Inside the enclosed North Athletic Field, the site of Sunday afternoon’s game, fans and players are separated by barely a few feet. Spectators sit on bleachers at the very edge of the field, close witnesses to every play and every call.
The UCLA women’s soccer team created a similarly claustrophobic atmosphere for Rutgers, dominating possession in a shutout.
The No. 4 Bruins remain undefeated, tying Pepperdine 1-1 on Friday and winning against the Scarlet Knights 1-0. The offensive production in both games may have been similar, but the tone on Friday was entirely different than it was two days later. UCLA was chasing Pepperdine almost the entire game, trailing 1-0 after the 36th minute. Freshman defender Ally Courtnall’s goal in the 88th minute off junior midfielder Zakiya Bywaters’ cross narrowly saved the Bruins from defeat.
On Sunday, it was UCLA that scored early, striking in the 33rd minute off a set piece. Freshman defender Megan Oyster scored her first collegiate goal, a header off a corner kick by senior midfielder Charney Burk.
“Charney (Burk) just played a perfect ball right to where my run goes, right to the (penalty kick) spot, and I saw it, jumped up for it and pounded it into the back of the net,” said Oyster about the goal.
Oyster made her first start of the season, playing 79 minutes on the back line and helping the Bruins secure a shutout.
“It’s her first start as a Bruin after coming off an injury, and she steps up with the game winning goal,” said UCLA coach B.J. Snow. “That’s a big piece of the puzzle for us, to figure out who can play where and to add some versatility.”
Adding some versatility to the defense was Bywaters, who played as a left back for the final few minutes of the game.
“I’m comfortable playing anywhere on the field wherever I’m needed,” she said on playing as a defender. “If Coach wants me to play outside back, then that is where I will play.”
With play predominately on Rutger’s half of the field, the Bruin offense had plenty of scoring opportunities, but was unable to finish despite finding itself deep inside Scarlet Knight territory.
“Offensively, we had some good combinations,” Bywaters said. “This whole weekend, we have been pretty good offensively, but we just have to put the ball in the back of the net.
We are getting the chances, just need a little more composure inside the 6 (yard box) and the 18 (yard box), but it will come with time.”
Rutger’s goalkeeper was active throughout the match, making 12 saves against the Bruins’ 13 shots on goal. Although encouraged by the offense’s activity, Snow wants more shots to find their way past a diving keeper.
“It’s not about creating opportunities, it’s about putting the ball in the back of the net,” he said. “So that is a big growing phase we will be going through over the next couple weeks, because we need to become much more efficient inside the 18-yard box. It’s the next big evolution for us.”