The Washington State soccer team faces it’s biggest test — but also its biggest opportunity — of the season tonight when first place and fifth-ranked USC visits Lower Soccer Field for a clash with the third place Cougars.
WSU has 13 points after six games, while USC has claimed all 18 points with a perfect record in conference play. If the Cougars have any designs on challenging for the Pac-12 title, they realistically need to secure at least a draw against the Trojans, as it’s hard to imagine overcoming an 8-point deficit with four games remaining.
Things look especially difficult when you consider the Cougars’ next game is against No. 8 UCLA (on Sunday at home), and the final three games of the season are on the road (Oregon, Oregon State, Washington).
“It’s a huge weekend from all aspects,” head coach Todd Shulenberger said. “Pac-12 standings, it’s a huge weekend for RPI. It’s a huge weekend for resume-building for the NCAA tournaments. And we have two good teams starting on Thursday night.”
While a draw would allow them to essentially kick the can down the road, a win obviously would be ideal for closing the gap; USC still has to face No. 14 Stanford and UCLA this season, so the potential for the Trojans to drop points down the stretch is strong.
But securing a win will be tough: The Trojans haven’t lost since August, and they carry a 22-5 goal differential in conference play into tonight’s match. The Cougars, by contrast, have scored 9 goals in conference play, but also allowed only three with their dominant defense — including four shutouts.
And that, likely, is what the game will come down to. The Cougars’ back line of Reese Tappan, Brianna Alger, Mykiaa Minniss, and Bridget Rieken has been stout, Sydney Studer and Sydney Pulver win a lot of balls back in the midfield, and freshman Nadia Cooper has been a revelation in goal; can they contain the Trojans’ ridiculous attack? Because USC’s defense can be a little leaky, and likely will leave opportunities for the Cougars to score — the Trojans allowed Oregon a plethora of looks at goal in their last win.
The game kicks off at 7 p.m. PT and will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network and Pac-12.com.
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