Despite outshooting its opponents 17-12 and attempting 10 corner kicks, the Utah State women’s soccer team was unable to find the back of the net and lost another low-scoring contest.
Air Force took the match, 1-0. The loss is USU’s sixth in a row and extends its winless streak to eight games.
The lone goal came very early on in the match, nine minutes in, off Air Force’s first of four corner kicks. The ball fell to the feet of Emiley Benner, and luckily for the Falcons, no USU player was able to get to it before Benner slotted it past the keeper’s far post to put her team up 1-0. Aggie head coach Heather Cairns was not pleased to see the team concede that early on in the match.
“We wanted to score the first goal, we wanted to keep a clean sheet through the first half and give ourselves a chance to have the first goal scored be the game winner,” she said. “And that was too soft of a goal.”
The Falcons capitalized on one of the few instances that USU’s defense was not organized, an Aggie team that lets in just 1.06 goals per game and is backed by freshman keeper Diera Walton who’s 71 saves are third-most in conference.
“We set up defending improperly compared to what we had drawn out on the board and then nobody battled for the ball,” Cairns said. “I mean she didn’t even head it, that came down to her feet. That penalized us, and then you end up chasing the game.”
Although the Aggies had to press harder for the final 80 minutes, in some ways, it almost worked to their advantage. The team wasn’t without some good chances and were able to get 7 of 17 shots on goal, three of which really threatened the Falcons’ keeper. In the 27th minute, senior defender Meali Enos found herself with a couple yards of space at the top of the box and took a powerful shot that deflected off the crossbar and out of danger. Of all of USU’s chances in the opening half, this was the one that had the most potential to go in, and Enos showed great technique in her shot, but it was lacking something that the Aggies have been lacking for most of the season.
“We just need the ball to bounce our way — I guess we need to create more chances for it to bounce our way,” Cairns said. “Absolutely there’s a mental piece to it … it’s confidence, momentum, mental edge all of those things, whatever you want to call it, we’re struggling with it in the attacking third.”
One change the Aggies made in an attempt to get more chances near goal was switching their outside back and outside midfielder, pushing Imelda Williams upfield. The junior usually plays at her natural left back position, but with her ability to get shots off and play well in the air, Cairns pushed her almost into a striker role for the final 30-35 minutes of the match. Williams had two of USU’s best chances at goal after making the switch and almost scored in the 58th minute if it weren’t for a great block by an Air Force defender.
Williams and senior forward Alecia Robinson both led the team with three shots a piece, but Williams led with two on goal. Even with the extra effort thrown forward in the final period, Williams felt like there was still more to give.
“We came out in the second half, and honestly, we outplayed them,” Williams said. “We had more shots, more opportunities, we just have a little lack of execution. I think it’s just a little more push. We had so many opportunities, I think we just need to stay after and practice and play against each other. Instead of just practicing our repetition on corner kicks, we need to have girls play defense against our girls who are trying to score like realistic in a game, because nothing is going to come easy.”
Utah State is somewhat of a mystery. The Aggies allow the fourth-fewest goals in conference and take the fourth-most shots, and yet, has one of the lowest shots-to-goals ratio in the Mountain West. Friday, the Aggies went up against one of the most clinical teams in conference. Air Force has attempted 239 shots this year and have made 32 goals from those attempts, capitalizing on 13.5 percent of its shots, nearly twice as often as USU.
Now 6-10-1, USU will wrap up the season with a pair of home games over the next 10 days. The Aggies welcome Colorado College (8-6) to Bell Field Sunday and await a match with conference leader the following Friday.