In 2012, Utah State’s soccer team has not only played expertly on the defensive side of the ball, but has outpossessed most of its opponents.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, a lot of possession hasn’t necessarily translated into a lot of goals.
That all changed in USU’s first Western Athletic Conference homestand, and that’s bad news for the rest of the league.
Two days after blanking UTSA 3-0, USU kept the offensive momentum rolling in a 4-0 trouncing of first-year WAC member Texas State — the 2011 Southland Conference champions — Sunday afternoon at Bell Field.
“It was great because that’s what we’ve been striving for all season,” Aggie midfielder Lexie Morgan said. “We’ve been trying to put all of the pieces together, and we’ve been playing really great and we’ve had a lot of possession, but this weekend we put everything together and got goals with that possession.”
In addition to scoring seven goals this past weekend, the Aggies notched their third and fourth straight shutouts. Additionally, USU (7-2-6, 2-0-2) leapfrogged Texas State into first place in the WAC standings.
Simply put, the Aggies, who have earned clean sheets against six of their last nine opponents, played well in every facet of the game Sunday.
“We’re very excited that we scored multiple goals, but also really proud of the fact that we are still earning shutouts as well,” USU head coach Heather Cairns said. “So we feel like both pieces of the puzzle are really coming together.”
What made Cairns even more happy was the number of players who contributed in the attack Sunday. An impressive eight different Aggies were either credited with a goal or an assist against the Bobcats (5-9-1, 2-2-0), and three of those players came off the bench.
Starting forward Lauren Roundy scored her first career goal and starting midfielder Maris Hamblin tallied her first career assist, as did seldom-used reserves Ambryn McCallson and Sara Lorscheider.
“We were just really excited that so many stepped up because, one, our attack was diverse and we had a lot of people contribute to it and, (two), we had a lot of first-timers contribute to it and step up in that way,” said Cairns, who played 20 different Aggies on Sunday.
USU played its best offensive half of soccer this season in the opening half. The Aggies won nearly every first and second ball, were aggressive and attacked with excellent spacing, and the end result was a trio of goals.
“We definitely knew going into (the match) we needed to win 50-50 balls, and that was huge for us going into the attack, because by us getting the 50-50 balls we were able to possess in the attacking third and able to go forward,” said USU left back Jessica Hoskin, who distributed the ball like an All-WAC performer Sunday.
It took the Aggies less than nine minutes to dent the scoreboard. Jennifer Flynn used her speed to dribble the ball down the right flank all the way to the end line, where she delivered a dangerous cross right into the heart of the 6-yard box. Texas State goalkeeper Natalie Gardini appeared to bobble the ball, and Morgan was there to bury a shot into the open net.
Ten minutes later, USU made it 2-0, and from nearly the same location. Hamblin received a great through ball from Mari Miyashiro and dribbled aggressively at the Bobcat defense. Gardini came off her line to block Hamblin’s shot, but Roundy was there to bury the rebound from point-blank range.
The Aggies went up 3-0 at the 30:50 mark on Miyashiro’s second assist of the match. Miyashiro found Flynn with a sublime over-the-top ball, and Flynn calmly slotted her shot past Gardini in a one-v-one situation.
It was Flynn’s team-leading fifth goal of the year.
USU had several other excellent scoring opportunities in the 18-yard-box, but didn’t strike again until the 79th minute. However, the wait was well worth it for the Aggies because it was a world class goal.
Shortly after entering the match, Lorscheider received a pass, made a beautiful turn and found a streaking McCallson with a perfectly weighted corner ball to the right side of the pitch. McCallson took one or two dribbles to the end line and crossed the ball to Jade Tarver, who headed it past a diving Gardini and just inside the near post.
That goal summed up the match for the Aggies, who spread the field really well throughout the whole game and continually gave the Bobcats fits down the right flank.
“In terms of the spacing, we knew that Texas State was a very compact defensive team and that we were going to have to do that to create scoring opportunities, we were going to have to use our width,” Cairns said. “... And I thought we did a good job of that.”
Ashlyn Mulford and Jeannie Woller combined to earn the shutout in goal for USU. Mulford played the first 54 minutes and had to make a pair of difficult saves. On the first one, she punched a long-range shot by freshman standout Lynsey Curry off the crossbar; one the second one, the senior made a fantastic diving save to her left on a Taylor Person free kick just outside the box.
The Bobcats were awarded the free kick because Mulford handled the ball inches outside the 18. Fortunately for USU, No. 01 redeemed herself and it was big because Person’s shot would have sliced the Aggies’ 2-0 lead in half.