No. 10 USC soccer scored three unanswered goals in the second half and overtime to defeat No. 9 Stanford 3-2 on Sunday at McAlister Field. Junior attacker Croix Bethune assisted on one and scored two, including the match-winner, to extend the Trojans’ program-record unbeaten streak to 15.
“The halftime message was ‘If you want to show that you’re a great team, you have to take these moments and really push back and fight back,” head coach Keidane McAlpine said after the match. “This is a massive win for this group to have that kind of belief that they can do that on the regular.”
The Trojans struggled early, conceding two goals in the first half for just the second time all season. The second came off the right foot of Stanford senior midfielder Naomi Girma with just eight seconds to play before the break.
USC was outshot 8-1 over the first 45 minutes, and it failed to record a single shot on target in the period.
“I didn’t think we played with the proper intensity,” McAlpine said of the first half. “We looked a little intimidated by the moment. We had to make some adjustments.”
Led by Bethune and senior midfielder Savannah DeMelo, the USC attack flipped the script in the second half, outshooting Stanford 8-2 to the tune of two goals to force overtime, where they would ultimately come out on top.
In the 53rd minute, Bethune played a long ball up to freshman forward Simone Jackson, who fought off a challenge and beat the keeper far post to get the Trojans on the board. Jackson returned the favor two minutes later, assisting Bethune who smashed home the equalizer.
The Pac-12′s second-leading goal scorer wasn’t done. Three minutes into overtime, Bethune received a deflected pass from DeMelo, took a touch around the keeper and slotted home the sudden-death winner for her team-leading 13th goal of the season.
“She’s in great finishing form,” McAlpine said of Bethune. “She was able to find places and spaces where she could move the ball and create goals. For us, without [injured senior forward] Penelope [Hocking], we need that.”
After occupying a dueling central midfield role against Cal on Thursday, DeMelo was again asked to fill a different role for the Trojans on Sunday. Starting alongside freshman Simi Awujo, DeMelo played as a holding midfielder for the first time all season.
Operating deeper in midfield, DeMelo showcased her ability to win one-on-one defensive battles as well as orchestrate the USC attack going forward. She assisted on both of Bethune’s goals as well as winning back the ball that led to the game-sealing goal.
“She was massive,” McAlpine said of DeMelo. “She was fantastic again today defensively, winning balls and helping us advance to get into our attacking personalities. We have enough people up there that they can all contribute and today was no different.”
The comeback victory keeps USC two points ahead of No. 5 UCLA, which also earned an overtime win on Sunday. The Trojans travel to Westwood on Friday night to take on the Bruins in a winner-take-all showdown for the 2021 Pac-12 title.