They didn’t secure the full three points, but the Aggies proved they can compete with the best soccer teams in the Mountain West Conference.
Utah State overcame a shaky opening half and was the more dangerous side over the final 65 minutes in a 0-0 draw with New Mexico on Friday afternoon on a picture perfect Friday at Bell Field.
“The first 45 (minutes), let’s face it, that wasn’t our best 45 of soccer, and to be able to turn that around at halftime, get some confidence and starting putting them under pressure (was big),” USU head coach Heather Cairns said. “It was just a hard-fought match where neither team broke and neither team could break the other one.”
Indeed, the Aggies (9-5-3, 5-2-1) had to absorb a lot of pressure for most of the first half. The Lobos (8-8-2, 6-1-1), who entered the match as the co-Mountain West leaders, whipped a wealth of dangerous crosses and corner kicks into the heart of the 18-yard box over the first 35 minutes in particular.
Simply put, USU had a difficult time keeping the ball and got dispossessed way too easily in the opening half. Nevertheless, the well-organized Aggies — who only had two first-half shots — dealt with the Lobos’ crosses very well.
“There was a lot of pressure, I’m not going to lie,” USU star center back Taryn Rose said. “There was a lot of pressure, but with the communication in the back, I think we sorted it out. It’s all about trust back there and I think we came together as a team and figured it out.”
The Aggies, who notched their fourth straight shutout and ninth of the season, turned things around in the second half. Case in point: USU outshot New Mexico 10-4 over the final 65 minutes and, after losing the corner kick battle 4-0 in the first half, earned six of the final seven corners of the match. The Aggies put two shots on frame in the opening five minutes of the half.
USU established its midfield right from the get-go in the second half, and Shay Haddow was the catalyst.
“Shay Haddow played fantastic today,” Cairns said. “Just some of the poke tackles that kept possession for us and just that calmness on the ball (was big for us).”
Haddow was the only player in the match who put a shot off the woodwork. The senior pinged a 25-yard shot that skimmed the top of the crossbar with about 10 minutes remaining in regulation.
“I remember at halftime I just told everybody that we just need to fight, and that’s what we did,” said Haddow, who added the Aggies found feet much better after halftime. “In the second half, we just fought, every single person fought ... and it was just a good, hard-fought match.”
USU goalkeeper Natalie Stoven wasn’t tested much in the second half, but came up absolutely huge in the 51st minute. Stoven made an athletic, diving, world-class save to her left on a rocket of a 12-yard shot by Lindsey Guice.
Stoven has not been scored on in all four of her starts this season.
Rose also came up big for the Aggies time and time again, especially in the air, even after having to exit the match with a bad nose bleed. The junior got blood all over her jersey and couldn’t re-enter the game until changing jerseys.
“That’s the first bloody nose Taryn’s gotten this season, so usually we’re in for a couple, but of course Taryn’s as tough as nails,” Cairns said with a laugh. “She never stopped fighting that entire time.”
Ambryn McCallson and Jessica Brooksby nearly netted second-half goals for the Aggies. McCallson took a shot from distance that New Mexico keeper Cassie Ulrich had to save, while Brooksby sent in a very dangerous free kick that Ulrich alertly corralled in traffic with 13 seconds remaining in regulation.
Brooksby and fellow Cache Valley native Jessica Hoskin-Killpack, who played the full 110 minutes, both infused a lot of energy in the attack for the Aggies from the second half on.
USU was without the services of starting forward Lauren Roundy, who is nursing a right leg injury.