Golden opportunities: USC and UCLA come to Pullman to take on the Cougars


Junior forward Kaitlyn Johnson fights to steal the ball from an Idaho player during a game against the Vandals at the Lower Soccer Field, Aug. 24, 2015.

Athleticism is expected to control the pitch today and Sunday as the No. 20 Washington State women’s soccer team hosts USC and UCLA.

Head Coach Todd Shulenberger, while new to the Pac-12 conference, is well aware of the threat both teams pose. It doesn’t help that the coach occupying the opponents’ touch-line, Keidane McAlpine, knows a thing or two about a few of his players, having coached at WSU from 2012-13.

“Two of the most athletic teams and USC by far will be to date the best team we’ve played,” Shulenberger said Tuesday during his press conference. “Number one, Keidane and that staff have done a great job, they’re well coached. Athletes for days – they have a ton of athletes. But they’ve also played an unbelievable schedule.”

The Cougars (8-1-0, 1-0-0 Pac-12) have not played the level of opponents which the Trojans (6-3-1, 1-0-0) have so far this season. USC lost 1-0 to Florida State and 2-1 to North Carolina, both on the road. Hosting the Trojans should play to the Cougars’ advantage, with USC having won only two games outside the state of California this season.

USC and UCLA both defeated WSU 1-0 in Pullman last season, and a few lessons are expected to carry over.

“I think we can take something out of every season,” sophomore midfielder Chelsea Harkins said. “Obviously they are very athletic. For us I think we’re also very athletic through the midfield. So I think just making sure we’re quick with our possession and knowing where they are.”

The challenge doesn’t get any easier for WSU Sunday with the Bruins (5-4-0, 1-0-0) arriving at the Lower Soccer Field. Shulenberger noted their 2013 National Championship, a season in which UCLA finished 22-1-3, when discussing the threat they pose.

“They’re really athletic too,” sophomore defender Jordan Branch said. “I think they pass [better] and are a lot classier, like a national championship-winning team.”

Shulenberger added, “I’m not fooled. They will be what UCLA is no question about it. They’ve had some injuries and I think [Taylor] Smith had to sit out a game because of a red card. So they will be up here full-gear – it’s another challenge [and] we know that.”

WSU and USC kick off Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Lower Soccer Field. Live stats will be provided on Sunday, UCLA and WSU kick off at 11:05 a.m. on the Pac-12 networks.