It was the attacking mentality Utah State head soccer coach Heather Cairns was hoping to see from her team in the second half.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, it didn’t result in a goal. New Mexico scored twice in the first 28 minutes and played well enough defensively to hold off USU, 2-1, in a Mountain West match late Friday afternoon at Bell Field.
“I thought we fought really hard,” USU head coach Heather Cairns said. “The goal that we gave away in the beginning, it was well executed on their part, but it was really soft on our part. And I thought we bounced back really well to come back and tie it up. The response after their second goal was not good enough. We got soft, (but) we did gain that momentum back in the team half that I was pretty proud of the team for, (but) we just couldn’t find the back of the net.”
Indeed, it didn’t take long for the Lobos (8-4-0, 4-1-0 MW) to put the Aggies (6-6-1, 1-3-1) in a hole. Not only did USU turn the ball over in its defensive third, a defender took a bad angle on UNM’s Jaydn Edwards, whose centering pass to feet found Gwen Maly just inside the 6-yard box. Maly’s one-time effort gave UNM a 1-0 lead at the 6:07 mark of the first half.
USU equalized 12 minutes later on a sublime, unsavable strike by Kami Warner that tucked inside the far post. Ashley Cardozo delivered a cross that somehow made its way to Warner about 15 yards from goal.
“When the ball kind of deflected off the defender and our player, I was like, ‘oh, this is a great opportunity and I have to put it away,’” Warner said of her second goal of the season. “And I hit it and I was like, ‘oh, this is going in for sure,’ so it felt great to score and, going forward, I think it does a lot for my confidence.”
USU’s momentum was short-lived, though, because Maly struck again 10 minutes later. The junior placed a perfect 25-yard free kick just inside the near post to give the Lobos a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Maly nearly recorded a hat trick later in the half, but her 30-yard kick free pinged off the crossbar. New Mexico outshot USU 10-3 in the opening half and enjoyed a 2-0 edge in corner kicks.
To their credit, the Aggies turned things around in the second half after withstanding an early surge by the Lobos. USU did a much better job of getting star midfielder Cardozo more involved in the attack as she fired off three shots on goal after halftime after not attempting a single shot during the first 45 minutes of play.
“We tried to do a little interchange between Ashley and our attacking center mid to free up some of the space and just create some movement, and I thought that worked pretty well,” Cairns said. “We keep our other forward high going across the backline, and I think that kept their defenders honest and didn’t allow everybody to follow Ash.”
Cardozo had a golden opportunity to equalize in the 68th minute on a shot from about 14 yards out, but UNM goalkeeper Malia Vanisi got just enough of it to deflect it over the crossbar.
The Aggies increased their shot count to seven in the second half and put five of those on frame. USU also earned a trio of corner kicks. With the exception of the one aforementioned save, the others were pretty routine for Vanisi, who finished with eight in the match.
USU keeper Diera Walton made nine saves, including a nice reaction punch on a shot by Edwards in the first half. The Aggies played well enough in the second half to force the Lobos to drop Edwards to the backline in an effort to alleviate some pressure.
Of USU’s five loses this season, four have been by one goal.
This was the Aggies’ first home match since a 3-0 victory over Idaho State on Sept. 22. USU then proceeded to play its next four games, all against conference opponents, on the road.
“Our energy was really good going into the game,” Warner said. “I thought everyone was excited and well prepared, and it hurt that they came in and scored (really early). That definitely hurt us, but we came back and fought and scored, but we got an unfortunate foul called against us, and you could tell after that our mentality kind of shifted and we kind of felt bad for ourselves.”