Hot off a three-game winning streak, the No. 24 ranked ASU soccer team faced No. 11 USC and No. 2 UCLA in its last Pac-12 home matches. After upsetting the Trojans, the Sun Devils fell short against the nearly unbeatable Bruins.
The Sun Devils kicked off the weekend facing the mighty Trojans on Thursday. USC marched into Tempe after tying Colorado following a dominant six-game winning streak. However, No. 24 ASU stunned the highly-ranked Trojans with a late-game winner to steal the match.
The Trojans pressed the Sun Devils' defense in the first half and recorded five corner kicks but could not find the back of the net. Similarly, ASU's offense was quiet in the half and only registered a single shot on goal by sophomore forward Enasia Colon.
ASU continued to take on a barrage of offense in the second half, with the Trojans taking 11 shots and nine more corner kicks in the half. ASU's resilient defense, which only conceded 0.50 goals per game to this point in this season, stood firm to prevent the Trojans from taking dangerous chances.
This momentum propelled ASU's offense to come alive late in the match to shock USC after being kept quiet for most of the match. In the 72nd minute, a Sun Devil throw-in set up a perfectly placed cross by junior forward Keri Matthews. Redshirt senior Hannah Lapeire weaved past a wall of defenders to meet the ball in stride and score the game-winner.
ASU sophomore goalkeeper Pauline Nelles made a pair of saves in the 78th and 80th minute to keep USC scoreless.Nelles stood firm in goal to record her ninth shutout of the season, a new single-season ASU record.
After the match, fans from the 942 Crew ran onto the pitch to celebrate with ASU players, marking the first time the students stormed the pitch at a soccer match. Head coach Graham Winkworth said his team gambled by playing a solid back line, but his players made the most of their few chances.
"To have a solid four, it did stifle us a bit offensively," Winkworth said. "I don’t think we created too much, but it was a lovely cross. When we were brave enough to put numbers in the box, Hannah rewarded us with a goal."
The second match of this homestand and the final home match of the season was not anywhere near as joyful and ceremonious as the Sun Devils' match against USC.
Sunday's match set ASU against the reigning NCAA champions and No. 2 ranked UCLA. The match was set to be the toughest of the Sun Devils' season as the Bruins stood at 13-1 while scoring an average of three goals per game this season.
The match kicked off as a physical, defensive match, with the first possible turning point coming in the 39th minute. ASU defender Allison Carabin committed a foul on her team's end of the pitch to set up a Bruins’ penalty kick. UCLA’s Jayden Perry launched the ball toward the lower left side of the goal, but Nelles left her feet to dive for the ball and foil the scoring chance.
Much like the first half, the second half was defensive-focused. However, the Sun Devils struggled to break into the attacking third of the pitch. ASU’s quiet offense put a lot of stress on their defense trying to contain the high-octane Bruins’ offense.
The match remained scoreless until the 89th minute when UCLA’s Reilyn Turner scored the game-winning goal to break ASU's hearts.
The Bruins' slim lead held during the final two minutes even as the Sun Devils made one last push toward the goal as time expired. Even though ASU lost the match, Lapeire recognized that the team played very well and fought hard against one of the top teams in the country.
"I'm extremely proud of us today," Lapeire said. "I mean, we fought hard for 90 minutes, and credit to UCLA, they're a great team. They put together a great game. I'm really happy with how we played as a unit today."
After these hard-fought matches, the Sun Devils stand at 10-3-4 with three games left this season. ASU will hit the road to face Utah and Colorado before concluding the Pac-12 season on Nov. 3 in Tucson against UA.
Edited by Vincent DeAngelis, Walker Smith and Caera Learmonth.