Tomorrow, the Dons will begin conference play against the Loyola Marymount Lions in Los Angeles, Calif. All the excitement and disappointment from the earlier parts of the season will dissipate, and the team will direct its entire focus towards its West Coast Conference foes. As the Dons slide into conference play on a three-game losing streak, they will have to quickly overcome their recent rough patch to become conference contenders.
USF raced out to a somewhat unexpected 4-2-1 start to the year, but has gone winless in its last four contests, and now sits at 4-5-2. The team’s problem with scoring goals that plagued them last year has reared its ugly head, and San Francisco has found the net just twice in its last four games. If there is a reason for optimism, it is that the Dons have played eight of their first 11 games on the road, where they have gone 3-5-0. It is possible that they will hit their stride when presented with a string of games that take place within the comforting confines of Negoesco Stadium, where the Dons have yet to lose a match this season.
Unfortunately, USF will have to wait a while longer to settle in at home, with its first two games in WCC play coming on the road. As the Dons look to rediscover their early-season swagger during their Southern California visits to LMU and Pepperdine, they will need a boost from seasoned veterans such as seniors Mackenzie Krieser and Jaciara Mello.
Elsewhere in the WCC, the No. 11 Pepperdine Waves have jumped out to 9-1-1 start. Interestingly, the Waves were projected to finish fourth in the WCC Preseason Poll, and did not receive a single first-place vote. Although Pepperdine has gained some separation from the pack, the rest of the WCC appears to be wide open. Loyola Marymount was penciled in at second to last place in the preseason poll, but they currently possess a solid 7-2-1 record. Portland was projected to finish second in the conference, but the Pilots have stumbled to a 3-5-2 record thus far.
Of course, a team that falters in preseason play could easily develop a rhythm in conference play and turn its season around. Still, with every WCC team except Pacific (2-7-1) appearing to be in the mix, it would be a perfect year for the Dons to sneak up on their opponents.
Out of their nine games in conference competition, five of the Dons’ games come at home. Road games at Pepperdine and BYU will be true tests of the team’s resilience and maturity, but aside from those contests, every other game is highly winnable. USF closes out the season with a three-game homestand, which will be an ideal time for them to make a late push.