The Utes soccer team headed to southern California this weekend for a tough road trip against two nationally ranked teams in UCLA and USC. The team was carrying plenty of momentum, off to the best start in program history, carrying an unbeaten record and goalkeeper Lindsey Luke fresh off winning two consecutive Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Week awards. The Utes ranked 21st, with a chance to make a statement and gain ground in the national rankings as well as the Pac-12 standings.
“I was pleased with the way the team played,” head coach Rich Manning said. “They came out with the right intentions and wanted to win. “Our players that came off the bench brought energy in the second half to try and even things up. We just couldn’t execute some things we wanted to do”.
Friday the Utes took on the defending national champion UCLA Bruins. The Utes showed well against the Bruins and looked like they belonged on the same field as the no. 1-ranked team. Lindsey Luke saved four shots on goal in the first half and the back line performed admirably, keeping the Bruins from finding the back of the net. UCLA came out attacking to start the second half, with Luke making a quick save right off the bat before UCLA senior midfielder Sam Mewis scored her eighth goal of the year, sneaking a ball just to the left of Luke on a Bruin counter attack.
The Utes weren't going down without a fight however. Despite UCLA's continued onslaught, immediately following Mewis's goal, Luke was able to live up to her billing, making three more saves over the next seven minutes. The Utes were able to wrestle momentum back from the Bruins in the closing minutes getting several good chances to put in an equalizer.
UCLA keeper Katelyn Rowland was able to save a header from Audrey Gibb as well as get in front of a Taylor Slattery shot on goal. Senior Avery Jenkins almost saved the day for the Utes in the 83rd minute when she got a shot off in the penalty area that sailed past Rowland only to hit the crossbar. Unfortunately, that is as close as the Utes would come to equalizing, as UCLA ran their unbeaten streak to 22 games.
"Utah was an awesome team," Mewis said. "That was such a tough game for us. They really fought back hard at the end."
After the valiant effort Friday, the Utes had to regroup quickly for another tough matchup with no. 23 USC on Sunday. The Utes looked like they had bounced back early, as the team came out with good energy, getting two early chances against USC, however both shots went wide of goal. The Trojans were able to draw first blood on a 17th minute corner kick. Alex Quincy was able to leap out of the scrum to get her head on the ball driving it just over the outstretched fingertips of Lindsey Luke.
Just as in the Friday game against UCLA, Utah fought back with Katie Taylor, Katie Rigby, and Mariah Elmer all getting good shots but failing to equalize before the first half came to a close. The Utes opened the second half with more of the same, with another chance by Elmer, and Sarah Duncan getting a shot on goal only to be stopped by USC keeper Caroline Stanley.
The dagger to the Utes chances came in the 64th minute as Quincy took a cross from the right side of the field, catching Luke out of position and putting the Trojans up 2-0. The Utes were able to get a few more shots off before the final whistle, but were never really a threat again after Quincy's second goal.
Despite getting shutout in back to back games and coming away with no points in the standings, coach Rich Manning had good things to say about his team.
"There were lessons learned and we can improve on some things," Manning said, adding the Utes would learn from their mistakes this weekend and "apply what we learned before we head off for Oregon."
As Manning mentioned, the Utes head to Oregon next weekend to take on Oregon and Oregon State. This upcoming weekend's road trip should prove slightly less daunting with Oregon proving to be a middle tier Pac-12 team with a 5-3-2 record, and the Beavers are still searching for their first win at 0-8-3. Soccer is game of speed and skill, and if the Utes can play the way they did in southern California next weekend, they could sweep the Oregon schools. However, luck also plays a large role in soccer, and the Utes will need to regain their goal scoring luck they lost this weekend in Los Angeles. We'll find out if the Utes find their mojo again this Friday when they take on the Ducks in Eugene at 5 pm MT.