When UCLA women’s soccer takes the field against Seattle to open the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, it will do so having navigated an unusual midweek obstacle – the election.
Even postseason preparation is not immune to political fallout.
“Wednesday was a weird day because of the election,” said coach Amanda Cromwell. “Everyone was a little bit shocked by the results. It was kind of a down vibe to the practice, but Thursday was back to normal. Preparation’s been good.”
The No. 4 seed Bruins (13-5-1, 7-3-1 Pac-12) enter the match against the unranked Redhawks (14-5-1, 7-0-0 Western Athletic Conference) as the heavy favorites.
UCLA has a superior RPI, strength of schedule and tournament pedigree than Seattle does, but are wary of the threat posed by WAC champions.
“Seattle’s a quality team. They have some really good attacking pieces,” Cromwell said.
One of those threats is senior forward Brie Hooks, a transfer from Colorado, where she was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team in 2013 and the All-Pac-12 Second Team in 2014.
Hooks is the Redhawks’ leading scorer with seven goals and three assists on the season, but she is not the lone concern for the Bruins.
“They like to move the ball around and they are a strong defensive unit,” said senior midfielder Annie Alvarado.
While Seattle may want to play a possession game, that is UCLA’s strength. Against ranked teams like Cal and USC, not to mention the lower echelon teams on the schedule, the team kept the ball and dictated play. Those elements are built into the Bruins’ game plan.
What has been in an issue, however, is breaking down defenses on a consistent basis, especially ones prone to bunkering in and maintaining a cohesive shape.
“We have to really try to exploit their back line to see if we can get them chasing and get them pulled out of shape,” Cromwell said.
Last week, against USC, UCLA was able to do that.
The Bruins lined up with a three-pronged attack that opened up the Trojans’ defense multiple times in the first half and grabbed the lone goal.
Even with the positives taken from that victory, the team knows they still have areas to improve on.
“After watching film of the USC game, we have to keep recreating that width and keep trying to switch the play,” Alvarado said. “That will be key for us.”
Additionally, the team is still trying to shake off the negative patterns such as converting more opportunities into goals and eliminating defensive mistakes.
“We can still be better at finishing chances and making quality decisions in the attacking third,” Cromwell said. “Our defending in wide spaces and preventing crosses needs to be better from the USC game.”
Cleaning up these areas of the game will lead to more chances for UCLA and more shots.
“Every time we shoot, something good happens,” said redshirt freshman Anika Rodriguez.