Fighting against the oppressive Dallas heat, the Long Beach State women’s soccer team faltered late in a 1-0 loss to the Southern Methodist University Mustangs, Sunday.
The match comes after a 3-0 loss to Ole Miss Friday. Both Ole Miss and SMU (6-1) received votes in the most recent national rankings poll. Long Beach (2-5) has played four such teams during their loaded non-conference portion of the season.
“We’re really happy with our performance [and] our response from Friday,” head coach Mauricio Ingrassia said.
The game against SMU lacked rhythm as both teams struggled to advance the ball cleanly through midfield.
Long Beach junior defenders Kaitlin Fregulia and Myah Baksh denied SMU space in the attacking third. The two defenders forced the Mustangs to try to pass the ball behind them, rather than dribble it through them.
“I thought our back line was stellar,” Ingrassia said.
With such little space to operate in the middle, both teams resorted to long passes down the sidelines, hoping for the chance to cross the ball into the box. The tactic resulted in multiple corner kicks for both teams in the first half, but neither squad capitalized on them.
“We do need to be a little more dangerous offensively,” Ingrassia said.
With just 13 seconds remaining in the first half, an SMU pass from the midfield got behind the Beach’s defense and gave Mustangs senior forward/midfielder Allie Thornton possession in the right side of the box.
Long Beach junior keeper Marta Alemany Sanchez took three steps towards Thornton and used both palms to deflect her shot over the crossbar, keeping the game scoreless at halftime.
The play was the only time SMU was successful getting a pass behind the Long Beach State back line as the Beach prevented entry into the attacking box in the first half, forcing the Mustangs to resort to long distance shot attempts in the second half.
Alemany Sanchez easily handled several shots from outside the box in the first twenty minutes of the second half. She finished the match with six saves, twice as many as she had in her previous two games combined.
While the Beach excelled defensively, they struggled offensively. They were on the wrong end of a 7-1 shots-on-goal differential and weren’t able to control the ball deep in SMU territory for much of the game.
“Maybe the stats don’t show it, but we threatened more than the one shot on goal [I think],” Ingrassia said.
The game was played on a shadeless field in temperatures above 95 degrees leading to fatigue for the Beach after the 70 minute mark.
“Playing SMU in Dallas at 1 p.m. is really putting your team to the test,” Ingrassia said. “The players are very happy about how they performed and very disappointed in the result.”
SMU substituted Thornton, their leading scorer, back into the game halfway through the second half to take advantage of the tiring Long Beach defense.
In the 82nd minute, Thornton stepped into a 10-foot pass inside the arc and released a line drive on net. Alemany sanchez once again used both palms to deny her.
In the 85th minute, Mustang sophomore midfielder Celiana Torres dribbled the ball past midfield, drawing the attention of three Beach defenders. The possession opened up space for Thornton 10 yards ahead.
Torres chipped a pass to the right of the arc. Thornton collected it and tapped it into the box before releasing a shot to the left that found the back of the net and handed Long Beach State the loss.
“We were stuck with a substitution we were trying to make and we couldn’t make it,” Ingrassia said. “They made a great play, to be fair.”
Even with the loss, Long Beach State’s strength of schedule could keep itself in good standing in the eyes of the voters in national ranking polls. The Beach play two strong opponents to close the non-conference season beginning with the University of Central Florida Thursday followed by No. 10 Brigham Young University a week later.
Long Beach State will begin a two-game home homestand Sept. 19 against UCF at 7 p.m.