Sometimes, soccer is a war of attrition. Controlling possession eventually wears down the opposition.
No. 1 UCLA (8-0-1, 1-0-0 Pac-12) did just that against Colorado (6-2-2, 0-1-0) in its conference-opening 2-0 victory. The Bruins chipped away at the Buffaloes in the first half, before taking charge in the second. They finished with 15 more total shots and eight more on target than their outgunned opponents.
“Since we kept the ball so well in the first half, I think it really broke (Colorado’s) spirit,” said UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell. “In the second half, we were able to continue along that path, make some adjustments, and once we got a goal – they were sticking in a lot – they had to come out and play. That let us dominate the game.”
The Bruins set the game’s tempo from start to finish, and nearly took the lead in the 33rd minute, when the team’s leading goal scorer, junior forward Hailie Mace, found space for a shot that sailed over the bar.
After halftime, a goal seemed inevitable. The Buffaloes were shelled by constant forays into the attacking third, and their inability to keep possession left them without even a momentary reprieve for the pressure on them.
Then, the whistle blew. UCLA was awarded a penalty in the 50th minute.
Redshirt sophomore midfielder Anika Rodriguez stepped up to the spot and hit a low shot to the left, but Colorado goalkeeper Jalen Tompkins palmed it away to keep the game scoreless.
Still, the pressure mounted and a determined run from Rodriguez led to freshman forward Ashley Sanchez’s opening goal nine minutes later. Rodriguez raced around the outside back, charged into the penalty box, slid to prevent a defender from taking the ball away, got back to her feet and slid a low cross that Sanchez sent into the right-hand corner.
“(Rodriguez) just fought through, even though she missed a (penalty kick),” Sanchez said. “Sometimes that might switch the game up, but she got back into it and gave me a great assist.”
The game opened up in the final 30 minutes. The Buffaloes attempted to start attacking sequences of their own, though they were often stopped before they could get started, allowing the Bruins to find more space in front of goal.
In the 84th minute, Sanchez received the ball on the right side of the penalty box. She turned and sent a ball to the top of the box for sophomore forward Sunny Dunphy, who doubled the team’s lead with her first goal of the season.
“We used our width, and we wanted to get end-line to get a lot of crosses off,” Rodriguez said. “I think that showed when we scored both goals off crosses.”
UCLA’s approach against Colorado was very much like the one it adopted against Pepperdine a week ago. Numerous chances were created using pace on the wings and clean passing around the penalty box.
This time, however, the opportunities turned into goals – aside from the saved penalty – a result of the team’s focus on finishing during practice.
“We made finishing a focus,” Rodriguez said. “We really wanted to finish any quality chances and were able to succeed.”
UCLA, with its unbeaten record intact, faces an off-field obstacle starting next week – the start of classes for the fall quarter.
“It might be a little more stressful, but I don’t think it changes anything,” Sanchez said.