Texas A&M boasts offensive weapons
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A Texas team with a strong ensemble cast and a penchant for Friday night fireworks. Where have we seen this before?
At least from the outside, No. 7 Texas A&M lacks the requisite off-field drama that sustains the serialized show set in fictional Dillon, Texas. But beyond being merely entertaining, the on-field product this season is nuanced enough to suggest that the Aggies could finally make a run at the award that has long eluded an otherwise premier program -- a place in the College Cup this December.
Texas A&M took its show on the road for the first time with a weekend swing through the Hoosier State and came away with a 5-2 win at Indiana on Friday and a 2-1 overtime win at Purdue on Sunday to improve to 6-1-0 this season.
Despite residing on the wrong end of a 3-0 score against No. 1 North Carolina in its opener, Texas A&M has scored 21 goals in its first seven games, just the second time in the past 11 seasons it has topped 20 goals through seven games. And there's no 9-0 win against the likes of McNeese State to inflate that figure -- the Aggies have spread the wealth, scoring multiple goals in five of six games since the opener, including consecutive five-goal Fridays against Virginia Tech, Davidson and Indiana.
Four players -- Alyssa Mautz, Merritt Mathias, Rachel Shipley and Whitney Hooper -- have scored at least three goals this season, and six players combined for the weekend's seven goals.
"We do have a lot of attacking options," Texas A&M coach G Guerrieri said after Friday's win at Indiana. "We're not just one kid that we're keying on. I think we've got a lot of players who can do a lot of different things. We've got some speed and big-time ability in Mathias and Hooper up front. And then we've got midfielders who can score goals. People can't just key on [the forwards] because Shipley will drop a bomb on you or Mautz will drop a bomb on you."
Or Bri Young, as the case may be. Sunday's win came courtesy of Young's header from outside the 6-yard box off a Shipley corner kick in the third minute of overtime. It was Young's second goal of the season, but those are arguably the least of her contributions. The junior leads the team with five assists, supplies a good ball on long set pieces and -- in a game Sunday in which the Aggies looked disjointed for much of the first half and on both ends of the field, before and after an own goal put them down 1-0 -- she helped fuel the turnaround long before she scored by shifting from a holding midfield role to a place on the back line.
On a team of interchangeable parts, she's a one-woman Swiss army knife.
"Well, we're not going to ask her to drive the bus, but she can do just about everything else," Guerrieri said after Sunday's win. "She's scored some great goals from distance, running with the ball last year with her right foot or her left foot. I thought on Friday night she was our best passer of the ball. Today, she did a great job as far as helping to bring confidence and anchoring our back line."
Texas A&M's schedule is light on cupcakes as it is, but, like the game against North Carolina, No. 4 Portland occupies a premium tier. It was a big win for the Aggies when they beat the Pilots in College Station last year; winning Friday's return game in Portland would be bigger still.
And when two programs that place as much emphasis as any on attractive, technical soccer meet under the Friday night lights at the Clive Charles Soccer Complex, it's must-see action.
"You love to play against good teams; you love to play against teams that play soccer, that aren't just a bunch of reckless thugs," Guerrieri said. "I don't think anyone would ever accuse Portland of being a bunch of thugs that play. Not that we really have seen any thugs this year, but to be able to play against a team that puts pride in the way that they play, similar to the way that we do, it should make for a really special game."
Around the nation
• It was a weekend to forget on just about every front for Penn State. Two soccer losses at the Nike Invitational in Portland, Ore., won't resonate to quite the same degree as the football team's loss at Alabama or the women's volleyball team dropping a match for the first time since 2007, but a 1-5-1 start for Erica Walsh's squad that opened the season on the cusp of the top 10 might be more baffling than the other two put together.
Penn State's losing streak reached five games with 2-1 and 4-2 losses against Washington and Portland, respectively. Few teams have played a nonconference schedule as challenging as the Nittany Lions', but that's cold comfort for a new reality in State College in which the postseason is anything but a given. The Big Ten power should be able to climb to .500 or above and qualify against its remaining schedule, but, at least on paper, it also should be be better than 1-5-1.
The good news is a young team is gaining an understanding of the work required -- freshman Maya Hayes became the third Penn State freshman to notch a goal this season when she scored against Washington (Hayes scored again against Portland on Sunday). The bad news is silver linings don't stop you from getting wet when it rains.
"Right now, we look like we're trying to find our leadership," Walsh said last weekend before the trip to Portland. "We look like we're trying to utilize a strong freshman class, and right now, it's taking too much time."
• No. 19 Cal is 4-0-2 with 18 goals in its past three games after routing Long Beach State 6-0 on Sunday -- the same Long Beach State team that upset then-ranked teams Washington State and Virginia Tech earlier this month -- so the Bears probably would appreciate it if we didn't count them out of any championship races just yet, be they Pac-10 or even grander stages. But if Cal, which it must also be noted has not played a demanding nonconference schedule to date, is ultimately a good team short on national title potential, it raises an interesting question.
Can Alex Morgan still win the Hermann Trophy?
Morgan scored twice against Long Beach State and has nine goals in six games. She has played for the United States at just about every level of international competition, including with the senior national team, so, Cal schedule aside, you can trust she's as good as the stats suggest. She may very well be the best women's college soccer player in the country, or at least the best finisher. But at the same time, the list of Hermann winners doesn't include many names associated with teams that weren't part of the College Cup.
No. 13 UCLA scored the biggest win of the weekend with a 2-1 overtime victory against No. 3 Notre Dame on Friday, thanks to a pair of goals from freshman Jenna Richmond, then promptly gave back some of that momentum in a 1-1 draw against UC Santa Barbara on Sunday. The draw did extend the Bruins' home unbeaten streak to 71 consecutive games, with San Diego, Santa Clara, California and Stanford all coming to Drake Stadium before Oct. 10. No. 20 Memphis should apply for SEC consideration if things go unexpectedly wrong in Conference USA this season. With a weekend sweep of Ole Miss and Alabama, Memphis improved to 3-0 against SEC teams this season and 11-3-1 against them in the past four seasons. Sophomore Taylor Isenhower had three weekend goals for the Tigers. How rare was the golden goal freshman Danielle Au scored for No. 21 South Carolina in a 1-0 win against Furman on Sunday? It was the first golden goal for a South Carolina freshman since the program's first season in 1995. Au scored two of South Carolina's three goals in a pair of weekend wins. Saves and shots are statistics that can vary a lot depending on the scorers in question, but they generally know what they're doing out in the Bay Area. So to see Georgia keeper Ashley Baker enter the weekend with 20 saves on the season and exit with 41 saves, it's safe to assume she turned in some serious work to help the No. 23 Bulldogs push No. 2 Stanford to overtime in a 2-1 loss Friday and salvage a 1-1 draw out of Sunday's game against No. 9 Santa Clara. Louisville set a school record for its best start with a midweek win against in-state rival Kentucky, then bettered the mark by improving to 6-0-0 with a 2-0 win at Saint Louis on Sunday. A showdown at Illinois on Sunday looms large. USC scored an important 1-0 overtime win against Auburn on Friday, but Saturday's 3-0 win against Northern Arizona was significant in another way. It broke a string of six consecutive games with a single goal or less for USC, the program's longest such stretch to open a season.
Graham Hays covers women's college soccer for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grahamhays.
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