View from the Press Box: UCLA vs. UNC Women's Soccer
The table was set for what was a premier women’s soccer match up of two perennial programs on Friday, August 29, 2014. The most dominant women’s soccer program in history, North Carolina Tar Heels, were stepping into Westwood for the very first time to face the defending national champions, UCLA Bruins. I had received several text and email messages all week from family, friends and colleagues reminding me to have fun; after all, it was UNC vs. UCLA women’s soccer.
The Bruins and Tar Heels met twice last season and played over 191 minutes, but only two goals were scored – that’s a commitment to defense. UCLA was returning 10 starters, while the Tar Heels were down eight starters.
Soccer fans arrived early. By kickoff, the pitch was flanked by Bruin and Tar Heel fans alike. Young girls and boys, local club teams and their parents and student-athlete family members cheered mightily to give Drake Stadium a great feel. Soccer fans knew this was a Friday night treat, and so did I. As I sat in the press box high atop Marshall Field, I smiled because I knew what this match meant to women’s soccer.
UCLA got out to a great start, breaking through the initial pressure of UNC’s well known 3-4-3 high pressing formation. Creative and soft first touches by the Bruins forced UNC head coach, Anson Dorrance, to change his formation just 15 minutes into the first half. UCLA managed to get off six shots, but five were saved by UNC’s keeper, Bryane Heaberlin. Meanwhile, UCLA’s commitment to defense did not allow the Tar Heels to take a shot.
Making adjustments at the half, the Tar Heels came out with good energy in the second, but UCLA’s veteran squad worked the ball both over the top and through their midfield hub. Still, it was UNC’s defense that came through, as they clogged passing lanes and stepped up their play physically.
At the end of regulation neither team had put one in the back of the net, so a ten-minute overtime period was in order. My play-by-play partner, Jim Watson, and I smiled in delight because we would be extending our call of these two great teams for perhaps another ten minutes. Fans were delighted, and the excitement and energy was still alive in Westwood.
A quick ten minutes later, we were headed to the second and final ten-minute overtime period. It was all on the line. Unlike the postseason, teams can play to a draw.
And that is exactly the way the game ended - a draw from two of the best teams in the nation, two teams that won the last two national championship titles.
Two teams that I believe, might very well meet again this December.