Paul Kennedy on the new women's champion
On the eve of the Women's College Cup, first-year USC coach Ali Khosroshahin recounted his first meeting with his new boss, Athletic Director Mike Garrett, after being named the Trojans' women's soccer coach last winter.
"We evaluate you on national championships," Garrett, SC's first Heisman Trophy winner, told Khosroshahin, who arrived from Cal State Fullerton.
"No pressure!" Khosroshahin joked.
More like, no problem.
USC won the 2007 NCAA Division I women's championship after back-to-back upset victories at the Women's College Cup. Two days after the Trojans ended a nine-game losing streak to archrival UCLA with a 2-1 victory, they stunned Florida State, 2-0, in Sunday's final before an Aggie Soccer Stadium record crowd of 8,255.
The championship was the 107th national team title won by SC teams.
You could count five teams that entered the NCAA Tournament with legitimate title aspirations, but SC wasn't among them.
One after another, the defenses of these title contenders collapsed.
North Carolina, the defending champion, fell to Notre Dame, 3-2, in the third round.
Portland was winner of nine straight games by shutouts entering its quarterfinal match billed to be worthy of a College Cup final, but UCLA pummeled the valiant UP keeper Kelsey Davis, a former Bruin, before winning, 3-2, in overtime.
Notre Dame's defense problems, so evident early in the season, resurfaced in the semifinals, where the Irish fell to Florida State, 3-2.
It was then UCLA's turn to give away, losing to USC, 2-1, on a pair of Amy Rodriguez goals -- the first multi-goal game of her career! -- after having dominated the first hour of their semifinal match.
But perhaps no team will rue its misfortune quite like Florida State. The Seminoles had finally gotten over their College Cup jinx and won their first semifinal match in four tries, but their defense let them down in the final.
Both goals came when the FSU defense failed to clear balls into the penalty area.
The best anyone could do when Stacey Strong sent a cross into the box was Marissa Kazbour, who half-volleyed the loose ball off the crossbar to Trojan Marihelen Tomer, who headed the ball into the goal in the 25th minute.
SC's insurance goal followed the second-half TV timeout -- this is college soccer, remember.Janessa Currierredirected Ashli Sandoval's corner kick toward the near post, where goalie Erin McNulty and teammate Rachel Lim both failed to clear the ball, and Currier put the ball away on her second attempt.
There was no doubt, though, who was the better team. SC completely shut down Florida State, which entered the final leading the nation with 81 goals.
"We didn't have as much success in finding the seams," said Florida State coach Mark Krikorian. "Certainly their positioning was quite good, and I thought our movement off the ball wasn't as good today. We did have a couple of times we were able to slip balls through and get people behind, but that was few and far between and that is a credit to them."
On the few occasions, FSU launched dangerous attacks into the box, Trojan keeper Kristin Olsen was there to stop the 'Noles. She finished the NCAA Tournament with five shutouts in six games.
USC's biggest fright came in the first half when Sandoval limped off with an ankle injury, and Khosroshahin chose to play with 10 players and wait for Sandoval to return. Minutes passed before Sandoval -- who had assisted on both goals in the semifinals -- returned.
"You know," Khosroshahin said, "I was asking myself, 'What the hell are you doing? Get a sub on.' She's such a big part of what we do offensively that it was too early in the half to take her out and it would have really disrupted what we do. We just leaned on the girls to suck it up and be very aware defensively and to get it done."
Yes, SC got it done.
And, yes, Garrett, the AD, was very happy.
"We're going to talk some business this week," joked Khosroshahin.