UCLA Women's Soccer: 2020-2021 Season Preview and Game Preview vs. #25 Pepperdine
The Bruins finally take the pitch again 429 days since their last game!
After COVID-19 pushed back the Pac-12 Women’s soccer season from its traditional fall schedule, and after COVID-19 issues with the University of San Diego’s women’s soccer team postponed last Thursday’s long-awaited season opener, the Bruins will finally kick-off the 2020-21 season this afternoon at Tari Frahm Rokus Field in Malibu when UCLA faces Pepperdine at 1 pm PT. It has been 429 days since the UCLA women’s soccer team last played a game. Let’s take a look at this season’s squad and then preview today’s game.
Topdrawersoccer.com picked UCLA as the #4 team in the nation, behind Florida State, North Carolina, and Stanford. FSU and UNC played their seasons in the fall, finishing 11-0-0 and 11-1-0 respectively, earning their preseason hype. The Bruins were picked #2 in the Pac-12 preseason poll behind Stanford.
Amanda Cromwell returns for her 8th year as Head Coach helming the UCLA sideline and she brings with her an all-female coaching staff with the addition of volunteer goalkeeping Coach Saskia Webber and the promotion of Jane Alukonis to Assistant Head Coach. Cromwell has had the Bruins consistently challenging for the Women’s College Cup, winning one in 2013, finishing second in 2017, and making the College Cup “Final Four” last season. The Bruins have made the Sweet 16 in six of Coach Cromwell’s seven seasons.
The Bruins lost a lot of talent from the 2019 team that went to the Women’s College Cup including long-time starting goalkeeper Teagan Micah, who moved on to the W League in her native Australia, attacker Ashley Sanchez, playing for the NWSL’s Washington Spirit, the do-everything midfielder Jessie Fleming, playing for Chelsea, defender Kaiya McCullough, playing in Germany in the second division Fraulien Bundesliga. Most teams would suffer greatly following a season with so many key departures. Not so with the 2020-21 Bruins, who reloaded with the #1 recruiting class in the nation.
Despite the departures, the Bruins also return several key players from last season’s campaign, including top goal scorer from 2019, now-sophomore Mia Fishel. Fishel found the back of the net 14 times for UCLA in 2019 and won the Golden Ball at the U-20 Championships while representing the United States. Senior Kennedy Faulknor also provides established depth at the forward position.
Midfielders Maricarmen Reyes and Viviana Villacorta are also back for the Bruins. Reyes is an offensive lynchpin, while Villacorta, who was drafted by the Orlando Pride of the NWSL in last month’s draft, but is permitted to play her spring season due to that league’s COVID protocols this season, plays more of a defensive role. Senior midfielder Delanie Sheehan, who played in every game and started all but one, also returns for the Bruins. Sheehan also played on the backline in 2019 and I can see her getting a lot of time there this season. Sophomore and Australian international midfielder Rachel Lowe, who played in ten games as a freshman but missed much of the season due to international duty, figures to see more playing time this season.
The backline sees two senior starters return—Lucy Parker and Karina Rodriguez—to anchor the back line. Redshirt senior Jacey Pederson also returns after sitting out 2019 due to injury.
Although Micah played the lion’s share of games in goal for UCLA over the past several years, Coach Cromwell started the transition to redshirt junior Lauren Brzykcy over the last two years, with Brzykcy starting eight games while playing in a total of nine in 2018 and starting four games while playing in a total of six last season in 2019. Brzykcy is 8-3 in her UCLA career, allowing ten goals, making 13 saves, and recording four clean sheets.
The 2020 Recruiting Class
UCLA signed 14 new players in the 2020 recruiting class and Topdrawersoccer.com ranked UCLA’s class as best in the nation. The class includes seven players from the U.S. Youth National Team. Those seven players are either midfielders or forwards, which should provide ample competition for the UCLA attack but could leave the back line a bit thin. UCLA only signed one defender this season, but the Bruins have three sophomore defenders that should fill the gaps, including Brianne Riley who appeared in 18 games as a freshman.
Projected Starting XI
Lauren Brzykcy – GK
Lucy Parker – D
Karina Rodriguez – D
Brianne Riley – D
Delanie Sheehan – D
Viviana Villacorta – M
Maricarmen Reyes- M
Rachel Lowe – M
Marley Canales – M
Kali Trevithick – F
Mia Fishel – F
My starting XI doesn’t have any of the much heralded freshmen starting, but I expect big things from this class, and several of the players could either start from the get-go, or work their way into the starting lineup as the season progresses.
Game Preview: Pepperdine Waves
The retooled Bruins start the season today on the road against #25 Pepperdine. The Waves gave UCLA all sorts of problems last season at a neutral site game in Hawai’i, earning a 2-2 draw. Pepperdine returns eight starters from last season’s team, including the entire backline and both of its goalkeepers. None of the goal scorers from that game—for either team—return for this season, but UCLA would be wise to keep close attention to senior midfielder Joelle Anderson. Anderson—who was selected by the Houston Dash in the NWSL draft—has racked up 21 goals and 13 assists in her 55-game career in Malibu. She is a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the park.
This is the first time UCLA has started a season away from home since 2016, when they crushed San Diego State 5-0. I expect the score to be much closer today with UCLA eeking out a victory, 3-2. Fishel gets a brace, including the game winner.
I hope that you enjoyed the season and Pepperdine game preview. This is your UCLA Bruins at Pepperdine Waves game thread.