ASU soccer falls to No. 21 USC and No. 3 UCLA in home conference openers

Despite back-to-back losses, the team proved it could compete against nationally ranked teams

ASU soccer fell to both No. 21 USC and No. 3 UCLA in its home Pac-12 openers Thursday and Sunday, respectively.

Prior to playing the UCLA Bruins on Sunday, the Sun Devils lost 2-1 to the USC Trojans on Thursday night. The team is now 8-3-1 on the season.

Freshman forward Keri Matthews, who made her debut in the team's tie against Washington, made her starting lineup debut. The Sun Devils also had senior midfielder Alexia Delgado back from injury, and senior midfielder Eva van Deursen and sophomore defender Tahlia Herman-Watt returned to the squad as well, giving the team its depth back.

"When you're playing against a team as talented as USC, you want your top-class players available for selection and so we're starting to get a few of them available for some time," head coach Graham Winkworth said. "Obviously, we aren't match fit and the only way to get match fit, unfortunately, is to play in games and if we had that availability during the non-conference they would be fit now."

ASU's bench was able to quickly impact the game to help the team score its only goal against USC. 

Senior forward Cori Sullivan was subbed in at 24:02 and just under six minutes later assisted the pass for senior forward Nicole Douglas to score the opening goal, her 12th of the season.

The Sun Devils played through windy and dusty conditions on Thursday night causing the beginning of the second half to be defined by the conditions. 

"Obviously the wind is something we can't control and (USC) managed it better than us," Douglas said. "We have to focus on what we can control and the wind is something we can't, but we have to still play our soccer and we just switched off for those 15 minutes."

After the loss Thursday, the team quickly shifted its focus to facing No. 3 UCLA Sunday afternoon. 

The Sun Devils lost in overtime to the Bruins 4-3, after playing well offensively in the first half. UCLA opened the scoring at 5:42 and just over four minutes later, ASU responded with a goal off of a free kick from sophomore midfielder Jazmine Wilkinson.

At 11:47, the team took the lead with a goal from Douglas, who dribbled through three defenders to find the net and score her 13th goal of the season. It was Douglas's 40th goal of her career, and this season she averages about a goal a game.

"I saw the back line was out of place and I knew my wingers were with me but I have self-confidence and I just went for it," Douglas said.

Van Deursen scored at the 23:17 mark, pushing ASU's lead to 3-1. However, UCLA responded with one goal off a corner kick in the 29th minute and another goal less than a minute later, keeping the two teams level going into the half. 

In the second half, the Sun Devils prioritized defense and struggled to get forward to create scoring opportunities, partially due to UCLA shifting its formation.

"When we went 3-1 up, they shifted from a 4-4-2 diamond to 4-3-2-1 formation, and because of that, it is three versus three in the midfield," Winkworth said. "What opened the game up for the first 20 minutes was the fact that they were playing four in the midfield and we were playing three, so it was wide open, and we were able to be successful on the counter-attack. After they switched formations, it was man versus man, and that's what closed the game off."

During the game UCLA took 15 corner kicks, forcing ASU to defend better on the goalposts.

"It's a devastating loss — the first half we attacked really well, scored some lovely goals and in the second half we defended really well," Winkworth said. "We need to do better on set pieces because we would've won today."

The two teams remained even after 90 minutes, but not long after the start of overtime UCLA scored to defeat ASU. This was the Sun Devils' third game that reached overtime, and their first loss in overtime.

Despite the loss, the Sun Devils proved they can compete with a nationally ranked team.

"I think there are a lot of positives to take from this game," junior defender Lieske Carleer said. "The first half we were playing some beautiful soccer, we were creating opportunities and UCLA is ranked No.3 for a reason, but you could see that we can play with them, we have enough talent on the team to play with the top teams in the nation."

ASU soccer will look to Oregon for its next games against Oregon State University and the University of Oregon on Oct. 7 and Oct. 10, respectively. 


Reach the reporter at mmthacke@asu.edu and follow @Mthacker_14 on Twitter.

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