Past the halfway mark in the season, UCLA women’s soccer has a pretty clear picture of how the opposition will line up – compact in the back, with players waiting for opportunities to break on the counter.
No. 2 UCLA (12-0-2, 5-0-1 Pac-12) expects Washington State (7-5-2, 2-4-0) to employ this game plan Thursday night.
“I expect them to come out in a five-back, sit there and defend and try to limit our shots,” said redshirt sophomore forward Anika Rodriguez. “We’re a dangerous team and any time a team can limit (our) shots, it’s good for them.”
Arizona found a lot of success using an ultradefensive approach, grabbing two goals and a tie two weeks ago, and Utah nearly escaped Westwood with a draw by employing a similar tactic.
“I think (teams) try to emulate (other) teams that have had success against us,” said coach Amanda Cromwell.
The Bruins, having seen defenses bunker in at the back for much of the season, want to avoid repeating the mistakes that have prevented them from adding more goals to an already potent attack.
One area is possession around the box. Often, players take an extra touch or attempt to dribble into crowded spaces around the box, allowing the defenders close in space at the back.
“(We need) to play one- and two-touch,” said redshirt senior wingback Zoey Goralski. “The final ball has to be quicker, instead of a lot of dribbling. Even if they are dropping off, we can take an outside shot.”
Cromwell instructed her forwards to work harder at getting in behind the back line and the midfielders to get the passes to them before defenses can fully organize themselves.
“We talked to the forwards about trying to manipulate them and (trying) to get in behind,” Cromwell said. “I think we look for too much in front of the back line at times, and we’ve got to look for the early ball in behind.”
The Bruins have also gotten used to the opposition physically challenging them. The Utes tackled hard and fouled to disrupt possession and movement before the situation turned into a threatening scoring chance.
Washington State, based on its past meetings with UCLA, has shown it will do the same, taking advantage of the slippery field conditions in Pullman, Washington, to throw off the Bruins’ strong offensive play.
“Any time playing in Pullman is hard,” Rodriguez said. “I definitely expect a physical game, a rough game.”