It’s a sobering statistic, and not one USC women’s soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin wants to hear: The Women of Troy are 3-6 overall.
They opened the season by getting swept off their home field for the second straight year. They are 0-4 at McAlister Field for the first time in the program’s 17-year history. And for the first time in their history, they enter conference play Sunday against Washington State with a losing record.
“It’s been disappointing,” junior defender Kristina Noriega said. “We’re looking forward to starting over in conference.”
Khosroshahin echoed similar sentiments.
“It’s been disappointing,” Khosroshahin said. “We’ve been giving away too many cheap goals and not putting away our opportunities to finish.”
It’s hard to pinpoint a particular reason for this team’s struggles. The Women of Troy’s shot total (114) is nearly identical to their opponents’ (113). They knocked off then-No. 17 Illinois in Champaign, Ill., with an impressive 3-1 victory. They hung with and at times even outplayed then-No. 4 Oklahoma State for 90 minutes, but nonetheless, lost 1-0.
“We’ve shown moments that we can play with anyone in the country,” Khosroshahin said. “There have only been two games where we’ve lost the stats. But that doesn’t matter when you don’t win the most important stat.”
But even Khosroshahin will tell you a team can only be so unlucky. He knows that ultimately, his team controls its destiny, insisting when it plays to its ability level it can play with anyone in the country. Yet USC hasn’t thus far, and now he is demanding improvement on both sides of the ball.
“There are moments in every game where you go, ‘Wow this team is really good,’” Khosroshahin said. “And there are moments where you go, ‘Wow what just happened?’ And we need to eliminate those moments. We have to figure out how to find our discipline.”
Of the 16 goals the Women of Troy have conceded this year, seven have come from fluid offensive play. On the other hand, several box score descriptions read as follows: “free kick tips off goalie,” “header over goalie,” “long ball through defense,” “rebound off cross bar,” “free kick deflects off defender,” “back heel tap” and “keeper challenge, open net.” None sounds particularly impressive.
Many of the goals the Women of Troy have allowed have occurred during mad scrambles in front of the goal where the ball happens to find its way into the net.
“We’ve conceded goals from lack of discipline,” Khosroshahin said. “We need to stick to our defensive responsibilities. If one person doesn’t do one thing, it causes a breakdown, someone has to cover for that and it turns into a domino effect.”
The defensive backline is a young unit, still reeling from the graduation last year of captain Karter Haug, a four-year starter in the back and an anchor for the unit. And with sophomore Mia Bruno out for the season with an ACL injury and senior Chelsea Buehning slow to recover from an ACL injury of her own, Khosroshahin has been forced to mix and match on the backline.
Noriega, a transfer, has been asked to start every game at center back, playing every minute of the season but seven. Senior midfielder Ashli Sandoval has spent most of her minutes next to Noriega. On the defensive wing, sophomore Autumn Altamirano, who spent most of her time last year at forward, has started every game and played in all but 19 of the 830 minutes the Women of Troy have played this year. Across from her is true freshman Jessica Musmanno, also recruited as a forward.
“I want to have consistency back there,” Khosroshahin said. “But we haven’t found the right mix yet.”
The forward spots face a similar issue.
Like Haug on defense, the Women of Troy lost a pair of four-year starters last year in Megan Ohai and Alyssa Dávila. Sophomore Elizabeth Eddy has filled part of the void with a pair of goals, but Khosroshahin is still searching for a true playmaker. Senior Ashley Freyer, junior Samantha Johnson and senior Claire Schloemer have seen time up front. Altamirano finished second on the team in goals last year, but she’s needed back on defense this year.
“Right now I really couldn’t tell you who our forwards are,” Khosroshahin said. “The players who have been in the past really aren’t performing the roles we need them to.”
This week at practice, Khosroshahin said he started over. Open tryouts at every position on the field were held.
“I’m always evaluating,” Khosroshahin said. “But this week I’ve really put it out there. Open competition. We need to find the best 11 to put on the field.”