2009 USC Soccer Season Outlook
Aug. 21, 2009
The USC women's soccer team opens its 2009 campaign in College Station, Texas. Not-so-coincidentally, that's the same town where the Women of Troy plan to close down their season.
The Trojans are a top-10 team once again, and once again they have their sights set on paying another visit to Aggieland by season's end for a shot at claiming their second NCAA Championship in three years.
It's a group with plenty of potential to make another deep journey through the postseason.
Now in his third year as head coach of the Women of Troy, Ali Khosroshahin has a unit of players who well know what is expected of them on the field. Ten of those Trojans were members of USC's 2007 NCAA Championship team -- which won the program's first-ever national title on that same field in College Station, Texas. Six of them joined the program in 2008, when the defending national champs pushed through to the NCAA Third Round and notched a 16-5-2 overall record and a third-place Pac-10 finish. Seven newcomers now join the 2009 USC roster, lined up to help the Trojans take aim at USC's fifth consecutive NCAA appearance and onward to that postseason return trip to Texas.
'I think the players are very committed to doing things the correct way this year,' Khosroshahin said. 'We're a completely different team from the past, but our potential is the same. We have the ability to compete for a national title still.'
Led by fifth-year players Meagan Holmes and Marihelen Tomer and true senior and All-American Kristin Olsen, the Trojans have a hefty depth charge of experienced athletes. Juniors Ashli Sandoval, Megan Ohai and Kasey Johnson have each earned national and regional honors as Trojans, heaping further acclaim on USC's 2009 roster. All told, the Women of Troy have 15 players back from the 2008 squad, including seven starters.
Although three All-Americans have graduated from the USC roster (Janessa Currier, Ashley Nick and Amy Rodriguez), USC's returning All-Americans Holmes and Olsen represent a part of the powerful USC defensive corps, while offensively the Trojans bring back a big group of USC's widespread scoring attack, which racked up the third-most goals in program history with 51 goals scored in 2008.
Of the nine players who provided at least four goals apiece for USC last season, six return to the front lines. Sandoval was USC's top scorer with 21 points as a 2008 sophomore, including six goals. Sandoval, Alyssa Dávila (7), Ohai (5), Carly Butcher (5), Tomer (4) and Ashley Freyer (4) combined for 31 of USC's 2008 scoring load.
Joining the Trojan roster for the 2009 campaign are Courtney Garcia, Samantha Johnson, Kelly Morgan, Stephanie Morgan, Morgan Morrow, Kat Parker and Lainie Ransom.'The strength of this class is in its versatility,' Khosroshahin said. 'We have a number of players who can play multiple positions and who come from very competitive environments. It's rare to have a class with that much experience playing different positions. It's going to allow us to play a more flowing game, because the players can interchange roles without it disrupting what we're trying to do.'
For 2009, Khosroshahin fully expects to lock in and reload on the front lines with the help of goal-minded additions to the attack.
Opposing defenses can expect to see a flurry of force coming from the feet of seniors Marihelen Tomer and Jamie Petrossi, junior Alyssa Dávila, sophomore Ashley Freyer and freshmen Courtney Garcia, Samantha Johnson and Lainie Ransom.
' Our attacking group gives us plenty of depth, youth and experience, and we're eager to figure out what the rotation will be within the group,' Khosroshahin said. 'We've got so many options right now. Dávila has the ability to score bigtime and timely goals for us and is going to continue to do the same for us this year. Tomer has become a very good leader for us and gained a very good understanding of our offense and is able to pass that info along to her teammates.'
Returners Freyer and Petrossi also boast skills as strikers and are tabbed to factor into the USC scoring machine. Newcomers Garcia, Johnson and Ransom are certain to be called upon as quick impact players.
'Garcia is very active, and a dynamic left-footed player who's going to cause fits for opponents,' Khosroshahin said. 'And Sam is a finisher. She's hardworking, a tenacious defender, and she is going to score a lot of goals for us.'Keyed in to make the plays and cause even more trouble for opposing teams are a widely experienced set of central midfielders. Even with All-American Ashley Nick graduated and gone from that central role, the Trojans are locked down by a decorated set of returners in sophomore Brittany Kerridge and juniors Megan Ohai and Ashli Sandoval, as well as the big foot of sophomore Carly Butcher and a new face in freshman Kat Parker.
'We feel like we're solid in central midfield,' Khosroshahin said. 'We have depth, we have experience and we have youth in those positions for us.It's going to allow us to be more dynamic and give different looks to people. It's always nice when you have a roster that's versatile.'
USC's leader in points in 2008 and No. 5 all-time assists leader already, Sandoval is a proven distributor out of the midfield. Kerridge garnered Pac-10 All-Freshman honors last season for her skill in the center.
'Sandoval is a player with excellent vision. She's able to find players in dangerous positions consistently,' Khosroshahin said. 'Kerridge is a solid worker with good skills, who does a great job of keeping the team connected.'
On the more offensive end, Ohai and Butcher have proven formidable offensive forces with five goals apiece last season. Parker joins that crew as a true freshman, while Morgan Morrow will fit into the USC midfield next season after redshirting 2009 due to knee injury.
'Ohai has excellent vision. She puts our forwards and wingers in very dangerous positions. She also has the ability to take players one-on-one and create opportunities from nothing,' Khosroshahin said. 'Butcher is very skillful, very dangerous, and has the ability to score a lot of goals for us. And Parker is a solid, hardworking, intelligent player who will get minutes and contribute along the line for us.'
Behind that dynamic Trojan midfield lies a defensive unit that is taking shape as an organized and reliable foundation once again. Three years in the trenches in front of the net have crafted senior goalkeepers Kristin Olsen and Brittany Massro into true leaders backing up the USC defense. 'It's a very solid goalkeeping unit. We have a lot of experience and a lot of leadership. We feel very confident with our goalkeeping situation this year,' Khosroshahin said. 'I think we're going to see Olsen's best year this year. She's gained a very good understanding of what her role is as far as organizing the team, and we're looking forward to seeing her do that this year. I still think she's one of the best goalkeepers in the country. She needs to stay on her toes, though, because I think Brittany is chomping at her heels. She's probably one of the hardest working student-athletes in our program. She's very committed to doing things the right way, and has grown tremendously in the time she's been here. Brittany has the ability to lead us whenever called upon.'
The cleats in front of Olsen and Massro have changed somewhat, but thanks to the return of fifth-year center back Meagan Holmes and juniors Karter Haug and Kasey Johnson, the Trojan back line retains both knowledge and skill.
'They've got some big shoes to fill, but I think the players that we have can do the job,' Khosroshahin said, referring to the graduation of 2008 defenders Janessa Currier and Stacey Strong. 'The potential to be better than that last group is there. The cooperation between the backs is excellent.
'Holmes is the veteran of the crew, and having her on the field is like having another coach out there. She's an excellent leader and role model, and has stepped into that role nicely. Karter is another experienced player in the back, and she's probably our most tenacious defender. She looks ready to have another solid year for us.'
Johnson had her sophomore season interrupted by injuries, but off-season surgery and rehab has the decorated sophomore in line for a return to dominance as a junior. Sophomores Chelsea Buehning and Claire Schloemer stepped in for defensive roles last season and are chalked up for playing time once again on that all-important Trojan back line. Alex Sitta redshirted last season due to injury, bringing her into the 2009 fold as a redshirt freshman, while true freshmen Kelly Morgan and Stephanie Morgan have each proven themselves fully able to lock in as defensive anchors in their first season as Women of Troy.
'When Kasey is healthy she's one of the best center backs around,' Khosroshahin said. 'Claire is a young player but very talented and has the ability to start for us. Chelsea has grown into her own and also has the ability to compete for a spot at midfield as well as in the back.'
As is the trend in college soccer, the goal is to strike a delicate balance between youth and experience as well as find a way to meld structure and creativity. With USC's versatile roster, the keys to success are there. Half the team has already been to College Station, Texas, having come home with a shining NCAA Championship trophy. Two years later, the plan is to get the whole team back on board for another winning run through 2009 season, and on to Aggieland.
'We expect everybody to be fired up for us. We're still a big game for people, and hopefully we've learned how to deal with that,' Khosroshahin said. 'The returning players have done an excellent job so far of passing information on to the younger players and teaching each other. We're excited for the direction we're going in.'