Eagles draw first blood against Trojans, but can't find answer for USC's strong outside shots
Just two minutes after kickoff, the Eastern Washington University soccer team found itself with a 1-0 lead on No. 22 Southern California, but the Trojans responded with a barrage of shots from the outside to eventually earn a 5-1 victory over the Eagles on Sunday (Sept. 25) at the EWU Sports and Recreation playing fields in Cheney, Wash. Eastern falls to 0-8-1 on the season, while USC improves its overall record to 7-1-2.
Senior Brittany Sparks gained control of a ball in the midfield just one minute into the contest. She made a smart turn and lofted a pass over the two center backs of USC's defense, giving junior Whitney Brannan a perfect breakaway to the net. Brannan latched on to the pass from Sparks, made two controlled touches and then buried a shot in the bottom left corner.
The goal was Brannan's seventh of the season and 13th in her career, which makes her the third-leading scorer in Eastern Washington history. Sparks, who was credited with her third assist of the season, also moved up in the EWU record book, as she is now third on the all-time assists list with six in her career.
"I was thrilled with the goal that we scored because it was a product of everything we have been practicing with our forwards," said EWU head coach George Hageage. "That is the second time in the last three games we have scored a goal like that. I am very happy about the way Whitney and Brittany are working off each other up top."
Five minutes after the Eagle tally, USC found an answer, as freshman Elizabeth Eddy sent a cross into the box, which sophomore Courtney Garcia was able to slot home. The Trojans extended their lead to two after a mis-clearance by the EWU defense landed at the feet of USC's Samantha Johnson. The sophomore fired a hard shot from just inside the 18-yard box, which sailed into the upper corner of the net.
Eastern played solid for the remainder of the half, forcing USC to play out of rhythm and take shots from the outside. Unfortunately, with just seconds remaining in the first period, one of those outside shots found its way to the back of the net. USC freshman Autumn Altamirano was battling with the Eastern defense on the sideline, when she found an open teammate a few yards back. Altamirano sent the drop pass to freshman Haley Boysen, who took a few touches, then ripped a shot that flew over the head of EWU's netminder Lisa Dimak.
Despite the two-goal deficit to start the second period, Eastern did not surrender. The team came out aggressive and controlled possession in USC territory for the initial 10 minutes of the half. Brannan fired two quick shots, one of which was on frame and led to Eastern's first corner kick of the match. EWU was also solid on the defensive end, containing the Trojans for nearly the entire second period. Eastern's goalkeeper Jamie Walker played an essential role in that, as she made six total saves in the half. Senior defender Lyndsey Martin and junior Dashia Huff were also sharp in the backfield.
USC was able to score two more goals before the end of the match, both of which came in the final six minutes. The Trojans' Karter Haug scored off a free kick from 25 yards outside the box at the 84:02 mark, while Garcia notched her second tally of the game after she snuck a shot in on the near post in the 87th minute.
"I liked our assertiveness to start the second half," applauded Hageage. "USC is a top 25 team, and we were able to put real pressure on them and they were making some mistakes as a result. They like to play it on the ground, and we made it very difficult for them to do that today. In the last 15 minutes, I think we stopped really playing, but other than that brief lapse, I was very proud of our efforts against a team of this caliber."
Eastern will play its final non-conference game on Sunday (Oct. 3) when it makes the short trip to Spokane, Wash., to face the Gonzaga Bulldogs.