San Diego State defender Haley Palmer was selected to Soccer America’s Preseason All-America team.
Unfortunately for Utah State, it found out why she is one of the best players in school history.
The senior left back scored both goals — one in each half — as SDSU’s soccer team clinched its second straight Mountain West Conference title with a 2-0 victory over USU Sunday afternoon at Bell Field.
Palmer dribbled into the left corner of 18-yard box and ripped an unsavable near-post shot with her right foot in the 18th minute, and then deposited a 19-yard free kick with her left foot just inside the right post in the 54th.
“Obviously, that first goal was in the run of play and that’s a little disconcerting, because she did dribble through a couple of our players,” USU head coach Heather Cairns said. “... We defended one-v-one (on that sequence) and if we do that on a player who’s that special off the dribble, we’re in a little bit of trouble.”
Simply put, the Aztecs (10-6-2, 8-1-0), who advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament last season, put the Aggies (9-6-3, 5-3-1) under a lot of pressure Sunday. USU dealt with the pressure well for most of the match, but still yielded 21 shots, including 14 on goal.
And while the Aggies got outshot by a big 21-6 margin, they certainly had their chances to dent the scoreboard. For starters, the hosts missed a first-half penalty kick, and Danielle Gaztambide couldn’t convert on a second-half breakaway.
“San Diego State was the better team today, but I like our chances against them again when we get them in the tournament, if that happens,” Cairns said. “Like you said, the shot count was definitely lopsided, but we did create some good opportunities.”
USU had a golden opportunity to equalize at the 21:09 mark when Mari Miyashiro was taken down in the box while settling a Brooke Larsen-Leavitt corner kick. However, Taryn Rose’s right-footed PK clipped the left post.
In the opening five minutes of the match, Miyashiro got on the end of crosses by Jessica Brooksby and Lexie Henrie, but couldn’t frame either shot — both from within 10 yards of the SDSU goal.
Within the first two minutes of the second half, Brooksby forced SDSU goalkeeper Melanie Vaughn to make a nice diving save to her left. However, that was the only shot the Aggies were able to put on goal in the game.
“I feel like any given day the tables can turn,” said USU keeper Natalie Stoven, who conceded her first two goals in five starts. “If we would have got (a goal) in the first half, even the first part of the second half, I think it would have been a completely different game. They’re a very good team (and) we learned stuff we have to improve on, but if we were to meet them again I think it would be a good game.”
In all fairness, the Aztecs, who posted their 10th shutout of the season and have now won 16 of their last 17 MW road matches, nearly found the back of the net a couple more times. Victoria Barba pinged a 25-yard free kick off the crossbar and Stoven had to make a few pretty difficult diving saves. Stoven made a mistake on one second-half sequence, but redeemed herself by making a spectacular diving stop to her left on a shot by SDSU star forward Hannah Keane.
The Aggies got another stellar performance from defensive midfielder Shay Haddow, who was dominant in the air and completed pass after pass.
“She has, she’s been playing fantastic,” Cairns said of Haddow. “She’s great on both sides of the ball, she’s worked hard on some of her weaknesses and also worked really hard to bring out her strengths. ... And I think she’s playing the best soccer that she’s played here at Utah State (right now).”
USU was forced to play short-handed Sunday as starting forwards Jennifer Flynn and Lauren Roundy missed the match due to injuries. As a result, Brooksby, a former Sky View star, made her first career start.
“I think you saw that we were disjointed,” said Cairns, whose team played for the third time in six days. “The number of players we have off the field right now is changing the way we sub and has changed some things, but at the same time we had some really good players step up into roles.”