Texas State Soccer (4-10-1 overall, 4-4 conference) lost its first game and only home game of the spring 1-0 against the University of North Texas Mean Green (2-0) on Feb. 28
In a physical and fast-paced match, the Bobcats were unable to produce much of an attack against a UNT team that has won six-straight Conference USA championships. The game was direct and frenetic with both teams pinging the ball over each other’s high defensive lines and wingers sprinting up and down the field to incoming attackers.
Most of the game was characterized by constant battles for possession in the midfield, as both sides were uninterested in slow build-up through long spells of possession. Defenders would send long, lobbed passes to sprinting wingers and forwards and run directly at the fullbacks, hoping to find open players in the box.
Texas State created the first clear chance of the game as a shot by freshman midfielder Mya Ulloa floated just over the bar and the UNT keeper’s reach. Despite playing with a knee brace on her right leg, Ulloa facilitated many of Texas State’s attacks, distributing the ball well to wide areas and strikers making runs. She frequently challenged taller UNT players for 50/50 headers from goal kicks, rarely winning but always challenging and providing extra bite in the press.
The pairing of freshman midfielder Alana Clark and sophomore midfielder Karlee Torisk in a double pivot in defensive midfield solidified possession at times and defended the backline. However, Clark and Torisk often struggled to create for themselves when more creative players in front of them were locked down by UNT defenders.
Torsik plays well as a screening midfielder, intercepting passes and challenging incoming runners. Clark’s ability to win the ball back and quickly distribute it to fullbacks and wingers eager to dribble forward started several attacks after UNT errors. The pair is not being asked to create something out of nothing in Head Coach Kat Conner’s system, but their passing may be forced to be riskier in more pressing midfield systems.
Other than the early Ulloa chance, the Bobcats never made junior goalkeeper Kelsey Brann nervous. Brann, much like her counterpart freshman goalkeeper Beth Agee, was quick off her line to sweep up long through balls from the Texas State midfield. Most of the hosts’ potentially threatening opportunities were met by the safe hands of Brann, who ended up with zero saves on the day.
The same could not be said about Agee, who found herself busy as usual with four saves. Agee, who led the Sun Belt Conference in saves during the fall season, made a couple of impressive saves, including one low to her left near post eight minutes in off a strong shot by senior forward/midfielder/defender/goalkeeper Brooke Lampe.
Lampe, a team captain who played in defense against the Bobcats, impresses with her speed and tenacity. She organizes her line like the best center backs while chasing down the fastest of the Bobcat wingers. Lampe took long throw-ins which looked more like corners than struggles to get the ball away from the touchline. Her presence on the field could even draw comparisons to Liverpool’s Dutch center-back Virgil Van Dijk.
The Bobcats were not without their own defensive stars; junior defender Addison Gaetano dove and lunged at the ball at the feet of UNT forwards, winning in however many attempts necessary. The entire backline played well for the majority of the game, with the only chances they directly allowed resulting from crosses or corners. Gaetano cleared a header floating over the grasp of Agee off the line and out in the ninth minute and was met with a roar of support by the Bobcats' fans.
The deadlock broke in the 30th minute, after a short period of UNT control over the ball led to a corner and a deflected shot that eventually fell at the feet of junior forward Olivia Klein, who forcefully curled in the shot from the right edge of the box and into the top left corner of the net.
After the goal, the Bobcats continued their patterns of play to little offensive success, but the potential was clearly present. A fair amount of the creativity in the first half occurred in the link-up play between sophomore forward Madison Humphrey, who would shade left and sophomore midfielder Bailey Peschel, who played quick passes with the drifting Humphrey. Humphrey controlled the ball well in tight spaces and flicked the ball forward to underlapping runners.
The second half saw fewer enterprising attacks from both sides, although UNT frequently tried their luck from distance. As the Bobcats continued to trail, their chances of re-entering the game grew slimmer and slimmer, the Mean Green defenders learning the runs and tendencies of the Texas State players. Brann felt even less pressure than the first half, facing just one shot in the half for a total of two Texas State shots in the game. UNT totaled 22 and six on target, while none of two Bobcats shots were on target.
Despite the efforts of several players off the bench like freshman forward/midfielder Haley Shaw, who replicated the drifting-center forward strategy with freshman forward Olivia Wright, the Bobcats could not crack the UNT defense, not tallying one corner to the opposition’s eight.
The second half ended as it began, with a physically dominant UNT sealing out an offensively stagnant Texas State. Many of the same problems present in this opening game remain from the fall season: the offensive struggles and unrefined passing in transition continue to plague the young team.
Texas State will play its first of four consecutive road games against the University of Texas at 7 p.m. on March 5 at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas. This game will be broadcast on Longhorn Network.