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Coo Coo for CoCo: Goodson goes 12th to Philly in the WPS Draft

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Courtesy of Bill Barrett

After losing to Long Beach State, 1-0, for the second consecutive year in the Big West Championship game on Nov. 6, Coach Scott Juniper wasn’t thrilled. The women’s soccer coach encouraged his team that there was still an NCAA Tournament to look forward to the upcoming week  And he was right. The Anteaters received an at-large bid and hosted the University of San Diego on Nov. 11, where UC Irvine fell to the Toreros in a heartbreaking penalty kick overtime conclusion.

Prior to the NCAA Tournament exit, I caught up with Juniper immediately following the Long Beach State loss.

“Can you walk with me? I don’t want to run into any referees,” Juniper said as we exited Anteater Stadium following the physical battle.

We crossed a muddy practice field on our way back to Crawford Hall as Juniper expressed his thoughts on the contest. The Englishman spews passionately every time he refers to one of his players or anything related to the game of soccer, and in this instance, he was noticeably bothered by falling at the feet of the ’49ers.

One of the players that Juniper has raved about for the past two seasons is senior defender CoCo Goodson, who was drafted 12th overall in the Women’s Professional Soccer Draft on Friday, Jan. 13, by the Philadelphia Independence.

Despite the Long Beach State loss, Goodson had dominated the ’49ers in the defensive backfield – as usual.

“I just have to ask,” I said to Juniper, “Has CoCo Goodson ever given up a goal in a one-on-one situation, because I’ve never seen it happen.”

“I don’t think so,” Juniper said, breaking away from contemplating missed foul calls and a lost Big West title to laugh at his player’s dominance. “She’s one of the best female defenders I’ve ever seen.”

Goodson scored three goals as a senior and added five assists in 2011. In 2010, she played her first season as an Anteater after transferring from the University of Texas, scoring nine goals and vaulting Irvine into the Sweet 16 for the first time in team history.

A stat sheet can’t represent the value Goodson provides to the team. During her two seasons in Irvine, the Anteaters made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first two times in school history. Her physical prowess kept the ball in Irvine’s possession, spiking UCI’s scoring production from 37 without Goodson in 2009 to 49 goals in her junior season. Keep in mind, Goodson shifted from a Longhorn midfielder to an Anteater defender, and she did it with ease and class.

The sociology major and education minor was honored as a nominee for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. After her playing days are over, she aspires to become an elementary school teacher. When she wasn’t running fitness tests on Monday mornings with her teammates, Goodson was studying, participating in American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) clinics, attending the “School for Hope” children’s charity clinic and volunteering with church outreach events, food and clothing drives.

When sophomore Natalia Ledezma joined the Anteaters this season after transferring from UCLA, Goodson was one of the first players to welcome a fellow transfer athlete and provided her with insight into joining her new family.

On the field, she had one of the biggest boots in the college game, which will likely continue to be the case in WPS. Her successful penalty kick practically shook the goalpost in Irvine’s overtime loss to USD in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

In the rare case where an opposing forward managed to sneak past the two-time Big West Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-American without being called offside, Goodson wouldn’t grab a jersey or a ponytail, she’d gracefully glide in from behind. One second a forward has a one-on-one with an Anteater goalie; the next second, Goodson has the ball and is already delivering it to midfield.

With the fifth pick in the second round, the Philadelphia Independence selected Goodson last Friday. The team was 11-4-3 in 2011 and was eliminated after a 5-4 loss in penalty kicks to the Western New York Flash in the WPS Championship on Aug. 27.

“[I made] such a great decision to transfer to UCI. This was an amazing journey,” Goodson told me Friday night. “I learned so much and grew as a player. My coaches have been there for me every step of the way. Philadelphia is an amazing place and I can’t wait to be a part of that family.”

Goodson is the highest player selected to the WPS in the program’s history and is just the second ever to be drafted.

“So proud of CoCo. Nice work Philly!” Juniper tweeted immediately after receiving news.

Last year, Tanya Taylor was drafted 24th overall by the Boston Breakers as the final selection in the draft. Taylor instead played in the Women’s Premier Soccer League in 2011, scoring the game-winning-goal in overtime for the Orange County Waves (13-1) in the National Championship on July 31.

In two seasons, Juniper’s program has transformed from a middling Big West team to a national powerhouse. The Anteaters will certainly miss the 5-foot-11-inch defensive machine on the pitch in 2012, but if UCI ever needed one player to carry the torch in the professional ranks as a testament to Juniper’s dynasty in the making, it’s Goodson.

She’ll be playing her home games in Chester, Pa. for the Independence, a team named after a document that initiated the Revolutionary War. Goodson’s draft selection won’t stir up trouble with the English; after all, she’s on good terms with Colchester, England’s own Scott Juniper. No, Goodson’s selection won’t be a Declaration of Independence, but it will be a Declaration of Irvine’s-Presence … in the professional soccer arena.