If Friday afternoon was a test in first impressions, then the No. 19 USC women’s soccer team failed its exam.
With Pat Haden watching his first USC athletic contest as the school’s new athletic director, the Women of Troy (0-1) could not muster a strong showing, falling to the visiting University of San Diego (1-0) 1-0 in the team’s home opener at McAllister Field.
“We didn’t respond well,” said USC coach Ali Khosroshahin. “We made a lot of mistakes over the simple things. We missed a lot of easy passes. We made the game more difficult than it needed to be.”
Many of those mistakes can be attributed to a lack of experience, as five freshmen started the home opener, including goalkeeper Shelby Church, who is replacing the departing All-American Kristin Olsen in the net.
But even more damaging to USC’s efforts to secure a season-opening win was its lackluster start.
In the early minutes, the Toreros controlled the ball and maintained possession, keeping the ball away from the Women of Troy’s young offensive playmakers. Even when USC did regain possession, it was largely an errant pass or some other miscue that gave the ball right back to the San Diego offense.
“We missed a lot of easy passes,” Khosroshahin said. “That’s the bottom line. If you miss those opportunities to connect with your teammates, it makes the game really difficult.”
San Diego didn’t fare much better, however, as it was unable to initially capitalize off early USC turnovers. On several occasions, the Toreros watched a crisp pass bounce off the foot of a player or sail past the goal.
In short, sloppy play on both sides kept the game scoreless at halftime.
“When you don’t connect your passes, you have to work twice as hard,” Khosroshahin said.
But eventually, one side would make the needed adjustments and regain its composure. Unfortunately for Haden and those USC fans in attendance, that team was San Diego.
In the 54th minute, following a turnover by freshman midfielder Elizabeth Eddy, San Diego’s forward Stephanie Ochs penetrated deep into USC territory and sent a cross from the left side of the field. San Diego forward Devany Savage knocked the ball past Church with a diving header that put the Toreros on the scoreboard and firmly in the driver’s seat.
“It caught the defense a little off guard, but you have to give them credit, it was a good header,” Church said. She conceded just one goal on the afternoon.
Tallying two saves and allowing just one goal, the freshman goalkeeper mostly kept the San Diego offense at bay, but in the end, it was USC’s inability to capitalize offensively that prevented it from earning the victory.
Later in the half, USC had multiple scoring opportunities, but oftentimes, a turnover or a widely missed shot prevented them from converting.
In the 66th minute, junior midfielder Carly Butcher passed the ball up the field to Eddy, but the freshman watched the ball sail to the right of the goal. Later in the match, freshman midfielder Autumn Altamirano crossed the ball into the box, where senior midfielder Alyssa Dávila got a head on the ball, only to watch San Diego goalkeeper Courtney Parsons make another save.
“I think a lot of us went individually, so in the future, we need to do better at staying connected as a unit,” Dávila said. “We’ll need more communication, and when we’re attacking, we also need to be more alert.”
Nobody cited a lack of confidence moving forward, but nonetheless, the loss remains relatively painful for Khosroshahin’s roster.
“We’ll get better, but this one stings a little bit,” Khosroshahin said.
Luckily, the Women of Troy will be afforded that chance later this week, when they travel to Fort Worth, Texas, to face Texas Christian University. But for now, all that remains is time to reflect.