For a high-powered Trojan offense featuring talented forwards junior Tara McKeown and sophomore Penelope Hocking, scoring two goals isn’t up to par. However, USC’s defense held strong, and the Trojans were able to edge out a 2-1 win over visiting Texas A&M Friday.
“[It’s] a great win,” head coach Keidane McAlpine said. “We’ve been talking about this game in particular, a physical game, one that you gotta grind out when you’re not playing your greatest, finding ways to lock in and defend well, and defend hard, and so I was really proud of that part of it.”
Texas A&M took control of possession early on, taking seven shots in the first half compared to just three for USC. If it weren’t for a solid USC back line that continued to block shots and create turnovers, the Aggies could have been even more threatening on goal.
Although Texas A&M appeared to dominate the first half, the Trojans were able to capitalize when it counted. McKeown received a ball that was popped up by redshirt senior forward Natalie Jacobs and finished it low and wide past a diving freshman goalie Kenna Caldwell.
Hocking added to her four playoff goals from the previous game with another score. This one was an easy finish, as Jacobs drew pressure and played the ball to Hocking, who slid it inside the far post. The goal gave the Trojans a 2-0 lead after just 32 minutes of play.
Despite the imbalance of possession, McAlpine said he was proud of his players for making the most of their opportunities to score.
“Being able to get the goals, timely goals, off really opportunistic moments, was really big for us, and just being able to defend it out,” McAlpine said.
McKeown once again made the starting lineup Friday after missing last weekend’s match against Cal State Fullerton due to injury. Although she saw limited action, playing for just 61 minutes, the forward wasted no time in getting the offense going, finding the back of the net after just six minutes.
Defensively, the Trojans had their sights set on containing senior forward Ally Watt, and they were mostly successful in doing so. Watt entered the game with 15 goals and seven assists through 19 matches, leading her team by a longshot. Although the Trojans conceded a header goal to the talented striker just three minutes out of halftime, they were otherwise able to shut her down.
“We play in a league that has quality forwards, athletic forwards,” McAlpine said. “We’ve had to deal with forwards very much like [Watt], so [the defense has] something to look back to and go ‘OK, here’s how we dealt with it. We can do it again,’ and I thought they did a fantastic job of it.”
The Trojans cracked down on defense following Watt’s goal in order to maintain their 2-1 second-half lead.
“We had to settle down some of the defensive things that were going on that were giving them success,” McAlpine said. “Once we were able to take away their ability to switch with freedom, it gave us a chance to really lock in and go, ‘OK, we can settle in and manage the game a little bit,’ and I thought our team did a really great job with that.”
Although the back line was solid in front of her, redshirt junior goalie Kaylie Collins played a major role in preventing the Aggies from tying the game up. Collins had six saves in the second half and conceded just one goal all game off a challenging header. The Trojans potentially face other productive attacks down the road, so Collins must continue performing her clean defense.
USC’s tournament run continues with Sunday’s third round game against Santa Clara, a hot team that carries a seven-game winning streak and just dominated No. 3 seed Oklahoma State 3-1.
The Broncos boast two scoring weapons in freshman midfielder Izzy D’Aquila and junior forward Kelsey Turnbow, who have scored 15 goals apiece through 22 games. Turnbow also has 10 assists and will keep the Trojan defenders on their toes with her ability to create.
Santa Clara senior goalkeeper Courtney Orgen has been stellar so far this season, as the Broncos concede an average of just 1.46 goals when she is in the net. Hocking and McKeown will need to be at the top of their game in order to challenge Orgen and the Santa Clara defense.
The Trojans’ Round 3 match against Santa Clara kicks off Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at McAlister Field.