Freshman GK saves PK in second half for Utah State
There’s no question Utah State’s soccer team can take pride in many aspects of its exhibition match against in-state foe Southern Utah.
After all, the Aggies possessed the ball well for large chunks of the game, fired off 23 shots — 13 of which were on frame — earned seven corner kick opportunities and were able to substitute freely as they utilized 23 different players.
Unfortunately for USU, it wasn’t quite clinical enough inside the 18-yard box and ultimately had to settle for a scoreless draw with the Thunderbirds on Friday afternoon at Bell Field.
“I’m proud of my team,” USU head coach Heather Cairns, who is entering her 17th season at the Aggie helm. “They came in and their summer preparation was excellent. ... I couldn’t be prouder of them in terms of coming in and being ready. Obviously looking at the match, we had some good possession. Our possession is immensely improved from last year.
“I think the one thing you’ll look at is 23 shots, no goals. I think the finishing can get sharper, but the great news is we created a lot of scoring opportunities.”
The Aggies also managed to keep the T-birds off the scoreboard for 110 minutes, although it wasn’t easy. USU limited SUU to four shots the entire match, but three of them were legitimate scoring chances.
Case in point: sophomore goalkeeper Rachel Noel made a pair of crucial reaction saves in the opening half to keep the visitors off the scoreboard. Freshman Diera Walton played the final 65 minutes in goal for the Aggies and was only called upon to make one save, but boy was it a massive one.
The T-birds were awarded a penalty kick in the 78th minute and they turned to Danielle Meuret to capitalize on the golden opportunity. However, Walton dove to her right to snare the PK and deny SUU of any chance of a possible rebound.
“At first I was really scared, but then I was like, ‘you know, this is my house, (let’s) show her who’s boss,’ and I just stepped up to the ball and then clapped my hands a few times, stared her in the eyes,” Walton said. “... (Meuret) kind of looked to the right a few times, so that’s why I thought she might go that way.”
Had the T-birds converted on that penalty kick, it would have been a difficult pill for the hosts to swallow. That’s because the Aggies came out and completely dominated the second half, outshooting their counterparts by a whopping 16-1 margin during the final 65 minutes of play (there were two 10-minute overtime sessions).
The catalyst behind USU’s solid play after halftime in the attack was senior forward Alecia Robinson, who is working her way back from an injury. Robinson’s work rate was superb and she was inches away from scoring in the final five seconds of regulation.
“We missed her so much ... and the fact that she could go 45 minutes plus ... that’s a significant improvement to where she was,” Cairns said. “Man, we’re so happy to have her back. (She provides) senior leadership, you see that optimism, that energy.”
The Aggies skyed a couple of shots from close range over the goal but, to their credit, the T-birds were well organized defensively and several of USU’s 23 shots were taken from outside the box. Former Sky View standout Brianna Sims shined defensively for SUU. The senior played 101 of the 110 minutes.
It appeared the Aggies were finally going to break through in the first overtime. A hustle play by Amber Marshall allowed star midfielder Ashley Cardozo to get free in the box. No. 10 deftly dribbled around a defender and had the keeper beaten, but SUU defender Annie Wolter made a stunning, acrobatic high kick save on the mouth of the goal to rob Cardozo.
In the second overtime, USU defender Imelda Williams headed a Cardozo corner kick off the very top of the crossbar. Williams and fellow outside backs Karstyn Peterson and former Preston High stalwart Paige Moser did a great job of getting forward in the attack and whipping in some inviting crosses.
“Any time we can get our outside backs touches in the attacking half, we know that we’re in a good mentality ... and we’re being aggressive,” Cairns said. “... I think we have to get a little bit more quality on the crossing and a little bit more, obviously, quality on the finishing, but all in all the tactics of it all was pretty positive.”
Moser was one of five Cache Valley natives who saw playing time for the Aggies. Forwards Marli Niederhauser (Mendon) and Sidney Barlow (Smithfield) were in the starting lineup, as was midfielder Kanyan Merrill (Providence). Like Moser, Sammie Murdock (Providence) came off the bench. Barlow, a true freshman, and Merrill, a senior, came close to finding the back of the net.