USC fall to UCI in second matchup of the year

The Trojans missed an opportunity to advance in the NCAA tournament as they suffered a 2-0 loss to the Anteaters.

Junior defender Zoe Burns holds a defender off in USC's first-round contest with UC Irvine at McAlister Field.

USC suffered a significant loss to the UC Irvine Anteaters, losing 2-0 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Some defeats hurt more than others, but this game leaves a bitter feeling of unaccomplishment and missed opportunities. UC Irvine, who was defeated earlier this season 3-2 at McAllister Field, had a revenge to take, and that’s exactly what they did. The game started off strong for the Anteaters, pushing a high offensive block on the Trojans, stifling their game setup.

“I thought we had a tough start, it is something that we knew they did and had success with,” USC head coach Jane Akulonis said after the match. “Just untidy in the moment, and I think that set us off.”

If the pressure and the intensity were high from UC Irvine, the same can not be said for the Trojans. The first 15 minutes resumed with a lack of possession and failed passes in the midfield. UCI’s confidence grew over the minutes while the Anteaters intensively attacked the Trojans’ defense.

In the 16th minute, when a throw-in arrived in the box from the left, the Trojans failed to clear it and left redshirt junior forward Destinee Manzo the opportunity to kick it into the far right-side netting, giving the Anteaters a 1-0 lead.

After the goal, the Trojans struggled to bounce back into the game. Sophomore forward Simone Jackson did her best to bring animation towards the opposite goal, but USC still couldn’t adjust their passes, keep hold of the ball or display effective lane and depth play.

The second period started on a different rhythm for the Trojans, who seemed less nervous as they quickly made appearances in the opponent’s box, giving redshirt junior goalkeeper Glo Hinojosa kicks to save.

Sophomore defender Brooklyn Courtnall stepped to the midfield with hopes of bringing creativity into the Trojans game.

“It was just trying to get more players who could be dangerous higher up on the field,” Alukonis said. “She did well. It was just unfortunate nothing came our way.”

Sophomore midfielder Aaliyah Farmer fell down at the box’s entrance, under the side referee’s watchful eyes, but wasn’t awarded a penalty kick. The following minutes saw a succession of actions and opportunities until the biggest one of the game for USC.

Jackson pierced right through the defense, guiding the ball into the box before shooting. Saved by Hinojosa, the ball rebounded and came to USC. Junior midfielder Zoe Burns took a sharp-angle shot and missed the goal by a few inches.

“I think, obviously, we wish we were more creative, had more chances. We did create, but most of them went to the goalkeeper.” Alukonis said.

USC tried with energy and conviction for 45 minutes, as the second half was almost completely filled with their offensive plays. Unfortunately, even with seven corners and eight shots on goal, none of them made it into the net.

“I think we just struggled all day, whether it was to get a hold of the ball. Irvine came out with a lot of bite and fire and, at times, just outworked us,” Alukonis said.

If the Trojans were unlucky in scoring, it was not the case for the Anteaters, who took one of their only opportunities of the second half to bury the game two minutes before the final whistle.

On an assist from Manzo, redshirt sophomore forward Alyssa Moore, left alone in the left corner, ran the ball into the box, and dribbled in the middle of two USC defenders before poking it home past the keeper.

UCI celebrated their win on the field, another upset against USC after defeating UCLA in the first round last year. The Anteaters will meet Brown for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen on November 18.

“It’s an unfortunate result, but well played by Irvine, and we wish them luck,” Alukonis said.