Tougher, unified USC looks to extend run in women's soccer tourney
Updated: December 1, 2007, 1:20 PM ETBy Graham Hays | ESPN.com
MORGANTOWN, W.V. -- It's only fitting that USC really did go the extra mile just to get to West Virginia for the program's first NCAA Tournament quarterfinal appearance.
Even if it might have been the only time since he took over the program that first-year coach Ali Khosroshahin would have settled for the path of least resistance. Despite being the highest remaining seed remaining in their quadrant of the bracket, the No. 2 seed Women of Troy drew a road trip to Morgantown for Friday's date with the fourth-seeded Mountaineers when scheduling conflicts arose in Los Angeles. The trouble -- at least beyond finding warm clothes -- arose when the team's original flight out of Los Angeles was canceled, leaving half the traveling party to complete the trip with a layover in Salt Lake City and the other half passing time in Atlanta after a long wait at LAX. Opponents have had far less success than Delta dividing the Women of Troy, something that represents a dramatic shift from how things stood at the end of last season. "We expected to do well and we ended up not doing well," Amy Rodriguez recalled of last year's 2-0 loss against Stanford in the second round. "It was kind of frustrating, you know, the team kind of turned a little bit inward -- people kind of were frustrated with each other. And that happens on a team. You're around each other for so long, and when things don't work out, you have nobody else to take it out on but yourselves." There was no shortage of ammunition. The loss against Stanford marked the seventh time in as many postseason appearances that the Women of Troy lost in either the first or second round. Despite its place in fertile recruiting territory and within one of the nation's most successful athletic departments, USC has always suffered in comparison to crosstown rival UCLA (USC last beat UCLA in 1998). Rodriguez, the nation's top high school recruit three years ago and a player who appeared with the senior United States national team before ever setting foot on a college campus, hoped to be a part of changing that when she signed on at the school just down the street from her home. But even that hope was grounded in the reality that USC lived in the shadow of Westwood. "I wish it wasn't, but unfortunately it is," Rodriguez said of the perception. "UCLA has just always had great recruits, a great team -- Jill Ellis is a good coach over there for them. I just feel like every year we're like inches away and it ends up slipping away from us." Watching all of this from afar was Khosroshahin, who played in college at Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Los Angeles and took his first job as a college head coach at Fullerton in 2001 after serving as an assistant at both of his former schools -- the same Fullerton program that upset the Women of Troy on their home field in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2005. So when USC parted ways with former coach Jim Millinder after last season, Khosroshahin couldn't pass up the opportunity to compete for a national championship and fix the problems he himself had exploited two years earlier. "They weren't able to adjust to what we were doing," Khosroshahin said of the 2005 game. "And seeing the players that were on the other side, I thought that they could have adjusted better to what we were doing against them." Rodriguez, whose only contact with Khosroshahin had been in that brief postseason encounter that ended her freshman season, knew enough about the new coach's style to be uncertain of what was to come when he finally got the team on the field in the spring. "The only thing I really knew of him was that he's kind of an aggressive coach," Rodriguez said. "What I mean by that is he's kind of loud, definitely something I wasn't used to. I've always had very calm, relaxed coaches that don't necessarily yell during the games, and he was pretty much the opposite of that."
Sam Haythorn/USC Sports InformationUSC coach Ali Khosroshahin has brought discipline and unity to the Women of Troy.
The NCAA women's soccer tournament is in full swing, and teams have just one goal: to make it to the College Cup in College Station, Texas. Follow along with all the action on ESPN.com.
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