“CONCACAF Chronicles” is a column by Sam Reno about North American soccer.
This column is self-described as “about North American soccer,” which, despite the title, is not limited to official CONCACAF competitions.
With the next World Cup Qualifying window nearly two months away, let’s step away from CONCACAF this week and take a look at the season that was for USC women’s soccer.
5. One shoe? No problem.
My personal favorite, senior forward Penelope Hocking’s 70th minute goal against CSUN on Senior Day will not soon be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
The goal was impressive enough on its own. Hocking was well outside the box when she decided to pull the trigger, and she fired it right past the diving CSUN keeper into the top corner of the goal.
Upon closer examination, however, you can see a white shoe laying on the turf where Hocking takes her first touch. The two-time Pac-12 Forward of the Year lost her left cleat earlier in the run of play.
Unable to put the shoe back on in time, Hocking abandoned it and used her one cleated foot to double USC’s lead.
“Penelope’s goal was just stupid,” head coach Keidane McAlpine said after the Sept. 19 match. “Like who does that? Who writes this script? You lose your shoe, throw it down, [the ball] comes to you and you slam it home from distance.”
It was a historic season for Hocking, which we’ll revisit later down the list, and this goal exemplifies the creative brilliance that the four-time All-Pac-12 star has brought for her entire USC career.
4. Anna Smith saves the day
After losing two of its first three matches, USC was staring down an early 1-0 deficit on the road against No. 24 Michigan.
In the 39th minute, freshman center back Brooklyn Courtnall committed a foul in the box, awarding Michigan a chance from the penalty spot. The Wolverines had outshot the Trojans 10-6 at this point in the match and had forced five saves from senior goalkeeper Anna Smith.
Fifth-year midfielder Sarah Stratigakis stepped up to take the kick for the Wolverines, but a diving effort from Smith kept it out, keeping the match level and giving the Trojans a much-needed shot in the arm.
Smith registered a season-high eleven shots in the contest, allowing the Trojans to knock off the Wolverines in overtime on a header from freshman midfielder Aaliyah Farmer.
“I thought [the game] was one of [Smith’s] best in an SC jersey,” McAlpine said. “Her composure, the big saves that we needed, allowed our team to be confident and play with more confidence and play with more urgency knowing that they had Anna behind them.”
That Sept. 3 match was the first time McAlpine had gone with four at the back, and those same four defenders started every match for the rest of the season.
The Trojans’ win against the Wolverines was the first of four consecutive clean sheets and sparked their 11-game winning streak and 15-game unbeaten run, both of which were new program records.
“That game was a huge confidence booster to let us know that we could do it, whereas in the spring that’s not something that we got done,” McAlpine said of the Michigan game after USC’s 11th straight win on Oct. 15. “That was the momentum shift that has allowed us to go on this run.”
3. Hocking stands alone
In her first three seasons at USC, Penelope Hocking tallied 42 goals, just six shy of Isabelle Harvey’s all-time Trojan mark of 48 set more than 20 years ago.
Having tied the record in the Trojans previous game in Arizona, Hocking entered USC’s Oct. 7 matchup with Colorado tied with Harvey at 48 career goals.
As if the former first team All-American knew any other way, Hocking scored No. 49 in spectacular fashion. In the 21st minute, she received the ball just across midfield and immediately drove right at the Colorado defense.
She cut back onto her left foot at the top of the box, took two touches and perfectly curled a left-footed strike into the top corner of the goal. If you need any more convincing, just watch the reaction of sophomore fullback Zoe Burns who could only put her hands on her head in disbelief.
Hocking bested the all-time mark in just 47 starts for the Trojans. She added five more goals over the remainder of the season, bringing her career tally to 54 and making her the No. 12 scorer in Pac-12 history.
“When I came to USC, I didn’t think I was going to break records,” Hocking said after the record-breaking match. “I owe a lot of this to my teammates and my coaches. I’m just really grateful for this experience.”
2. Bethune completes the comeback
With the Trojans’ Pac-12 title hopes still hanging in the balance, it looked as though they would relinquish the conference lead for the first time all season.
USC trailed No. 9 Stanford 2-0 at the break, were outshot 8-2, had yet to register a single attempt on goal and were without their all-time leading goal-scorer.
Enter the second half and the Croix Bethune show.
The junior midfielder had a different look in her eyes in the second 45, and her assist on freshman attacker Simone Jackson’s goal in the 53rd cut the deficit in half early. A first-time knuckler off Bethune’s left foot leveled the match at 2-2 just two minutes later.
“She was able to find places and spaces where she could move the ball and create goals,” McAlpine said of Bethune after the Oct. 31 game. “For us, without Penelope, we need that.”
But Bethune was not done yet. The Pac-12 Midfielder of the Year rose to the occasion once again in the overtime period. Senior midfielder Savannah DeMelo won the ball in the midfield and played it up to Bethune.
The All-Pac-12 First Team superstar took one touch around the onrushing Stanford keeper and slammed it into the empty net, securing three points for the Trojans and keeping them two points clear atop the conference standings.
In an interview with Pac-12 Network after the game, Bethune dropped the line of the season for this USC team: “We’re USC. We fight on. We don’t give up.”
1. Simone Jackson sends McAlister into a frenzy
Trailing Penn State 2-1 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and with the Nittany Lions sitting deep defensively, USC desperately needed a moment of brilliance to save their season.
As the clock ticked past the 85th minute, the Trojans had yet to find it. That was, until the ball found Simone Jackson just outside the top of the box. With less than five minutes left in their tournament lives, the All-Pac-12 freshman went to work.
Jackson cut inside to her left, stopped to size up her attempt and drove her left foot into the ball, sending a missile straight for the far post. It sailed just outside the reach of the Penn State keeper into the top corner. Tie game.
Jackson could only manage one violent fist pump before she was mobbed by the rest of her Trojan teammates. The students spilled over the touchline in celebration as McAlister Field reached levels of pandemonium not seen before.
One fan was so unable to contain their excitement that they took off in a dead sprint across the back row of the bleachers, zooming back and forth like a Pac-Man ghost bouncing off a wall.
“It was one of those days where it took goals like that score,” McAlpine said after the Nov. 19 game. “The cut inside, the finish … fantastic. This team has always had that fight. We’ve always had that in us.”
While Penn State ultimately got the better of USC in penalty kicks, the result does not stain the beauty of that wonder goal from Jackson.
As Jackson swung her fist in exaltation, everyone donning the cardinal and gold felt invincible, and that feeling will forever be irreplaceable.
“CONCACAF Chronicles” runs Tuesdays.