San Diego State comes back to beat CSU soccer 2-1

Colin Barnard

Highlights provided by CTV Sports’ Tim McCall 

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Maddi Rodriguez’s first half goal, her first since 2014, was not enough for the Rams to hang on against San Diego State, ultimately falling 2-1.

Looking to disrupt the Mountain West, the Rams (3-12-2, 1-7-1 MW) matched their opponent’s intensity for the entire game. Despite outshooting the Rams 21-10, the Aztecs (8-6-2, 6-1-2 MW) had to rely on two second half goals to cement their victory. Pending UNLV’s game against Boise State, the Aztecs move into first place in the MW with the victory.

Physical play was the mantra for a Rams team looking for their first points in club history against SDSU. Paige Brandt’s early save on a scrum in the box set the tone for the first half and showed that the team had plenty of fight left in them. Despite trailing in time of possession and shots for much of the first 30 minutes of play, physicality kept the Rams right where they needed to be.

The first of Taylor Nelson’s two scoring chances came in the 35th minute when she found herself with a seemingly open net after receiving a cross, but an SDSU defender was able to get her body on the shot and deflect it away. Rather than letting the missed opportunity define the rest of the game, the Rams netted the first goal just minutes later. After creating a turnover on the left sideline, Maddie Kessler crossed the ball to Rodriguez in the box. The delicate shot off her right foot found its way over SDSU goalkeeper Gabby English for the 1-0 lead.

“It was all a team effort,” Rodriguez said. “Taylor Nelson should have scored just a couple minutes earlier. It was just us not letting down and it finally happened for us.”

The second half turned sour for the Rams as they could not hold off the pressing Aztec offense. A ball that spun sporadically passed a Rams defender lead to a penalty kick for the Aztecs. Victoria Barba finished the PK to tie the game at one in the 66th minute. Just two minutes later, Aliyah Utush drove a low cross to the waiting foot of Dani Derosa who scored the game-winner.

The Rams’ intensity did not falter in their effort to stage a comeback. With two minutes left to play, Kaija Ornes gathered a cross and fired a bullet passed the diving English. The effort proved unfruitful as the ball careened off the post, missing the back of the net by mere inches.

“That ball that Kaija hits – a team that’s winning, that goes in off the post,” head coach Bill Hempen said. “A team that’s losing, it just doesn’t happen … She couldn’t have hit that any better, but it bounces out and doesn’t bounce in.”

The physical, intense play that the Rams showed for the entire game was no mistake. As Hempen said earlier this week, his team still had plenty to prove, and they were always going to play to win regardless of the standings. This week’s preparation proved the truth of that.

“Yesterday we had a little bit different kind of pregame practice,” Hempen said. “It was a little bit more demanding, a little more accountable.”

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Injuries to starters Madisann Relph and Jessica Jochheim added to an already lengthy Rams injury report, something they will have to overcome in their final two games. With a similar mindset and equally intense preparation, there’s no reason to believe they will show anything less for the rest of the season.

“It’s hard that we ended up losing that game,” Rodriguez said. “We now know that we can hang with the best of the best, they are the champions. Going forward, this is going to help us a lot and we’re just gonna come out twice as hard on Sunday.”

Sunday’s game against New Mexico serves as CSU’s Senior Day in what will be the last home game of the season. Play gets underway at 1 p.m. at Lagoon Field.

Collegian sports reporter Colin Barnard can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_