Monday, March 30

Women’s soccer sets goal to defeat crosstown rival in final regular season match

Junior defender Kaiya McCullough has started all 17 games for UCLA women's soccer this season. McCullough has yet to record a goal or assist and has notched one shot on goal while contributing to nine Bruin clean sheets. (Alice Naland/Daily Bruin)

The Bruins’ regular season ends Friday.

No. 6 UCLA women’s soccer (13-3-1, 8-2-0 Pac-12) will play No. 2 USC (15-1-2, 8-1-1) on Friday at 7 p.m.

“The level of play is going to be there because obviously we want to outplay each other,” said sophomore midfielder Viviana Villacorta. “It’s going to be a good soccer game, very aggressive – it’s going to be a bloodbath.”

Last year’s rivalry match broke the NCAA regular season attendance record, with 11,925 spectators filling Drake Stadium. The match was an overtime battle in which the Bruins came out on top 3-2 after a golden goal from then-freshman forward Ashley Sanchez.

This year the match will be played at the StubHub Center, which seats 27,000.

“If it’s anything like it was (in 2016), it’s going to be super nerve-wracking and high-energy,” said junior defender Kaiya McCullough. “I remember there were some plays when half the stadium would boo and the other half would cheer. Especially since it’s ‘SC, especially since it’s a rivalry – everything is just going to be magnified.”

UCLA and USC are nationally ranked in goals per game, with an average of 2.41 and 2.56 goals per game, respectively

But coach Amanda Cromwell said the teams generate goals in different ways.

“Because we’re travel partners, we always watch their Thursday game in preparation for our Sunday match, watching whoever they played – so I’ve seen ‘SC more than anyone this year,” Cromwell said. “We’re a little bit less direct than they are at times. We want to be more patient and have a feel for the rhythm of the game and not get caught in the transition game.”

USC’s offense is led by two players with the first and second most points in the Pac-12 – forwards Leah Pruitt and Penelope Hocking. Pruitt leads the conference with 30 points and has recorded 11 goals. Hocking leads in goals, with 12, and is tied for second in points, logging 29.

“Pruitt is their key player so definitely denying her the ball is going to be a challenge, but with our backline I’m very confident,” Villacorta said.

A UCLA defender has been named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week three out of the last four weeks. Most recently, sophomore Karina Rodriguez earned the title Tuesday for the second time this season.

Rodriguez has started all 17 games for the Bruins alongside McCullough.

“It’s always really hard to deal with teams who like playing the ball over the top and finding their forwards,” McCullough said. “They have two really gifted forwards who are really tough to defend so it will be an interesting game for our backline.”

Friday’s match could potentially determine the final standings of the Pac-12, as USC and UCLA sit in the second- and third-place spots in the conference, respectively, behind No. 1 Stanford. A win for the Bruins would guarantee at least a second-place finish in the conference.

The crosstown rivalry will be the last match for the Bruins before playoffs start next week.

“Pac-12s is what we call the second phase of season,” McCullough said. “We always want to end each phase with a bang and having a the game against ‘SC is the perfect opportunity to do it.”

Assistant Sports editor

Dzwonczyk is currently an assistant Sports editor for the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball, men's golf and women's golf beats. She was previously a reporter on the women's soccer, beach volleyball and women's tennis beats.

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.