ACC – Clemson
Big XII – Iowa State | Oklahoma | TCU | Texas | Texas Tech
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | UConn | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Iowa | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern | Purdue | Wisconsin
Mid-Majors – Central Michigan | Denver | Florida Gulf Coast | Harvard | Illinois State | New Mexico | Rice | Richmond | Samford | UMass | Utah State | Western Michigan
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Colorado | Oregon | Utah | Washington | Washington State
SEC – Alabama | Arkansas | Mississippi State | Ole Miss | Vanderbilt
WCC – BYU | Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | San Francisco
Storm clouds appear to be brewing over the City of Angels as USC, fresh off a nightmare season in 2011, try to regain the form that made them national champions in 2007. Now four full seasons after one of the most shocking triumphs in college soccer history, the Women of Troy are still looking to replicate the program’s stunning national title win in 2007 and have been more miss than hit as of late. For the better part of their history, the Trojans were presided over by current San Francisco head coach Jim Millinder with mixed results.
On one hand, the Women of Troy were consistently in the upper half of the Pac-10 and brought home the 1998 league title. But USC also found it hard to escape mid-table in many seasons. The kiss of death for Millinder was USC’s failings in the NCAA Tournament. Millinder guided the program to eight NCAA Tournaments but was never able to lead USC past the second round. That postseason futility, taking into account the talent that was flowing through the red half of Los Angeles, including a certain Amy Rodriguez, was enough to see the program part ways with Millinder following the 2006 season.
Into the breach stepped successful Cal State Fullerton head coach Ali Khosroshahin. In addition to being a fanatical devotee to fitness within his team, Khosroshahin was known as an infamous hardass who wouldn’t tolerate prima donnas within his team. That turned out to be a good thing for the Trojans who responded to the change in culture with a stifling defense, set piece mastery, and just enough of the dark arts to instill a tenacity within the team that had been missing before. USC finished a surprising runner-up in the Pac-10 before an NCAA Tournament run that saw them suffocate teams defensively en route to a run to the College Cup.
They ran up against city rivals UCLA in a second Battle of Los Angeles. Few gave the Trojans much of a chance. After all, USC hadn’t beaten their nemesis in nine seasons (they wouldn’t beat them again until 2010). It didn’t look good after USC went behind, but the Women of Troy would be witness to Amy Rodriguez’s finest hour in college soccer, as the USWNT striker led her side back to a 2-1 win that was a stunner in most circles. Almost as stunning was how easily USC handled Florida State in the final. Khosroshahin was only the second coach in DI soccer history to win a national title in his first year at the helm of a program (Randy Waldrum of Notre Dame the other in 1999).
With a young squad, including Rodriguez and current FC Twente captain Ashley Nick returning in 2008, some were talking repeat. But their talismanic striker had Olympic duty to worry about and the Trojans now had to deal with having a giant target on their back. All things considered, third in the league and an exit in the Sweet Sixteen was a bit disappointing, more so since their exit came at the hands of UCLA. 2009 marked an even more frustrating season as the Women of Troy slid back to fourth in the league and were bounced at the first hurdle of the postseason on penalties against Oklahoma State.
2010 was another up and down season, with USC finally solving their UCLA hoodoo again (in front of 8,527 fans in the Los Angeles Coliseum no less) but unable to challenge the upper crust of the league, finishing third in the conference. The NCAA Tournament would not provide any solace either, with the Trojans being cut apart by eventual national champions Notre Dame, 4-0.
With some grumbles about the team’s lack of postseason success likely being heard over the offseason, the Women of Troy entered 2011 under some pressure to get back to their best. They were certainly anything but in the opening weeks of the season, losing their first three matches, though all of those defeats came against creditable opposition. USC certainly looked like they had righted the ship with three straight wins, all away from home, including a solid 3-1 win over eventual Big Ten Tournament winners Illinois.
Abruptly, the bottom fell out of the Trojans’ season. A 1-0 loss to Oklahoma State wasn’t unexpected, but the fact that it was the first of eight straight defeats was stunning. The club weren’t just losing to top flight opposition either, also suffering losses to bubble sides like Texas, Portland, and Washington State. The streak saw USC lose their first five Pac-12 games, all but killing off their postseason hopes and making some wonder just how far this team could fall.
The Trojans were able to reclaim some pride with three straight wins but would end up losing two of their last three, including a humiliating 5-2 reverse to deadly rivals UCLA in the season finale. The end result was a seventh place tie in the Pac-12 with Arizona State and Washington, but other stats were far worse for USC.
The Trojans’ sub-100 finish in the RPI was its worst in ages, and the club suffered through its first losing season since 1993, the first year of the program’s existence. Khosroshahin almost assuredly earned a lot of leeway with the program’s first national title in 2007, but with a trigger happy administration to try and mollify, you have to wonder if the heat isn’t beginning to rise.
The Trojans certainly aren’t resting on their laurels going into the new season. USC may only return fifteen players, but they bring in a whopping twenty new players, with sixteen freshmen and four transfers making their way to the red half of Los Angeles. Khosroshahin sees a fair share of players departing early, but most of the departures are from squad players leaving as well as seeing a hefty senior class graduate. Injuries and underachievement were a toxic brew last season, leaving the offense impotent in front of goal and the defense creaky, giving up nineteen goals, the third worst mark in the league.
Not to overshadow the big problems going forward. Elizabeth Eddy had shown flashes of greatness as a rookie but sputtered noticeably last year, and finished with just four goals on the season. And she was the club’s top scorer. She’ll be looking to make amends but will be lacking the team’s main supply line last year in the form of midfielder Brittany Kerridge, arguably the team’s top performer in 2011. After combining for six assists in three years, Kerridge went on a tear last season, with nine helpers, including five in the league.
Khosroshahin will be hoping to strike gold this year with what looks like a promising recruiting class on paper. But with so many new faces, the Trojan boss is bound a few headaches with the normal inconsistencies that go hand in hand with youth at this level.
It’s not exactly like Khosroshahin is lacking for options here, with a whopping six goalkeepers set to be on the roster for the 2012 season. It’s just the fact that none of those options is last year’s starter for the first few months of the season, Shelby Church, which should be the talking point going into the new year. Church began the new season having come off an impressive rookie season after not coming into USC with a huge amount of plaudits from youth club ball and had won the starting job from day one, also earning a recall to the U.S. U20 team in the process.
But she fell out of favor seemingly towards the end of last season, and the writing was essentially on the wall when Caroline Stanley transferred in from Missouri. Church departed for Alabama after the season, meaning there’ll be a new #1 in between the pipes this year for the Trojans. Sophomore Carley Pennington is the incumbent who, like Church, wasn’t a big name get out of high school but who filled in admirably down the stretch, with three clean sheets and four wins to her name in the six matches she started. She probably won’t be the favorite to win the starting job though, as the club adds Stanley from Missouri as a transfer.
Stanley had been one of the top goalkeeping prospects in last year’s class and a former youth international at U20 level but was unsettled from the start in Columbia and only appeared in four games as a rookie in a disappointing freshman season. Khosroshahin has praised Stanley’s organization and communication as well as her on the ball skills, but the Kansas City native still has everything to prove after being saddled with a big reputation coming into the college ranks. If she plays up to her potential, the Women of Troy shouldn’t miss a beat in goal. If not, this group could be a potential weakness for Khosroshahin’s club.
This group started out the year on a sour note with the loss of key stalwart Mia Bruno to a knee injury and never really recovered as Khosroshahin made constant adjustments to try and fortify a backline that was hardly the most stingy in league play. There’ll be more adjustments this season, as the club loses four players who saw starting minutes in defense last year. After barely featuring as a freshman, Claire Schloemer became a defensive mainstay for the rest of her tenure with USC, including last season with fourteen starts. She’d miss a chunk of time in non-conference play but returned in time for Pac-12 play and even had a cameo or two up front.
Left-back Chelsea Buehning departs with a season of eligibility left but had been hobbled with a knee injury for nearly a year and a half, which may have factored into that decision. Buehning missed much of the beginning of the year but returned for league play and started nine games. Dogged fifth-year senior Ashli Sandoval, more known for her midfield exploits, and freshman reserve Geena Graumann also depart.
The club returns an intriguing mix of youth and experience to the backline this year. A healthy Bruno would obviously be a big boost to the defense after the sophomore started almost every match as a true freshman in 2010. Bruno netted twice in that season, and the U18 international should be ready to go more than a year removed from her ACL injury. Senior Kristina Noriega had been tipped as a diamond in the rough after transferring from UC Riverside before last season and ended up starting every game last season. The towering defender tallied three goals last year, and her height makes her an obvious danger on set pieces.
Junior Autumn Altamirano was moved into the defense from midfield last season to compensate from injuries, and though the loss of her offense (five goals in 2010) was damaging, the Tustin product started every game in defense and could feature on the backline again this year. Senior Samantha Johnson saw some time in defense last season with the injuries on this unit but will likely feature up front should everyone stay healthy this season. Sophomore Jessica Musmanno was recruited as a forward and as the highest rated recruit from last year’s USC class but mainly featured in defense last season, mostly off the bench. Her versatility will likely allow her to fill in at either spot again this year.
Freshman Dominique Randle has explosive pace down the flanks and could feature early if recovered from recent injuries, while Marlee Carrillo has been a star for West Coast FC in ECNL action and has been tipped to be one of the Trojans’ center-backs on opening day this year. USC’s leaky defense was most definitely un-Khosroshahin-like, and if the key components are healthy with the freshmen hitting the ground running, the Women of Troy could make big gains defensively this year.
This group has some serious retooling to do after the loss of three starters from last season. Sandoval was the last link to the Trojans’ national title winning team and looked to have the potential to be one of the program’s best ever after a brilliant rookie campaign that saw her rack up eleven assists. A severe knee injury in 2009 was devastating though, and though Sandoval was still mighty good after, she was never the same. Six goals in 2010 was a nice haul, and the Californian with a rocket of a shot closed her career out with eighteen starts in her senior year, though one goal from fifty-one shots was a very poor return.
Kerridge ended up directing most of the traffic in the middle, with her nine assists a worthy reward for a fine career that saw her as a full-time starter every season for the Trojans. Alaskan Carly Butcher looked to be a budding offensive threat with five goals in 2008 and five assists in 2009 but was more of an ancillary asset in midfield for two seasons after, ending up with just one assist and no goals last year despite starting every game.
As you might imagine, with all that was lost, USC has major work to do to reassemble the midfield. Junior Haley Boysen has an inside track on a starting role after bouncing in and out of the starting lineup for two seasons in Los Angeles. Boysen’s not prolific in front of goal but does have five goals in two years for the club. Behind her is a lot of inexperience. Senior Courtney Garcia looked tailor made for major minutes last year after two impressive seasons to begin her career but instead slid into a reserve role with just one start. Garcia does have a history of game-winning goals though, having netted five in her career so far.
Classmate Isabelle Johnson was seldom used in 2010 but saw nine games off the bench last year and could push for more minutes again in 2012. Sophomore Elizabeth Caparis also figures to be in the mix after appearing in every game last year and starting twice, while also functioning as a top reserve.
More than likely though, Khosroshahin will be looking eagerly towards some newcomers. Junior Jordan Marada was a shock addition from St. Mary’s (CA) and should provide an instant injection of quality into the side after starring for the Gaels the past two seasons. After a stunning debut in 2010, Marada was simply electric again last year, with nine goals and twelve assists, the latter a single season record at the club. Though she may take some time to acclimate, Marada could easily be one of the most important transfers of the season in DI.
Somewhat less heralded is the transfer addition of Alex Quincey from UC Riverside, the same club that produced Noriega. A mauler in the middle, Khosroshahin has mentioned Quincey in the same breath as club legend Ashley Nick, which is high praise indeed. Some rookies also have a chance to make an immediate impact. Megan Borman has impressed at ECNL level at is prolific in the air while also being described as a goalscorer by Khosroshahin.
Joining her will be Jamie Fink, a central midfielder who’s been a mainstay for the Region IV ODP team in recent years and could be a key utility reserve if she doesn’t crack the starting lineup. Much depends on how quickly Marada gets comfortable in her new surroundings. If she can lead by example right off the bat, this unit could pleasantly surprise. Still, there’s a lot of new pieces to integrate, meaning this unit, more than any other, could go through some growing pains this year.
Besides Schloemer, the club also loses the services of Ashley Freyer and Morgan Morrow from the frontline. A super sub for three seasons for USC, Freyer would start seventeen games as a senior, scoring three goals with two assists while also showing some of her old instincts as a defender by leading the team with four bookings. Knee injuries destroyed the career of Morrow, who appears to have called time on her playing career after a third serious injury ended her season after just five games last season.
Goals are not assured with the returners. A U20 international, junior Elizabeth Eddy’s hat trick against Cal should have been a jumping off point for the beginning of a brilliant career with USC. Instead, Eddy didn’t really deliver the goods last year, scoring just four times, though two were game winners in league games. She still has a great deal of potential, but this is a crucial year for her going forward. Another much touted U20 international, Samantha Johnson also looked to be in a position to be a big factor for USC last year after two seasons of four goals but instead slumped to just two goals last season, though she played some in defense. That shouldn’t be a worry this season, and Johnson has one more year to come good on her potential at the college level.
Senior Erica Vangsness was mainly a presence off the bench for the club a year after transferring from Pierce College and looks a likely reserve again this year. U18 international Katie Johnson has been simmering with potential both in the Region IV ODP team and in ECNL action with Arsenal FC. Still nicked up with injuries as a senior in high school, Johnson should be healthy going into camp and has naturally been tipped as an impact maker right off the bat for Khosroshahin and co.
Whitney Pitalo, a product out of Oregon, is another versatile addition who counted pole vaulting as one of her side exploits before coming to USC and should be a key depth player at the very least. Potential is the buzzword with this unit. USC just needs the production to match all that upside this year, or it could be another painful season in front of goal for the Women of Troy.
There are no bones about it, USC underachieved mightily last season and were one of the nation’s most disappointing teams as far as unmet expectations were concerned. Khosroshahin isn’t quite making a clean start in 2012, but he almost might as well be with just ten players with starting experience returning. The Trojans boss more than makes up for that with a hell of a recruiting class though, blending in some talented freshmen with some excellent transfers.
What all of that adds up to is a big question mark though. Make no mistake about it, USC probably has one of the biggest gaps between ceiling and floor in terms of results this season. They could lodge themselves in upper-mid table in the league and perhaps win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament if they stay healthy and everything pans out. Or they could not gel at all and crash and burn to the tune of last season’s frustrating season. Given Khosroshahin’s track record, I’d bet on the former being more likely than the latter, but I’m still not sure everything will come together in time for an NCAA Tournament berth.