd of 8,527 on Friday at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Playing in front of the largest gathering of fans for a NCAA regular-season match, the Bruins knew well what was at stake: the familiar crosstown bragging rights for soccer supremacy, a fourth consecutive win against USC, as well as a chance for better positioning in the season standings and national rankings.
But all of those opportunities vanished at a moment’s notice, leaving UCLA with its first pair of consecutive losses since the 2004 season.
“It’s incredibly disappointing for us and a tough loss to swallow,” coach Jillian Ellis said. “It didn’t really feel like we truly created a lot of good scoring opportunities, and at the end of the day, you’ve got to score goals at this level to win.
“We just need to do a bit more soul-searching, because that’s what it’s going to take.”
The Bruins possessed early and often throughout the match and headed into halftime having out-shot the Women of Troy 6-3.
But what had stood as just a competitive match turned noticeably feisty in the second half.
Extra shoves and hard tackles abounded from both sides in the final 45-minute frame, leading to three yellow cards ““ two against UCLA and one against USC ““ being issued in the second period alone.
In one particular instance, sophomore midfielder Chelsea Cline collided with USC’s freshman goalkeeper Shelby Church in her attempt to chase down a loose ball, knocking Church down in the process.
While Cline was being whistled for a yellow card, USC’s Samantha Johnson and Morgan Morrow confronted the Bruin midfielder, prompting sophomore forward Zakiya Bywaters to come to Cline’s defense.
“I saw the yellow card coming, so I was going to take it and just walk away,” Cline said. “Then they approached me and I just kept my mouth shut … because I didn’t want to get into it.”
The altercations continued late into the game, and it was apparent that the Bruins weren’t about to let the crowd, the relentless marching band nor the Women of Troy intimidate them.
But with just four minutes left in regulation, the Women of Troy’s senior defender Karter Haug sent a looping cross to the left side toward freshman midfielder Autumn Altamirano, who promptly one-timed the ball into the upper right side of the net to give her team the lead.
And despite playing with a defiant demeanor that hadn’t been seen in recent memory, UCLA was unable to stage a comeback with the seconds ticking down.
“It was shown, certainly,” Ellis said of her team’s aggressive play. “I just think it was too little too late. If we had started the second half the way we came out in the last five minutes, then maybe it’s a different outcome.”
For now, the Bruins can only hope for a postseason rematch to even the score against their crosstown rivals.
“I would love to play (USC) again and beat them,” senior defender Lauren Barnes said. “We’ve had so much history with them, and it would totally be unfinished business right now, with how we ended (on Friday).”