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USC women reach NCAA soccer final

Trojans end a nine-game skid against UCLA with 2-1 victory and will play Florida State for title.

December 08, 2007|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- UCLA so thoroughly dominated USC during the first half of their NCAA women's soccer semifinal Friday at Aggie Soccer Stadium, the Trojans began to think they'd need calculators to count the scoring chances.

"I think we were a little intimidated by all the shots they were taking," USC forward Amy Rodriguez said.

But not for long.

Smart enough to devise some defensive adjustments and skillful enough to get the ball to Rodriguez, USC rallied for a 2-1 upset of top-ranked UCLA and advanced to the Women's College Cup championship game Sunday against Florida State.

"The curse is over, finally," USC Coach Ali Khosroshahin said of his team's nine-game losing streak and 11-game winless streak against UCLA.

All because of an A-Rod who can produce -- and win -- in postseason play.

Rodriguez, a junior forward from Lake Forest, tied the score with 22 minutes 29 seconds to play in the second half after a scramble that followed a corner kick. Sandwiched by several defenders, she got her toe on the ball and slipped it under UCLA goalkeeper Valerie Henderson for her ninth goal this season.

Rodriguez gave USC the lead on a left-footed shot with 16:05 to play, also after a corner kick when freshman Kasey Johnson headed the ball to her. It was the first multiple-goal game of her career.

"It was a jumble in the six-yard box," she said. "I was lucky again."

She might have been lucky in helping the Trojans (19-3-2) keep their cool and eliminate UCLA (20-2-2), but USC goalkeeper Kristin Olsen was good.

Olsen, a sophomore from Orange, made eight saves. Five came in the first half, when UCLA used its speed on the wings to get the ball into dangerous positions.

The Bruins converted only once, a determined individual effort by sophomore forward Lauren Cheney to escape a succession of defenders and slam the ball into the net with 7:23 left in the first half.

USC had recorded shutout victories in the first four rounds, so Olsen wasn't accustomed to fishing the ball out of her own net.

"It was kind of disappointing," she said, "but I thought we did a good job of coming back and getting right back at 'em."

UCLA didn't. Coach Jillian Ellis knew that her team's inability to convert more of those bountiful chances might be its downfall.

"As I said to my assistants at halftime, when you've got all that possession, you've got to have a result to reward you for it," she said.

Ellis wasn't surprised by Olsen's feats. Ellis coached the U.S. Under-20 team last summer, and the roster included Olsen.

"She had a tremendous game," Ellis said. "She's a great kid and good keeper. She got to some balls that we thought maybe were headed for the back of the net."

Because she did, USC -- which had never gotten past the second round before -- has a championship date Sunday against Florida State (18-5-3), which defeated Notre Dame, 3-2, in Friday's first semifinal.

The Trojans have set a program record for victories, but Khosroshahin wasn't thinking about the additional boost Friday's triumph might provide.

"We get measured on national championships at USC," he said. "The only good part is we finally beat UCLA. But we're not done yet."

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

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