USC draws UCLA in final regular season game

The Trojans held a 2-1 lead in the final minutes, but the Bruins found the tying goal.

It happened again.

The USC women’s soccer team took another 2-1 lead into the final minutes of its game against UCLA on Friday, and for the second time this season, the Bruins got the equalizer.

As the clock crept into the upper 80s, it seemed that USC would hold on for the victory. But a set-piece goal from UCLA senior midfielder Olivia Athens in the 88th minute sent the game to overtime, where neither team was able to find the winning goal.

The bright side? No. 19 USC has handed No. 3 UCLA its only two draws this season.

“We put up a great fight today,” USC head coach Keidane McAlpine said. “I wish we would have finished a bit more, but what a game.”

USC has been a better second-half team as this season has progressed, but in their previous game against Cal and in this one, the Trojans struck early. Forward Penelope Hocking, already the Trojans’ second leading all-time scorer as only a junior, came up with a goal in the 11th minute to give USC some early confidence.

“I was hoping we’d get a couple more the way we started,” McAlpine said. He added that the Trojans have focused recently on being more aggressive and playing with urgency in the first half.

The problem was that USC held one-goal leads for the majority of the game, which was certainly not a comfortable position to be in while facing the Pac-12 scoring leader in UCLA. USC’s 2-0 lead early in the second half after a header goal by senior forward Tara McKeown was short-lived, as the Bruins drew within one just nine minutes later.

That goal shattered the Trojans’ five-game home shutout streak. USC had not allowed a goal since it last faced UCLA on March 18, but the Bruins were able to wear down the Trojans’ defense with their passing, scoring their first goal on a give-and-go before Athens’ late-game header.

Guests of both teams’ players and coaches were allowed in the Coliseum stands for the first time this season, and there was no shortage of near misses, spectacular saves and foul calls that drew “oohs,” “ahhs” and choice words from the crowd.

The game was extremely physical, with USC drawing 17 fouls and three yellow cards, including the foul that set up UCLA’s second goal. And both goalies were peppered constantly with tough shots — USC redshirt senior Kaylie Collins had nine saves, while UCLA redshirt junior Lauren Brzykcy had eight.

“These two teams, every time they hit the park, give fans of each team a lot to be excited for and the neutral fan a lot to be excited for,” McAlpine said. “It was a fantastic game.”

After finishing the regular season with a 7-3-3 overall record, the Trojans will wait for Monday to find out their seed in the NCAA Tournament. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s tournament will be played in a bubble in North Carolina beginning April 27.

McAlpine said his players need to make better decisions in big moments, including late-game situations like Friday’s, to succeed in the tournament. But based on the Trojans’ play down the stretch this season — they haven’t lost since March 15 — McAlpine is confident that his squad will present significant challenges to its opponents.

“I’m excited about our team,” McAlpine said. “We were able to lock in and change our attitude about the way we were approaching games, change our complete energy and grind through the back end of the schedule.

“Now we’ve found our spark ... I don’t think there’s a team in the country that wants to see the USC Trojans moving forward.”