- Graham Hays, espnW.com
- 0 Shares
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Use as many words as you want, but you aren't likely to sum up USC's 1-0 win against West Virginia any better than the exchange between a pint-size Mountaineers fan and his dad in the closing minutes of the game.
"Why are there so many of them?" the kid plaintively asked about the visitors in white.
It might have been a rhetorical question, but the dad responded all the same.
"It sure seems that way, doesn't it?"
USC advanced to the program's first College Cup on the strength of Kasey Johnson's goal in the 63rd minute -- the defender's second goal of the season and her second winning goal in the past seven days, joining the winner against Florida in the third round -- but it was a team effort that wore down the Mountaineers.
The Women of Troy were bigger and faster than the hosts, which made it all the more difficult for the Mountaineers to chase them down as they strung together six-, seven- and eight-pass possessions to create 20 shots, force seven corner kicks and draw the kind of fouls that led to the free kick that set up Johnson's header past Kerri Butler.
Butler was spectacular for much of the game, but facing a season-high number of shots, she couldn't quite cover enough ground when Janessa Currier's free kick slipped all the way through the box, then was sent back across the middle by Ashley Nick.
On the goal alone, five players made exactly the right run or exactly the right pass at the right time, beginning with a pass from Amy Rodriguez to Marihelen Tomer on the right flanks that set up the free kick and assists from Currier and Nick.
"This team not only is athletic but can play soccer," West Virginia coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said of USC. "Typically, you'll always find teams that maybe you've got to deal with the athleticism or you deal with the soccer part, the technical ability to possess the ball and knock it around. And this team just had it all going on."
After establishing themselves physically in a first half that was undeniably chippy -- piling up 13 fouls and a few hockey-worthy checks on non-whistles -- the Women of Troy didn't let the Mountaineers catch their breath after a brief opening flurry to begin the second half, locking offensive-minded outside back Greer Barnes in her own end for long stretches and isolating West Virginia's gifted trio of forwards up top.
Even after the goal, USC kept stringing together passes, creating chances and eating up clock as the Mountaineers looked for any opening to press forward and equalize.
West Virginia put up an admirable fight in front of a record crowd of more than 3,000 that didn't even include those who couldn't get inside the stadium and watched from an adjacent track, but a USC team that seemed to find ways not to play up to its talent in past years made use of every inch, every half-step, and every deft touch and pass.
Booed earlier in the week while attending a men's game in Morgantown and booed lustily at halftime after the foul-plagued opening half, USC thrived in the role of villain.
And unlike so many Bond bad guys, the Women of Troy didn't play with their prey.
"I really didn't know what it was," Rodriguez said before the game of the missing ingredient in seasons past. "I feel like SC lacked that killer instinct. And I think this year we've seen glimpses of it."
Maybe the Women of Troy were just too cold or too tired to get overly rowdy -- the coaches made a trip to a local sporting goods store during the day to procure hand warmers for the players to put in their gloves on a frigid night unlike anything the team experiences at home -- but the team reacted to the final whistle with about as much visible emotion as might be expected after a regular-season conference win against Arizona or Oregon.
In their minds, the job is only two-thirds done. Two more challenges await in College Station, Texas.
"It wouldn't surprise me if they won a national championship," Izzo-Brown said.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's soccer coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.