The Bruins battled their way to a winning conference record.
No. 15 UCLA women’s soccer (8-3-1, 3-2-0 Pac-12) triumphed over Arizona (8-4-1, 1-3-1) 2-0 in a back-and-forth game that remained scoreless until the 48th minute.
“We had a lot of possession in the first half, but we weren’t dangerous. And in the second half, we became dangerous,” said coach Amanda Cromwell. “We put (sophomore midfielder Viviana Villacorta) at the 10 and (sophomore forward Ashley Sanchez) higher because she has the speed to get in behind, so I think you saw it open up a little.”
The Bruins struggled to get behind the Wildcat backline in the first half, which had a numerical advantage with five defenders at the back.
UCLA scored its first goal of the game when sophomore defender Kennedy Faulknor made a run wide, stretching Arizona’s defense and allowing sophomore midfielder Olivia Athens to touch the ball into the front post.
“When you have that many numbers behind the ball, it made it hard for us to penetrate in behind them,” Cromwell said. “We talked about recreating width, who else we can get end line besides our outside backs.”
The Bruins maintained possession for the majority of the game, but the Wildcats created many opportunities for themselves with quick transitions that took advantage of UCLA’s offensively focused lineup.
Arizona’s offense was led by forward Jada Talley, who has six goals on the season. Talley’s pace down the wing earned her five shots – but the Bruins held her and other attackers scoreless.
“We knew that she was their impact player – she’s quick and technical on the ball – so we just tried to do a good job of pressure-cover, always having somebody on her,” said junior defender Kaiya McCullough. “That’s how you have to mark really good players.”
It seemed like the Bruins would extend their lead when another attack from the outside led to a UCLA penalty kick; however, Sanchez’s shot was blocked.
The game remained within a goal. The Wildcat forwards continued to apply pressure to the Bruin defense, forcing defenders McCullough and sophomore Karina Rodriguez into numbers-down situations.
“You can’t do it alone, especially with a player like that,” McCullough said. “You have to have people who can track back … and allow you to be confident in the fact that you can keep the ball.”
As the holding center midfielder, Villacorta worked to prevent through balls from reaching the dangerous feet of Talley and other forwards while also serving as the back of the Bruin offense.
“I think work off the field definitely helps. Just doing all the little things so, when you come to play in the game, it comes so easily to you,” Villacorta said.
Villacorta did more than protect her own goal. In the 85th minute, the sophomore fired a shot into the back of Arizona’s net to create a two-goal cushion.
The two-goal lead held, advancing the Bruins’ win streak to three games as they head to Washington on Friday.