Sunday night was a good reminder of how tough this UCLA women’s soccer team can be.
Less than four minutes into the second half, the University of San Diego tied the match at one, but senior forward Darian Jenkins put UCLA back ahead nine minutes later. Both Jenkins and freshman midfielder Jessie Fleming recorded a goal and an assist as the Bruins ran away from the Toreros 3-1.
The goals were a result of the Bruins holding possession and picking which spots to attack, according to Jenkins.
“We’ve been focusing a lot on building out of the back and getting it through our midfield and beating their defensive lines,” Jenkins said. “I think now’s the point where we need to be calm in the final third. We had a lot of opportunities just to slip the ball through, a lot of runs towards goal, and I think the more patient we are, you’ll see a lot more of that.”
After four straight matches against top-15 opponents, UCLA women’s soccer finally took on an unranked foe in the Toreros. Coach Amanda Cromwell took the opportunity to start several of her reserve players.
“We wanted to raise our level today, and I think it was great we got a lot of nonstarters on the field as starters today so the reserve players could play some quality minutes for us,” Cromwell said. “That’s important because (USD) had a game Thursday, so it was one extra day’s rest compared to our Friday and Sunday matches.”
UCLA dominated possession in the first half with those new starters in the lineup, building its attack on multiple runs down the sideline. The Bruins took six shots but didn’t challenge Torero goalkeeper Amber Michel much.
That finally changed right before halftime.
In the 41st minute, Jenkins received a ricocheted pass and – despite a heavy first touch – managed to corral the ball just before the endline. She spotted Fleming making a run towards the back post and fired a cross into the box. The freshman stretched out and volleyed the ball past Michel.
Jenkins and Fleming linked together once again for the Bruins’ go-ahead goal in the 58th minute. The freshman dribbled into the attacking third, then passed across the box to a wide-open Jenkins. The senior transferred the ball to her right foot, then fired a shot that bounced off a USD defender and into the top corner of the goal.
“Jessie’s really good at the attacking spot,” Jenkins said. “She can see runs and she knows when to hold it and when to play out and she’s patient. She’s just really smart on the ball.”
Cromwell said that the players’ soccer IQ allows them to work well together on the field.
“I think it’s easy for Jessie to link up with anybody honestly,” Cromwell said. “Darian – she’s a smart player and she’s looking at how can she improve her position by using Jessie or how can she get in a good spot where Jessie can play make to her.”
The Toreros’ lone goal came in the 49th minute following a corner kick. Freshman goalie Teagan Micah cleared the ball but it went straight to USD midfielder Julia Sherwood, whose header sailed over Micah’s arms to knot the match 1-1.
Redshirt freshman midfielder Anika Rodriguez provided an insurance goal late in the second half, as she put away a deflected pass from the top of the box. It was Rodriguez’s first career score.
“It’s a great feeling to score especially with this team out here behind me,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t have my best first half, but to have them come around me and encourage me to get through the first half was really helpful, so to be able to score for them was really cool.”
After Cromwell told the team that they needed to come out with more fight following Friday’s loss to North Carolina, she said she saw the difference in intensity Sunday.
“One thing I said in the pregame talk to the reserves today that were getting the chance to start was ‘Hey we need your energy, we need your legs and we need your enthusiasm’,” Cromwell said. “Defensively, we were sliding to block some of their services, and I was happy with that.”
The Bruins will go on the road for the first time in three weeks when they take on No. 21 Pepperdine on Friday night. The following Sunday’s home match against Long Beach will be UCLA’s nonconference finale.