Courtesy of UCR Athletics
The women’s soccer team struggled to put it all together this week, suffering a 3-2 double overtime loss to Cal State Bakersfield on Sept. 25 and a 2-1 loss at Cal State Fullerton on Sept. 30. The losses continue a tough four-game stretch for the Highlanders (3-6-3, 0-1-0), where all four games have been lost by a single goal. Before traveling to Fullerton, Head Coach Nat Gonzalez lamented about the injury and goals allowed in the previous game despite showing signs of an offensive turnaround by scoring two goals.
“We had an injury in the back line which is very frustrating, because you figure you have that solved,” Gonzalez said. “The attack got better, but then we gave up some silly goals that on film are just disappointing because we had that game in control I would say, and it was just the matter of some errors.”
Those errors came early in the second half, as Bakersfield scored twice in 50 seconds, giving the Roadrunners the advantage they needed. The Highlanders would score six minutes and 20 seconds later, but it was Bakersfield that scored the golden goal in the 109th minute.
“In the college game, you give up a couple chances and they’ll make some plays if you’re making mistakes. With some inexperience in the backline, that’s kinda (sic) what happened,” Gonzalez expressed, frustration still dripping from his voice.
Gonzalez admitted that he himself is facing a new challenge. “My last four years here, we have used those and grown from them. Obviously we’ve had success over the last three seasons, but this is the first time in my time here that we’ve lost three in a row, which has been a staple; my teams always have a bounceback and have the ability to come back,” Gonzalez conveyed.
This resolve will be tested coming off of a fourth straight defeat and a loss in their conference opener. Despite the rough stretch, Gonzalez believes that his team’s play has been enough to put the team in a position to win. “I think the team’s playing well enough, but because it is so difficult to score sometimes you need that little extra edge that right now we’re just not showing,” Gonzalez asserted. Gonzalez feels this last push needs to come from within his players and their will, and it needs to come soon. “I think a lot of the players have to look in the mirror a bit and see if they have a little extra to give because with conference starting everything is going to get ramped up (by) 25, 50 percent based on what it all means.”
Looking to the future, Gonzalez’s tone took a lighter, more optimistic tone. “We’ve probably lost our chance to get into the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid, so now all our energy and all our focus has got to be on conference,” he declared.
“So how (we) turn it around and the way (we) approach it this week was it is a fresh start. Hopefully we’ve learned from the previous 11 games, but now it’s like everybody is 0-0 and you can have the worst season from this point or you can have the best season at this point but at the end of the day, everybody’s got a 0-0 record right now, and that’s the one thing we are looking forward to. We’ve got a second chance to right the ship, hopefully we can get some of these players back from injury and solidify that.”
UCR’s offensive struggles returned in their meeting with Fullerton, as the Highlanders could only manage six shots in the first 79 minutes of the game compared to 16 for Fullerton before being forced to attack by a two-goal deficit. Sophomore midfielder Quinley Quezada managed to break through in the 85th minute, but it was too little, too late for the Highlanders.
One of the players that has continued to struggle mightily this season is midfielder Blanca Barrio. Barrio has only one goal and assist apiece after tallying five goals and seven assists last season on her way to being named to the 2015 All-Big West Conference First-Team. Gonzalez attributes her struggles to the increased exposure following such an honor.
“Last year she had players around her that could get her the ball where she wanted it, this year she’s working a little bit harder. It’s not our team’s fault, it’s just the nature of being a marked player now and just trying to figure out how she’s going to get on the ball more often,” Gonzalez remarked.
Gonzalez believes the tolls of the college game and the ramifications of injuries has impacted her play “Right now she’s having to work really hard on the defensive side of the ball, which has been what we’ve been focusing on,” Gonzalez admitted. “If she can figure that out, I know what she can do on the attack and right now she’s just not in a rhythm. I think some of that defensive effort has taken away some of that energy from her for sure, but it’s the nature of college soccer. You have to be able to play from the other side of the ball.”
On the other end, the play of senior forward Tayler Dragoo has been incredibly impressive. After getting only one start last season, she leads the team with four goals. “She has been a pleasant surprise,” Gonzalez affirmed. “She’s also been one of the more vocal leaders as well … I’m excited she’s been able to figure it out and I hope her energy is contagious and the rest of the team can follow.”
Following a clash with UC Irvine on Sunday, Oct. 2, the Highlanders continue their conference schedule with a visit Honolulu on Thursday, Oct. 6 to take on Hawaii.