Utah State’s soccer team dropped its third straight Mountain West contest, falling Friday afternoon at home to Fresno State by a 2-1 scoreline on a rain-soaked Chuck and Gloria Bell Field.
Despite the adverse weather, the Aggies’ afternoon began with promise. A misjudged and poorly hit back-pass from a Fresno State defender allowed USU true freshman winger Bizzy Arevalo to pounce on the ball and chip it over the Bulldogs’ keeper for a goal in the fifth minute. Senior midfielder Ashley Cardozo was (generously) credited with her league-leading ninth assist on the season.
The fifth-minute goal was the fastest the Aggies have gotten on the board since Aug. 26 when they scored slightly earlier in the fifth minute against Northern Colorado.
Scoring first in a game has been a practical victory cigar for USU this season as prior to Friday the team was 7-0-0 in games where it scored first, and had a 13-4 advantage in goals in those games. And in the remaining minutes of the first half, the Aggies were generally in control. They even had several good chances to score again — too good in the mind of head coach Manny Martins.
“We should have had probably three goals in the first half,” Martins said. “Real clear chances, but we didn’t finish it. They’re a good team. In the first half we stunned them a little bit with the early goal, the early chance. But because we didn’t put it away, we allowed them to get comfortable.”
Martins said his team needs to “be more clinical” in its chances on offense. In the last three games, USU have scored just two goals, its lowest goal output across any three-game stretch this season.
The Aggies led at the half (and were hitherto 5-0-0 in such games this season) but the Bulldogs’ response eventually came. In the 64th minute, USU sophomore midfielder Alex Day fouled a Bulldog in the box, leading to a penalty. On the ensuing try from the spot, FSU’s Kassandra Ceja caught USU keeper Diera Walton leaning the wrong way and equalized.
Scoring first and allowing an equalizer is nothing new to the Aggies. Four times they’ve allowed a game-tying goal only to come out on top. But this time an out-of-form USU squad didn’t respond the way it usually has. After that equalizer, the Bulldogs seized momentum and outshot USU 8-2 the rest of the way.
“I don’t think we responded very well.” Martins said of his team’s reaction to the equalizing penalty. “We stayed on our back foot from that point on.”
One of those eight Bulldog shots, in the 80th minute specifically, led to the game-winning goal. Fresno State played a short corner and then a perfect cross, which Sheyenne Hodge got her head to. The ball sailed cleanly into the far left netting.
Those aforementioned two lonely shots USU managed after FSU’s equalizer came in the frantic final 10 minutes where it was the Aggies’ turn to find their own game-tying goal.
But neither shot proved a to be a significant chance and the Bulldogs rather competently fended off the desperate USU attack.
The Aggies are now in completely unfamiliar territory for this year’s squad. They went from a best-ever start in non-conference play (7-1-1) and a 2-0 start to the conference slate to suddenly being on a three-game losing streak.
Martins said the losses aren’t really the result of any one critical failing and “just happen to be three in a row.”
“The three games are completely different,” Martins said. “New Mexico we fought to the end, created chances and I think we were on our front foot. San Diego we weren’t very good. Today was a tale of two halves. I don’t really string them together even though they’re back-to-back. Our performances just haven’t been very consistent.”
Utah State will have a quick shot at getting back into its winning stride with another game this weekend. The Aggies will host San Jose State on Sunday with a noon kickoff.