USC survives tough road test against Oregon

Timely finishing and heroic defending powered the Trojans past the Ducks.

A photo of Savannah DeMelo dribbling

No. 5 USC soccer stayed on top of the Pac-12 with a 3-1 victory over Oregon on Thursday in Eugene. The Trojans have now won 11 straight games, breaking a program record set back in 2016 when they went on to win the national championship.

Oregon’s press made life difficult at times for the USC backline, especially in the first half. A 10-minute stretch of sustained pressure in the Trojans’ half culminated in a 41st minute goal off a corner that brought the Ducks level at 1-1 going into the break.

Oregon is the first opposing team to equal or outshoot the Trojans in a game in over a month as each side registered 17 shots and put eight on target. The last USC opponent to accomplish the feat was Michigan in the Sept. 3 match that ultimately sparked this record-breaking run for the Trojans.

“Everybody says, it’s sort of cliché, good teams find a way to win in tough moments,” head coach Keidane McAlpine said after the game. “It’s the kind of game that we need in order to be long-term successful and continue to grind out those kinds of wins when we aren’t at our best and lose momentum in a game.”

Just as they did in Ann Arbor, individual moments of defensive brilliance tipped the scales in USC’s favor.

Just three minutes into the second half, senior goalkeeper Anna Smith had to dive to her left, fully extending to stop a header from Oregon fifth-year forward Eden Hardy that would have given the Ducks the lead.

“It’s not a save that I think she makes in spring or even the year before,” McAlpine said of Smith’s effort. “To see her get across the goal, fully extend, get the push and get it outside the post was massive.”

In the 87th minute, the Oregon attack had beaten Smith over the top, but freshman center back Brooklyn Courtnall managed to head it off the line, allowing Smith to come back to claim it and preserve USC’s two-goal advantage.

“It was magnificent,” McAlpine said. “It’s those kinds of efforts, those kinds of plays, that kind of discipline in terms of technique that are extremely important and are going to give us a chance to be great as we continue this run we’re on.”

On the other end, the Trojans made more efficient work of their opportunities as their three leading goal-scorers in seniors Penelope Hocking and Savannah DeMelo and junior Croix Bethune each found the back of the net.

Hocking, USC’s all-time leading goal-scorer, was involved in all three USC goals on the evening.

She assisted DeMelo, who fired a brilliant first-time strike into the top of the net for the opener in the 10th minute. She won a penalty in the 56th which Bethune then converted to put USC back in front and then capped off her night with a goal of her own on a rebound off a DeMelo corner in the 73rd.

“[Oregon] made it a little bit more direct and scrappy, and it took us a while to adjust,” McAlpine said. “But once we did, we were able to chip away a couple of goals, big goals at that. The PK gave us a little room and [Hocking’s goal] off the corner made it official.”

The win keeps USC ahead of the pace in the Pac-12 championship race with the rest of the conference still yet to play this weekend. The Trojans now have a whole week until they face second-place Washington State, who trail by just three points, next Thursday in Pullman.