The USC women's soccer team rings in the new year today with the beginning of fall camp, so we caught up with head coach Ali Khosroshahin to discuss last year's bitter post-season defeat to Notre Dame, Amy Rodriguez's World Cup performance and how the collegiate game can help grow the sport of soccer in the United States.
Dave Dulberg (DD): When you look at last season, on one hand you advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and on the other you suffered a miserable 4-0 defeat at the hands of Notre Dame. Looking back, how would you characterize last season?
Ali Khosroshahin (AK): Honestly, I try not to think back to last season. I try to keep my focus on what's next. I thought last season we were a little inconsistent, because we'd play a great match and then follow it up with a not-so-great match. I think a lot of that had to do with maturity and having so many new players.
DD: Speaking of new players, last season goalie Shelby Church started all 22 matches between the pipes. Will that experience be beneficial for her in 2011?
AK: Absolutely. Shelby started every match for us, and she was great in some of them and not so much in others. I think she has developed a better understanding of what we do defensively. That's going to allow her to become much more successful because she can help us to stay organized defensively.
DD: You return your top three scorers in redshirt senior midfielder Ashli Sandoval (pictured below), sophomore midfielder Autumn Altamirano and sophomore forward Elizabeth Eddy. How important is it for your offense knowing that those three dynamic weapons will be available at your disposal?
AK: Anytime you can return that many goals to your program, it's a good sign. Since I've been here though, creating opportunities to score has never been an issue. Last season, especially, was about the inconsistencies on the defensive side. It's nice to have those scorers and we have additional freshmen who can come in and put the ball in the back of the net, but ultimately we need to improve defensively.
DD: Defensively, who needs to step up for your team to be successful this season?
AK: Senior Claire Schloemer is the player with the most experience on the back line. We are going to really depend on her to be our anchor back there much like we did with Karter Haug last year. Claire has worked really hard throughout the spring and summer to prepare herself to be that anchor. I look forward to seeing her do it.
DD: With graduation claiming the likes of Karter Haug and Megan Ohai, who are you expecting to step up as team leaders?
AK: Pretty much all of our third and fourth-year players: Brittany Kerridge, Ashli Sandoval, Claire Schloemer, Carly Butcher, Samantha Johnson, Morgan Morrow and Courtney Garcia. These are players that have been with us for awhile now, and we are going to have to depend on quite a few of them.
DD: When you weren't working this offseason to prepare for the season opener on August 19, you had to have enjoyed watching your former player, Amy Rodriguez, play for the U.S. National Team in the World Cup. What was that experience like for you?
AK: It was exciting. I thought she had some chances, but I wish she had gotten more opportunities to stay on the field. Amy is one of those players that as the match goes on, she gets better. She is so strong and aggressive, and really has a nose for the goal. She just needed more time to make those things happen.
DD: Finally, the question always gets raised after a remarkable run by the U.S. Women's National Team, but how can the game gain momentum in this country when there isn't a World Cup at stake? And, as a collegiate coach where do you see your role in this ongoing process?
AK: I think we need to continue to bring attention to the young women, their commitment and dedication to the sport. I also think we need to do a better job of understanding that we are competing for entertainment dollars. We need to make certain that when people come to watch us one time, they can't wait to come back and watch us play again. Fans like to see a team that is organized and dedicated to their game plan, tackles and goal-scoring opportunities. If we can do those things, which we tend to do, people will come see us play.
(Photo by ESPN LA)