Three things about USC’s 2016 College Cup win

Chelsey Bush December 5, 2016 6
USC Trojans celebrate their College Cup win. (photo courtesy USC Women's Soccer Twitter)

USC Trojans celebrate their College Cup win. (photo courtesy USC Women’s Soccer Twitter)

As has happened more than once this tournament, the College Cup final ended in an upset as the USC Trojans defeated the WVU Mountaineers 3-1 to claim the 2016 NCAA Championship. Both teams made history in the process, with WVU making their first College Cup appearance, as well as the first for any Big 12 team, while USC is the only other team besides UNC to go two-for-two in College Cup final appearances after winning their first championship in 2007. So what happened?

DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS

The old adage proved true once again. WVU held the majority of the possession and greatly exceeded USC in shots, 21-8, but while the Trojan defense held strong, defensive slips by the Mountaineers allowed all three goals. Morgan Andrews’ header for the opening goal in the very first minutes of the game occurred because WVU first failed to properly clear the ball and then were caught ball-watching. Both Savannah Levin, who headed the ball back into the box, and Andrews were left unmarked, and Andrews was able to send it past goalkeeper Rylee Foster.

In the second half, Leah Pruitt ran down a long ball and took on first one, then both Mountaineer centerbacks before slotting the ball to Katie Johnson, who sent Foster diving in the wrong direction. Kadeisha Buchanan was caught in a bit of a lose-lose situation when she decided to slide over to help shut down Pruitt, but ultimately she left Johnson wide open on top of the box to take on Foster 1v1, never a position any goalkeeper wants to be in.

Johnson’s second goal, which sealed the game for the Trojans, resulted from a classic counterattack after the Mountaineers sent numbers forward in a push for an equalizer. That in and of itself wasn’t a mistake, but it allowed Johnson to break free and find Foster cheating off her line. The redshirt senior had no trouble sending it far left post from distance.

FINISHING, FINISHING, FINISHING

As stated previously, WVU held the advantage in shots by far, but only nine of their 21 shots were on frame. Many of these chances were created from their nine corner kicks, but none of those resulted in a goal either. While a large part of that credit belongs to Trojan goalkeeper Sammy Jo Prudhomme, who collected eight saves and managed to get a hand on a number of other shots, the Mountaineers struggled to truly put Prudhomme to the test. Loose ball after loose ball ping-ponged around the Trojan box, but too many times the Mountaineers couldn’t get a good touch. They also struggled with second balls, as a number of rebounds fell favorably to them but weren’t followed up on.

This was particularly evident in the second half after USC regained the lead, when WVU began to take wasteful shots from distance any chance they got, sending them well wide and high of the goal. They were plain unlucky at times, but ultimately they created enough chances that WVU could have put this game away. In the game of soccer, sometimes it comes down to thirty seconds of brilliance rather than who is the better team for 89 minutes.

SUPER SUBS SAVE THE DAY

Neither Pruitt nor Johnson started for the Trojans, coming off the bench in both halves. Pruitt totaled barely over half an hour of playing time, yet she made her mark well before her assist to Johnson. The sophomore forward brought a spark of energy to a team that spent much of the game chasing the ball in possession of WVU, and her battles against Buchanan were part of the highlights of the match. The ball that Andrews lobbed down the pitch at first looked to be a wasteful long ball headed out of bounds, but Pruitt did well to run it down before going 2v1 against a strong centerback pairing that included four-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Buchanan, and still got the pass off to Johnson.

Johnson played closer to an hour, but like Pruitt, it was her second half exploits that left her mark. Already a hero for her game-winning goal against Georgetown in the semifinal, she did one better for the final, tallying an insurance goal on top of the game-winner. Johnson brought an offensive presence the Trojans were lacking in the first half and made a depleted and tired WVU defense pay.

USC head coach Keidane McAlpine used two more substitutes than WVU coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, and no Mountaineer sub played more than 27 minutes. A thousand factors can go into winning a soccer game, and sometimes the bench makes all the difference.

  • Gary Diver

    Was there some talk in the past about having a split fall-spring college soccer season? This year’s NCAA season seemed high quality and exciting, but also seemed over too soon. What do the college teams do in the spring?

    • Ashley C

      I had a spring schedule in college which was competitive but mainly playing teams just to get some conditioning back in, teach new tactics, players/freshmen who maybe didn’t get minutes during the season, etc. Had a few tournaments which were still fun even if meaningless.

      I hope in the future there is a split or something competitive in the spring. It’s a good chance to focus on your studies but it can be boring without soccer to play. I think most players would welcome it.

    • guest

      NCAA men’s soccer coaches have/are still discussing shifting to a full year fall to spring schedule – but still just in talking stage (i think).
      Assume that if NCAA men’s soccer did shift to fall-spring schedule, then there would be some pressure (Title IX etc) to make similar shift for women.

      The NCAA does allow the soccer teams (men & women) to practice/play a short spring schedule but games are basically exhibitions and not counted in any NCAA competition stats. In past years a number of NWSL teams have played some of the NCAA teams during NWSL preseason (the preseason overlaps with start of NCAA spring season)

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  • Som Termanni

    USWNT-capped Kacey White (née Burke) is the new head coach at Xavier (Ohio): http://www.goxavier.com/news/2016/12/14/former-uswnt-member-kacey-white-name-womens-soccer-head-coach.aspx

    White won an NCAA title with UNC and a WPS title at Sky Blue in 2009, and also played professional soccer in the Damallsvenskan (AIK, Bälinge) and with magicJack and the Atlanta Beat. She inherits a Xavier team that went 7-11-1 (1-8 in conference) thanks in large part to a weak offense that generated only 0.44 goals/game and was outshot 16-8 on average in conference play, but has a young core that includes freshman prep standout keeper Toni Bizzarro (who split time with senior Rachel Piccus in ’16) and sophomore second-team all-conference striker Samantha Dewey.

    White’s previous head coaching experience was at Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2014 under an unusual 1-year term with her departure at the end of the season announced alongside her hiring. She nonetheless immediately guided the team, which finished 8th in 2013, to its best season in 21 years: not only to its fifth winning season in 27 years, but also to 11 wins, 36 goals, and a postseason victory, all bests since 1993-94. They lost in the semis 0-2 to top-seed Valparaiso and have won only 4 of 23 games since she left.

    • Steglitz49

      Thanks for the info. Much appreciated. She played for two ladies teams in Sweden: Bälinge and AIK.

      Bälinge Ladies still exists. They have not gone bankrupt. They play in Division 2.

      AIK is a team with a unique distinktiion. It is always only AIK and never qualified with a place-name. Their ladies play in Elitettan, that is the Division just below Damallsvenskan.