On paper, Wednesday’s friendly between No. 4 UCLA and Missouri might seem like an inconsequential preseason kick-about between two women’s soccer teams.
But, even though neither team managed to find the back of the net at the end of the 90 minutes, the Bruins left the North Athletic Field with a handful of goals of their own to work toward for the rest of the season.
“Defensive organization has to be better. Honestly, I’m surprised this was a 0-0 game, with the amount of chances it could’ve easily been 3-2 or 2-2 I think,” said UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell . “We need to shore some things down with the defense and denying quality chances.”
UCLA ended last season with a reputation for having a stifling defense – one that only allowed an average of 5.1 attempts on goal per game en route to a record-breaking season.
But the growing pains faced by the young UCLA team is expected from a program that lost nine senior starters to graduation at the end of 2014 season – including the four-player backline and starting goalie.
“(They are) definitely some big shoes to step into,” said sophomore Gabrielle Matulich, who started at left back against Mizzou. “I think it’s not so much pressure put on us, but it’s also something we can work forward to and model our own defense off of.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Cromwell highlighted the speed of freshman forward and defender Hailie Mace and junior midfielder Lauren Kaskie’s threat from range as potential weapons that could prove effective during the season.
The coach, however, pointed out a potential area of improvement for her team going forward, saying the Bruins did not rely enough on veteran starter senior forward Taylor Smith who was recently named on this year’s Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy Watch List.
“We definitely need to utilize Taylor Smith more,” Cromwell said. “We didn’t find her feet enough, and she’s so dangerous going forward.”
Although Smith has spent the past three years featuring in the starting lineup 66 times and proving herself as a reliable goalscorer by netting 25 goals, the Bruin veteran is taking on a new challenge in her final year after she was announced as a first-time co-captain alongside junior midfielder Annie Alvarado.
“I for sure feel like there’s a lot more responsibility on my shoulders,” Smith said. “We’re somewhat of a younger team right now and just showing the newcomers and building us a team together is really important.”
The exhibition against the Tigers was played under a modified format of 30-minute thirds. This meant Cromwell was able to allocate playing time to each member of her new 29-player squad in its first scrimmage against another school, including the team’s newest member, midfielder Taome Oliver, who had arrived at UCLA a day before the match.
With the season opener at Long Beach State on Aug. 21, Cromwell said the 90-minute exhibition against Missouri gave her a good enough assessment to finalize the starting lineups with the exception of one or two spots.
The UCLA coach said she expects a similar starting lineup situation to last year – where the depth of her team will afford the Bruins some flexibility in the starting lineup as the season pans out.
“Sometimes there might be 13 or 14 players pushing to start,” Cromwell said. “We just have to pick the top 11 for that day.”