Daylight was beginning to wane on Friday evening in Logan, and so was Utah State’s chances of defeating in-state rival Utah Valley in a showdown of good soccer teams.
Tied 1-1, the highly contested affair had gone into the second period of extra time. With two minutes left, a draw appeared likely.
But as the sun was about to sink behind the horizon, senior Ashley Cardozo sunk a goal into the net to give the Aggies the 2-1 victory at Bell Field.
Utah State improves to 4-0-1 on the season, its best start since 2013, and an outstanding way to begin the head coaching tenure of Manny Martins. The win over UVU — which defeated Memphis in the NCAA tournament just last spring — may be the most impressive win so far.
“There wasn’t anyone outside of our circle that thought we could win this game today,” said Martins after the game. “Look, every win is massive because we can only play one game at a time… but I think that if anything (this win) just gives us a little bit of credibility.”
The moment to remember will evidently be Cardozo’s game-winning goal. At the 108-minute mark, she sprinted down the sideline and collected the ball just outside the far corner of the box. She immediately crossed over UVU junior Megan Sullivan, then launched the ball from just inside the 18-yard box. It looped over UVU goalie Brooklyn Nielsen and into the net, an unblockable strike. Cardozo dropped to her knees and was mobbed by her teammates in celebration.
“I knew I wanted to cut my right because I knew the goalie was out a little bit, so I could kind of chip it over,” Cardozo said. “The opportunity came, and it was perfect.”
“You know what, if you have a situation like that 9 out of 10 times, I think Ashley’s either going to score or come really close,” Martins said. “As soon as she beat the first player I was feeling pretty good about.”
It’s Cardozo’s 11th game-winning goal of her Aggie career, which is tied with Lauren Hansen for the most game-winning goals in Utah State history.
“It feels amazing,” Cardozo said of tying the record. “ I’m really grateful for all my teammates and, you know, coaches that push me to work, and I’m just lucky to be in this position.”
Top to bottom, the victorious Aggies showed well on Friday. USU had 16 shots, compared to 10 from UVU, and held 52 percent of the possession.
Last week’s Mountain West defender of the week, junior goalkeeper Diera Walton, finished with seven saves. The game was also extremely physical. UVU finished with 10 fouls and a yellow card, and USU had six fouls and two yellow cards.
Things began well for the Aggies. In the 13th minute, senior forward Sammie Murdock overtook the ball from UVU’s Jenna Shepard at midfield and took off on a breakaway. She passed it to junior forward Sara Taylor, who put it in the net.
But the play got a little sloppy. The Aggies, who lost the position battle in the first half, struggled to be connected and sustain possession.
UVU took full advantage. In the 36th minute, UVU’s Grace Beeston collected a pass from Sadie Brockbank and kicked it in the goal to even the score. Putting six goals on target and spending 58 percent of the half on the Aggies side of the field, the Wolverines had the momentum going into halftime.
“Our commitment was to come out and be us,” Martins said. “We had to show our identity. We missed that for about 25 minutes of the first half, and we were on our heels.”
The Aggies would regroup in the second half. They appeared more comfortable on the backline, won back some of the possession and created some near-goal scoring opportunities.
Cardozo was happy with their second half effort.
“Just stepping on the gas and just being relentless is what makes our team so good,” she said.
Both teams had chances to win in regulation. In the 60th minute, UVU’s Heather Stainbrook sent a set piece into the box, and a Wolverine got a foot on it. But USU freshman defender Addy Simmons was there, headed it out of the goal.
In the 68th minute, senior forward Marlie Niederhauser had an open net on a cross, but a bad touch sent the ball wide. In the 88th minute, freshman forward Nicole Hadlock had an on-goal shot, but it was tipped away by Sullivan.
It wasn’t until the 109th minute that one found its way into the net.
“They had chances to win the game. We had ours as well,” Martins said. “And in the end, I think our hard work paid off.”