UCLA football has completed a historic regular season. What about their hopes for the tournament?
Another football match felt like the last place Margaret Ossa wanted to be. However, a day after UCLA lost its third consecutive Pac-12 title chance with a 2-0 defeat to the USC rival, Bruin’s head coach was at Banc of California to seal the LAFC’s MLS Cup win over Philadelphia. The 3-3 wild draw and the penalty shootout proved to be the perfect antidote to the competition’s gloom.
Seeing the tear-stained cheeks of LAFC supporters and staff members reminded Ossa of the feelings of helping Stanford in two national championships as an assistant. Suddenly, Ossa was ready to get back on the field.
“It kind of was a perfect introduction to our qualifying round,” she said.
Like the MLS Cup Fans’ Shield champions, the Bruins hope to turn a successful regular season into a championship. The team that ranked number one in the country for nine weeks and secured the top seed despite losing at the end of the regular season opens the NCAA Championship against Northern Arizona at 6 p.m. PT Friday at Wallis Annenberg Stadium.
USC’s No. 4 seed team hosts Big West Champion UC Irvine at 1 p.m. Saturday at McAlister Field.
Osasa, named Pac-12 coach of the year Tuesday, elevated the Bruins (17-2) to one of the conference’s elite defensive teams, allowing just nine goals behind Pac-12 defender of the year Lily Reale and goalkeeper Lauren Perzixi. The nine goals are the fewest since 2013 when they won their only national championship. In attack, the two-time defending Pac-12 champion scored 53 goals, compared to 40 last season.
But even as its team completes a historic regular season, Ossa remains haunted by set-ball ghosts (six of the nine UCLA-allowed goals were outside of those). Entering the unexpected post-season, Bruins understands the importance of taking advantage of even the fleeting moment of the free kick.
“Setting balls are a great equalizer,” said Osasa, who has scored all six goals in the Major League Soccer Cup. “You can excel [a team]But if they’re better at that moment, that could change the whole game and that’s the mindset we have to take. … we need to be just as good [on set pieces] As we’re going to play.”
Both of my USC goals against the Bruins on November 4 came off the track. The Trojans jumped forward from a corner kick in the 15th minute and then doubled a penalty from midfielder Zoe Burns 14 minutes later.
The Trojans (12-2-3) celebrated their first victory in the competition since 2015 by attacking goalkeeper Anna Smith after the five-year-old made five saves. USC players flashed the victory symbol all over the school. Some have turned the UCLA “four” sign upside down.
But when the post-season draw was announced on Monday, the Trojans quickly left an emotional win behind.
“We know we won a game the day before, but we still have to win something big, bigger than one game or a handful of games,” USC Team Principal Jane Alokonis said. “So all eyes are on natty.”
The Trojans carry a three-game winning streak in the post-season despite key midfield absences. USC star Croix Bethune and fellow All-Pac-12 first team member Simi Ojo missed the last two games of the regular season after picking up injuries in USC’s 2-1 win over Washington on October 27.
Alokonis said Ojo, a member of the Canadian national team, could be back as soon as this weekend, but Bethune, a two-time Pac 12 midfielder this year who leads the Trojans in goals and assists, is out indefinitely.
Python was moved by his teammates after colliding with the Washington goalkeeper while scoring the match-winning goal. Seeing their captain, who has already beaten two torn ACLs, leaving the same match as another key midfielder was an emotional test for the Trojans.
“These moments made us come together and reset and made us stronger,” Smith said.
USC enters the post-season with a 3-2 victory over Irvine on September 15 when the Trojans scored three times in the first 24 minutes.
Anteaters (10-5-6) had high hopes for this season after several key players returned from the Big West last year, including Big West 2021 goalkeeper Glo Hinojosa and Maddy Chavez, the Big West player last season. of the year. Irvine was selected to finish first in the conference during the pre-season.
But the Anteaters tied five of their first six conference games and entered the final week of the regular season needing a win to secure last place in the Big West Tournament. He gave up the goal against Hawaii in the fifth minute.
“We knew what the ingredients were, but as soon as we win or come home the guys would say, ‘Okay, we should pick it up here,'” Irvine coach Scott Juniper said. “And suddenly it’s a different team and a different energy.”
Irvine came back to score a massive 4-1 win over Hawaii, conceding a goal in 385 minutes after three in the Big West.
The Anteaters advance 2-0 in NCAA first-round games under Juniper, including a massive upset from the second seed UCLA last year when the Bruins were unbeaten in the post-season. Favorite Bruins were riding an emotional high after winning the competition against USC on the final day of the regular season. Like USC this year, the Bruins also beat Irvine in the regular season after jumping to a three-goal lead early on before the Anteaters attempted a comeback.
When Juniper pointed out the similarities between the two situations this week, his team took advantage.
“We put them where we want them,” Juniper half-jokingly said.
As the memory of the loss flashed through Brzexi’s mind this week, the sixth-year student couldn’t help but laugh. It felt like a mask for her pain.
“It still stings,” she said.
Bryzkcy admits that the Bruins did not enter the match with the right mindset, allowing the Big West champions to score early. Now with every game potentially being Bruin’s last, the goalkeeper won’t allow the same mistake to happen against Northern Arizona.
“We have to focus on ourselves and how we play our game, because when we play our game, no one can stop us,” Brzyski said.
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