UCLA women’s soccer came into Thursday’s home game against Oregon with three objectives – win, post a shutout and get better.
When the final whistle blew, the No. 1 Bruins (9-0-1, 2-0-0 Pac-12) claimed a 2-0 victory over the Ducks (6-4-0, 0-2-0 Pac-12) and completed the first two objectives. The third – improvement – remained elusive. Issues such as a failure to adjust to the other team’s formation shifts and easing up when holding a lead in the second half continued to plague UCLA and disappointment hung in the air after the game.
“We didn’t play well during the second half,” said UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell. “Honestly, Oregon outplayed us in the second half.”
It didn’t start out that way.
In the sixth minute, the Bruins started chipping away at a vulnerable Duck defense. Freshman forward Ashley Sanchez gave her marker all she could handle, working her way into dangerous positions on the left flank. Redshirt sophomore forward Anika Rodriguez made life difficult for defenders on the opposite wing.
All that was missing was a goal.
That changed in the 16th minute. The referee awarded UCLA a free kick on the edge of the box after an Oregon hand ball. Rodriguez and sophomore midfielder Jessie Fleming stood over the ball. Freshman midfielder Viviana Villacorta assumed a spot on the wall. Rodriguez hit it at Villacorta – who stepped aside – and the goalkeeper reacted too late to keep the ball out of the net.
“The keeper was cheating a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “(Villacorta) sealed the wall and I placed it where she was standing and she stepped out of the way.”
The Bruins stayed on the front foot and doubled the lead nine minutes later.
Sanchez collected the ball near the midfield stripe and charged at the Ducks’ defense. She dribbled past three players to the top of the box and slipped a pass to a streaking Rodriguez, who pushed the ball toward the end line.
Rodriguez then hit a hard low cross that junior forward Hailie Mace poked home for her team-leading seventh goal of the season.
“Mace is fast,” Cromwell said. “She’s strong. She’s really good on the ball. She can score all different ways. She’s just a threat every time we have the ball.”
At halftime, the game appeared to be heading toward a blowout.
“I liked how we were progressing into the half, and I thought that would continue,” Cromwell said. “It didn’t.”
Oregon started the second half in a different formation and pressed UCLA’s ball handlers.
The Bruins, known for their possession-based style, could not connect on their passes and were unable to move the ball out of their half for the first 20 minutes of the second period.
“I think Oregon came out harder than we did (in the second half),” Mace said. “We were content with our two goals. They came out and pressed us and we weren’t used to that.”
The Ducks threatened to get back into the game.
In the 80th minute, Oregon forward Marissa Everett found herself free for a one-on-one with sophomore goalkeeper Teagan Micah.
Micah got down lightning-quick to keep Everett’s shot out and maintain the clean sheet.
The disappointing second half cast a dark shadow over the game’s brighter moments.
“There are positives to take but I’m a little annoyed right now,” Cromwell said.