The Bruins were on the brink of extra time.
But with two seconds remaining, senior forward/midfielder Anika Rodriguez flicked a long ball from the defense into the path of senior forward Hailie Mace, who shrugged off one defender before placing the ball into the net to seal the win as the horn sounded.
No. 2 UCLA women’s soccer (1-0-0) beat Long Beach State (0-2-0) 1-0 in the final minute on Friday night at the grand opening of Wallis Annenberg Stadium.
The Bruins were held goalless in the first half despite having most of the possession over Long Beach State, with three corners in the period to their opponent’s zero. The Bruins found width through play to their outside backs but overhit crosses into the area and failed to link up with midfielders.
Coach Amanda Cromwell said the Long Beach State defended UCLA well, but the team failed to cause problems for the opposition in and around the box.
“I give Long Beach a lot of credit to the way they defended, they were especially tough on us and we couldn’t even get shots off,” Cromwell said. “Our crosses were a bit off tonight so we’ve got to work on that and make sure we are finding the runners in the box.”
UCLA only recorded one shot in the first half whereas Long Beach State had two and the Bruins failed to find combination play near the edge of the box to break through the 49ers’ defensive line. Cromwell said the Bruins hadn’t found their rhythm early on.
“It was a little too slow and methodical in the first half. We needed to up the level and increase the rhythm,” Cromwell said. “We talked about how we can create width a little better and how we can break lines and move the ball faster.”
Long Beach State resorted to breaking on the counter throughout the match, with four shots on the match. The 49ers had a chance in the first half before junior defender Kaiya McCullough cleared the ball away from a Long Beach State attacker in the six-yard box.
McCullough said mistakes from UCLA were due to the anxiety of the opening of the season and the new stadium, but the team recomposed heading into the second half.
“I think in the first half the atmosphere was wild and we had a lot of nerves and anxiousness going into this game with the first game and the first game at the new stadium,” McCullough said.
Cromwell said the Bruins were fortunate to have junior goalkeeper Teagan Micah in goal after defensive lapses required her to make some clutch saves.
“We had a couple of defensive errors that led to two dangerous shots and Teagan Micah came up big,” Cromwell said. “I think our defense needs to a bit better with some of those counters so they don’t get those shots off.”
UCLA began the second half in possession and with four shots in the first 15 minutes of the second period. The Bruins threatened more offensively and finished the second half of regulation by adding 12 shots and finished the match with eight total shots on goal.
The 49ers had a chance to break the deadlock in the 52nd minute when forward Elysia Laramie broke away off an offensive error from UCLA but shot straight into the feet of Micah one-on-one, who finished the match with two saves.
UCLA started without two of their regular starters on the field – last season’s top scorers Mace and Rodriguez. The duo was held from starting due to injury but saw action near the end of the first and second halves, logging 46 and 57 minutes, respectively.
“Hailie’s (Mace) been nursing an injury so she was never going to start and Anika (Rodriguez), we knew was going to rotate in,” Cromwell said. “I thought Anika was super dangerous and Hailie was just doing what she does, just causing havoc.”
Mace said the Bruins created more chances in the second half and on the final play of the game, she said the players combined more with each other to set her up for the goal.
“The first half I think we just weren’t in sync with each other but after we talked at halftime we figured out what we needed to do and get more runners in the box,” Mace said. “The last play I knew we were just going to get it up the field so it was a great ball and I just really wanted to get it in the box.”
UCLA will travel to Pennsylvania next week to face No. 4 Penn State in the first stop of their three-game road trip.