With UCLA women’s soccer losing one of its key players right before the postseason tournament, the team will have to rely on younger stars to step up.
Sophomore midfielder Jessie Fleming will temporarily leave Westwood and No. 5 UCLA (14-2-2, 7-2-1 Pac-12) to play for the Canadian national team against the United States.
She will miss the final game of the regular season against USC and the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Canada native and TopDrawerSoccer.com’s top freshman of 2016 made her national team debut in 2013 at the age of 15. She helped her country win a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics and was named the U-20 Canadian Player of the Year in both 2015 and 2016.
Fleming was selected to the Missouri Athletic Center Hermann Trophy Watch List this year, presented to the most outstanding female and male soccer players of the year. The Canadian has notched a career-high seven assists so far in 2017.
The team has a wealth of younger talent to draw from, however.
“Every class that comes through UCLA women’s soccer is one of the top in the country, but this one is pretty special,” said redshirt senior midfielder/defender Claire Winter in August.
The depth of the nation’s second-best incoming class was shown in Sunday’s win over No. 22 California when Fleming came out of the game. The Bruins held the Golden Bears scoreless as the clock wound down.
“Jessie came out at the end there because she got knocked, and we didn’t blink an eye,” said coach Amanda Cromwell. “Getting that rest at this time of year is important. So it’s just nice having that flexibility.”
Freshman forward Ashley Sanchez scored her fifth goal of the year and the only goal of Sunday’s game.
Sanchez leads the Bruins in assists with eight, and is second in points with 18 behind junior forward Hailie Mace’s 29.
“(Sanchez) isn’t really a freshman in her experience,” Cromwell said after the win over the California. “She shows composure when she’s getting pressed and is really tight. She just dribbled around four people and they couldn’t get the ball.”
Five UCLA freshmen earned TopDrawerSoccer.com midseason freshman honors this season with Sanchez, forward/midfielder Delanie Sheehan and defender Karina Rodriguez making the top 10.
Rodriguez has played the most out of the freshman class, ranking third among field players in minutes played behind sophomore defender Kaiya McCullough and Fleming.
“We have so many talented people that can go in that it never changes the intensity,” said senior defender/forward Gabrielle Matulich after the Oct. 1 Oregon State game.
Seven of Cromwell’s freshmen have earned starting positions in at least one game this season. The Bruins will play their final game of the regular season against the No. 6 Trojans on Friday.
“We can interchange and put them in different parts of the field,” Cromwell said. “Going forward into the postseason, I think our depth is something that other teams don’t have.”