2008 Pac-10 Women's Soccer Preview: USC

Aug. 20, 2008

Courtesy: Darcy Couch, USC Media Relations

Go right ahead, draw that target on their backs.

But you may want to invest in some permanent markers, because the USC women's soccer team plans on wearing it for a while.

Fresh off a historic season in which the Women of Troy became the first Pac-10 team to win an NCAA women's soccer championship, USC knows that underdog status is a thing of the past. Only one starter is gone from the 2007 roster. NSCAA All-Americans Ashley Nick and Kristin Olsen are back for more. Newly crowned 2008 U.S. Olympian Amy Rodriguez headlines a premier senior class. And two previously injured members of that blue-chip 2005 freshman class - Meagan Holmes and Nini Loucks - are healed and ready for action.

Familiar faces and feet pepper the 2008 Trojan roster, so sneaking up on opponents may not be in the cards. But considering the foundation built in just one season under head coach Ali Khosroshahin, the Women of Troy are focused and prepared for opponents to take aim at them in 2008.

After all, have you ever tried to hit a moving target?

Nine new faces have been added to the USC roster already loaded with talent, giving the Trojans an injection of mobility and flexibility to a lineup that overpowered all comers in 2007.

'We lost one starter, but that doesn't mean we'll have the same look as we did last year,' 2007 National Coach of the Year Khosroshahin said. 'It's a new year with new possibilities. We've increased our depth this year. We feel that our returners have a much better understanding of how we go about doing our business, which is going to make things a lot more helpful and a lot easier for all the newcomers to adapt. We know people will be fired up to play us, but we're ready for the challenge.'

Corralling the USC attack was no easy feat last season. Shaking up the stubborn midfield was near impossible. Even harder was cracking the Trojan back line - owners of 15 shutouts with Olsen holding court in the net. And that was just the first year in a new system set by then-first-year coach Khosroshahin.

'I think defensively we're going to be very solid like we were last year, and I think we're going to be more dangerous offensively than last year. It's about experience and understanding the way we want them to play,' Khosroshahin said. 'We just need to be smarter. Our level of intelligence last year was not very high. Our goal this year is to be just as organized, just as hard, but more intelligent.'

'We're looking to improve every game. The only thing we have control over is what we do.'

What they did last season was historic. A 20-3-2 overall record was the best in program history and notched USC its first-ever NCAA women's soccer championship. To get there, the Trojans placed second in the Pac-10 behind defending champ UCLA, and later turned the tables on the Bruins with a 2-1 win in the NCAA semifinals to set that historic date with Florida State in the championship game. There, the Trojans tallied their 15th shutout of the year - another program record - and fifth of the NCAA tournament, notching a 2-0 win over the Seminoles to claim the crown in College Station, Texas.

Rodriguez was named the College Cup Offensive MVP. Olsen snagged Defensive MVP honors. And Janessa Currier, Kasey Johnson and Marihelen Tomer were named to the All-Tournament Team. Olsen and Ashley Nick also became just the fifth and sixth Women of Troy to earn NSCAA All-American honors.

All of them return for 2008.

Let's start in the back. After all, it's the save-savvy goalkeeping unit that provides USC's last line of defense in a very defensively adept squad. Some teams opt to carry three keepers on the roster, but for the Trojans the tagteam crew is a pair of juniors, Brittany Massro and Kristin Olsen. Healed up from an injury that forced her to redshirt her freshman year (she entered USC as a member of this year's senior class), Massro serves as a determined and talented option in goal. Olsen, who was a finalist for the Honda Award last season and set a new career high with eight saves in USC's semifinal win over UCLA, also returns to the field with extra experience garnered during competition with the U.S. Under-20 National Team.

'Olsen has the potential to be one of the best goalkeepers, if not in the country, but internationally as well. Her strengths are her athleticism and her hands. The area she's improved on the most is her organization and her leadership,' Khosroshahin said. 'Brittany has done a lot of work to improve herself. Right now they're competing for that starting position.

Not only is the USC defense - arguably the most reliable element of the Trojan gameplan - intact from last season, it is even deeper than before. Anchored by senior Janessa Currier in the center, the Trojan back line returns senior Stacey Strong and sophomores Karter Haug and Kasey Johnson.And 2005 SoccerTimes All-American Meagan Holmes, who redshirted last year after tearing her ACL early in the year.And seniors Kelley Finch and Amy Massey.Oh, and there are five newcomers penned in to see time on the defensive front.

'I think defensively we are deeper than we've ever been back there with the additions of five new players and Holmes competing for a position in the back,' Khosroshahin said, citing Taylor Hilgert, Kendall Stevens, Brittany Davis-Roberti, Alex Sitta and Claire Schloemer as the new faces added to the defense.

'Obviously Currier is the leader of the back four, and we're hopeful that she'll have the same type of year she had for us last year,' Khosroshahin said. 'Strong is another senior for us who we expect to make an impact back there. Johnson's recovering from injury and we hope to get her back; Massey is an all-around defender who can see time middle or outside; and Karter will do exactly what she did last year. She's solid and hardworking.

'Finch will be doing multiple roles for us again. Her experience in the back and in the midfield makes her a key player in the things we do. Her intelligence and leadership are going to be greatly needed.'

One of two Trojans who suffered season-ending knee injuries in 2007, Holmes' resurgence to the back line is highly anticipated. A decorated defender in her first two years at Troy, Holmes has been battling hard to get back to action for the Women of Troy.

'We're super excited to be getting Meagan Holmes back,' Khosroshahin said. 'We're hopeful that she'll find her fitness in the first segment of the season. She's one of the best attacking backs in the country.'

Truth be told, USC's midfield is stacked. Under the guidance of senior captain and All-American Ashley Nick, the Trojans have an experienced core comprising, well, the core of the USC gameplan. Nationally recognized for her outstanding freshman year, USC's 2007 assists leader Ashli Sandoval steps back in for her second season in the midfield. Sophomore Alyssa Dávila and junior Jamie Petrossi add an extra dose of experience from a strong 2007 season, and Shannon Lacy and Kate Gong also return.

'Our midfield is extremely dynamic and they will be showing us a lot of new things this season,' Khosroshahin said. 'Ashley Nick is our captain and leader, and an all-around great human being. I still don't think we've seen Nick's best yet, and we're hoping it comes out this year. Sandoval is one of the hardest working, most fit players who is also intelligent with great vision. She's another player we think we haven't seen the best from yet.

'Jamie seems to be on the way back from her injuries and we're hopeful for her to have an impact as well. Dávila has really improved her game. She worked very hard in the offseason to get herself stronger. Expect her to score more goals for us than last year.

All-Americans who only get better? More goals? All told, it's scary prospect if you're scouting the Trojan midfield. But wait, there's more.

'We have great experience and great youth and talent that's going to allow us to improve our possession game,' said Khosroshahin, introducing the world to new freshman midfielders Brittany Kerridge, Carly Butcher and Chelsea Buehning. 'Kerridge, with all her national team experience this last year could be a possible starter as a freshmen. Carly Butcher, once she adjusts to the level of competition at training every day, we expect her to have an impact. Both are very technical players. Chelsea, with her pace and natural left foot, we're hopeful she'll also be able to contribute as a freshman.'

Remember those extra goals Khosroshahin is expecting from the midfield? Just imagine what the outlook is from the front lines. Once she kicks her jet lag to the curb, Olympian Amy Rodriguez is a certain trouble-maker for the Trojan offense as a senior sparkplug and proven goal scorer. Joining Rodriguez on the game-winning goal charts at Troy is redshirt junior Marihelen Tomer, and fast on her heels is sophomore striker Megan Ohai. Those are just the players you saw last year. In the mix for '08 is a healthy senior Nini Loucks and a fresh face in freshman Ashley Freyer. Defenses, beware.

'We are extremely excited about our strikers,' Khosroshahin said. 'Obviously, with Amy and all the national team experience that she's gained, we're expecting her to have an even better year than last year. We're also very happy to be getting Nini back from injury. She's a very versatile payer who can do a lot of things, but we're expecting her to score goals for us this year. Tomer seems to finally be 100 percent healthy, and we are eager to see her in real competition. She had a solid second half of the year last year and we are hopeful for her to have a complete year this year.

'Megan is much fitter than she was last year and her understanding of our play in the final third has improved tremendously. Expect her to have more goals as well as assists this year.

'And, oh, by the way, Ashley Freyer is going to cause havoc for the opposition this year.'

Opposition will come fast. USC opens 2008 with three road games, though the returning Trojans are now well versed in paying visits to opposing fields. In 2007, playing on the road was hardly cause for concern, as USC spurred on from the regular season to win five NCAA games nowhere even close to the Pacific Time Zone. Meanwhile, all eight games at McAlister Field and a single NCAA match at the Los Angeles Coliseum also saw the Trojans undefeated at home, giving USC an 11-match unbeaten streak as it enters this 2008 campaign.

This year, the Women of Troy play host to 11 home games. Nine will be at McAlister Field - including the home opener on September 5 against Santa Clara - and two will be showdowns at the Los Angeles Coliseum. On October 24, the Trojans host crosstown rival UCLA for a night game on a historic stage.

'It's the Coliseum - the home of two Olympic Games, the Dodgers, Rams, Raiders and the home of our football program. It's a chance to be a part of the history.'

USC esteemed senior class will also have the chance to play out its final home game at the Coliseum, as the Trojans host Stanford on November 2 before rounding out the regular season on the road.

I've never had this many home games, and the UCLA game will be our first night game during the regular season in years. We're extremely excited about that.'

Regardless of venue, the Trojans know they're considered the team to beat in 2008.So while opponents spend time taking aim at the Women of Troy, and the bar has been raised to defending-NCAA-champ level, Khosroshahin and his troops are keyed in on making a calm and focused approach to the 2008 season to come.

'We have to be as smart as we can be this year,' Khosroshahin said. 'We need to keep the focus on ourselves and how much we improve every day. We need to help everyone be the best they can be.

'Our focus on how we play, how we're going about our business. The wins and losses will take care of themselves.'

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