USC qualified for the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in its history tonight, beating SEC Champion Florida 1-0 and earning the right to play West Virginia Friday, Saturday or Sunday. It’s unclear yet whether the game will be played here or back East; USC and UCLA have a pointy ball game Saturday at the Coliseum.
McAlister Field, the usual home field for USC, has a capacity of just 1,000 and is considered inadequate for tournament play; the Trojans drew a crowd of 1,469 tonight.
Florida’s 14-game undefeated streak – and its season – ended on a Kasey Johnson header from seven yards out in the 47th minute. The freshman from Sierra Madre got on the end of a Ashley Nick free kick to score her first-ever collegiete goal.
“It was really shocking,” Johnson said.”I didn’t think it was going to happen.”
USC dominated Florida, which had lost its second-leading scorer KeLeigh Hudson to a season-ending knee injury last weekend, out-shooting their tiring opponents 9-2 in the second half.
USC could have made it two, but top scorer Amy Rodriguez put the ball wide of the next from seven yards with only the goalkeeper to beat with just six minutes left in the game.
Updated: USC Coach Ali Khosroshahin, who joined a program in turmoil at the start of the season when his predecessor, Torrance resident Jim Millender, was fired, was shocked at how far his team had come.
“If you would have told me at the beginning of the season we’d be in this position, I’d have asked you what drugs you were on,” he said. “We weren’t a very cohesive unit at the start of the season.”
“They’re believing in us, they’re believing in the plan,” he added when asked what had changed for his players. “We’re really starting to enjoy being around one another, which at the start of the year that wasn’t the case at all.”
Khosroshahin still sees plenty of room for improvement, though, even though the team had spent plenty of time slogging up and down the Coliseum steps.
“Our finishing could have been better and it wouldn’t have been as nail biting as it was,” he said. “Our fitness level still isn’t very good, but it’s better than it was.”
Florida Coach Becky Burleigh said her team was disjointed this evening and observed the difference was a well-worked free kick.
“It was a good goal that they scored on a set piece,” she said. “We were a little bit out of rhythm in terms of connecting passes in the final third.”
Here’s how Scott French saw the game for The Gainsville Sun.
Here’s the complete tournament bracket.