The goal-scoring drought is over.
Mari Miyashiro, Jennifer Flynn and Natalie Norris all found the back of the net as Utah State’s soccer team — limited to a pair of goals in its previous six matches — earned a much-needed 3-0 victory over the University of Texas at San Antonio in the Aggies’ Western Athletic Conference home opener Friday at Bell Field.
“We came into this game really knowing that we had to have three points, we had to go in with a more attacking mentality than we’ve had, and I thought we did quite a good job of that,” USU head coach Heather Cairns said. “You know, we can’t settle for ties anymore, we’ve got to earn (three) points in order to qualify for the conference tournament.”
The Aggies (6-2-6, 1-0-2) headed into Friday’s match having played to a pair of scoreless draws a week ago. Fortunately for USU, its backline has picked up the slack lately, allowing the Aggies to post a record of 0-1-5 over those six aforementioned matches.
Once again, the Aggies played well defensively — this was their sixth shutout of the season — but they were also up to the task in the attack.
USU was a bit shaky in the early going against UTSA’s attack-minded side, but Miyashiro undoubtedly quelled a lot of Aggie nerves in the 33rd minute.
Brooke Larsen, who played very well Friday, received a deflected pass from Kylie Dibb and played a square ball to Miyashiro at the top of the 18-yard box. Miyashiro took one touch over to her right foot and unleashed a rocket of a shot past diving UTSA goalkeeper Katarina Pus.
“I was so excited,” Miyashiro said. “That was the first goal we had in a while. I mean, I think it kind of picked everyone up, but I bet it was a big relief (for the team).”
It was the only goal the Aggies would need, but the insurance goals were certainly important considering how wide open of a second half it was. Simply put, both teams were aggressive in a back-and-forth second half that featured a combined 23 shots — 14 for USU and nine for UTSA (1-8-2, 0-1-2).
Quite frankly, both teams had some really good looks inside the 18. Unfortunately for the Roadrunners, they didn’t defend as well as the Aggies did, and they struggled to put their shots on frame. Of UTSA’s 15 shots in the match, only three were on goal.
USU had a number of second-half shots inside of 12 yards that were blocked by UTSA defenders. Additionally, Lauren Roundy was a bit unlucky to have her one-time shot blocked by Pus. Roundy got in behind the Roadrunner backline on a nice through ball from Lexie Morgan.
“We worked all week in practice with attacking to the goal, and we got a lot of shots in the box, and that’s what we were working for,” Miyashiro said.
USU’s persistence in the attack finally paid off at the 77:44 mark. Jennifer Flynn timed her run perfectly in receiving a through ball from Roundy, dribbled around Pus and had an easy shot to the open net.
The assist was a fitting reward for Roundy, who played extremely hard all match long. The sophomore forward finished with four shots on frame, and they all were taken within 15 yards of the goal.
“Lauren Roundy, that could be her best game in an Aggies uniform,” Cairns said. “She was absolutely fantastic today. ... She was really an all-around attacker for us today.”
Center back Natalie Norris put the finishing touches on the victory courtesy of a right-footed penalty kick with one second remaining in the match. Libby Lundquist, who just returned from an injury, got behind the UTSA defense down the right flank and was tackled from behind well inside the 18.
“We talked before the game (and said), ‘Even if the game doesn’t go our way, we can always control how hard we work,’” Roundy said. “So we figured the game cannot (necessarily) go our way, we could have a bad touch, but we will always give 100 percent. And I thought out there we played with heart and we hustled, and we put away three goals.”
Aggie keeper Ashlyn Mulford only had to make three saves, but she did a superb job of commanding her box and assertively dealing with UTSA crosses and free kicks.
USU also did a relatively good job of defending one of the WAC’s most dynamic and skilled forwards in Santiago, Chile, native Maria Jose Rojas. Rojas, who is an outstanding target player, is one of seven international players on UTSA’s roster.
“That No. 7, she’s a really nice player,” Cairns said. “She gave us a lot of trouble.”
The Aggies were without the services of standout midfielder Kendra Pemberton, who is nursing a left ankle injury. The junior was wearing a walking boot and was not in uniform Friday.