COLLEGE STATION, Texas (Friday, December 7, 2007) -- Florida State and Southern California each rode dramatic game-winners midway through the second half to earn their first berths in the NCAA Division I championship game.
Junior forward Amy Rodriguez provided a pair of goals in quick succession to rally ninth-ranked Southern California to a 2-1 come-from-behind triumph over No. 1 UCLA in a battle of crosstown Los Angeles rivals in tonight's second match before 7,507 at Texas A&M's Aggie Soccer Stadium.
In the opener, freshman striker Amanda DaCosta contributed her third game-winner of the season for No. 14 Florida State which twice squandered leads, but defeated 13th-ranked Notre Dame 3-2.
Florida State and Southern Cal meet to decide the national championship here Sunday at 2 p.m. (ET), a game that will be televised by ESPN2.
USC (19-3-2) was victorious in its first visit to the Women's College Cup final four, having never advanced past the second round in eight previous visits to the NCAA tournament. FSU (18-5-3) had made College Cup appearances in 2003, 2005 and 2006, but lost in the national semifinals each year.
"The curse is over, finally, finally, finally," first-year USC coach Ali Khosroshahin said. "I thought UCLA was an exceptional team. I think they had the better of the game most of it. We were fortunate to finish a couple of opportunities and Kristin Olsen was solid in the (Southern Cal) nets."
UCLA (20-2-2) was making its fifth straight appearance in the College Cup, but has yet to earn a championship, having lost in the final in 2004 and 2005. Notre Dame (19-5-2), which saw its 17-match unbeaten streak (16-0-1) end, was the only Final Four member to have captured a national championship (1995, 2004) and finished second a year ago.
Trailing after UCLA sophomore forward Lauren Cheney struck in the 38th minute, the Women of Troy prevailed when Rodriguez found net twice in a span of six minutes, 24 seconds.
USC's equalizer came quickly, two passes after a seemingly benign interception deep in its defensive end. Freshman midfielder Ashli Sandoval collected the clearance on her side of the center stripe, touched twice and then and looped a long ball forward. Rodriguez sped between two Bruins to the 18-yard-line where she caught up to the ball on the third hop. Pushing the ball forward once, she directed a right-footed roller from 10 yards out below charging senior goalkeeper Val Henderson to make it 1-1 at 67:31.
Sandoval's right-side corner kick set up the winner. She drove it past the far post where freshman defender Kasey Johnson nodded it down. Two yards from the left post, Rodriguez roofed a left-footer into the net before Handerson to get to the ball for her 10th tally of 2007 and a 2-1 advantage with 16:05 left on the clock.
The Bruins went ahead 1-0 on a great individual move by Cheney in the 38th minute. Taking a pass from sophomore midfielder Kristina Larsen atop the left side of the penalty area, she spun backward to elude one defender and carried laterally past three more Bruins to the middle before drilling a right-footer 16 yards into the top left corner of the net past a helpless Olsen.
"We're not done," Khosroshahin said. "We get measured on national championships at USC. Until we do that, this means nothing."
Florida State 3, Notre Dame 2
| Freshman Sanna Talonen contributed a goal and a game-winning assist to Florida State in its 3-2 NCAA tournament semifinal victory over Notre Dame.
-- University of Notre Dame web site photo --
Striker Sanna Talonen scored her NCAA tournament leading eighth-goal for a 2-1 halftime lead, but it was her assist to a fellow freshman that proved to be the difference.
Talonen sent a beautiful ball to DaCosta, who was streaking down the middle field. Lauren Karas came charging out, but DaCosta slid her sixth goal of the season -- first of the NCAA tournament -- under the advancing senior keeper for a 3-2 lead with 18:30 remaining.
"Coach (Mark Krikorian) told us, following the media timeout, that he doesn't want to go home tonight," DaCosta said. "I don't think anybody wanted to and he told us if we just went back in there and just fought -- we had 20 minutes, he said -- just take our time and play our game, not their game. And we tried to do that as best we could."
FSU junior striker Mami Yamaguchi set an NCAA tournament record for the fastest goal when she netted her 24th of the season for a 1-0 lead with 15 seconds elapsed. DaCosta intercepted an Irish pass and weaved her way forward before feeding Yamaguchi streaking down the middle. The Tokyo native used her first touch to find the lower right corner of the net.
"She came and gave me such a good ball and I just needed to pass the ball into the net," Yamaguchi said of DaCosta's ninth assist of the season.
Talonen had scored the previous fastest Seminole goal early this season, needing 26 seconds to find net against North Florida.
Notre Dame used its first corner kick to equalize. Junior forward Kerri Hanks sent a ball from the left corner bending to the far post where junior defender Carrie Dew elevated and drove a header that caromed off an opposing defender into the net for a 1-1 tie at 14:16.
Yamaguchi set up Talonen for a 2-1 advantage at 32:22. Taking a cross from the left side, Talonen went one-on-one with Karas and beat the diving keeper with a shot just inside the right post. Yamaguchi's 24 goals, 18 assists and 66 points are all team highs.
Notre Dame started the second half strong and tied the match at 2-2 on a goal by junior defender Elise Weber. After a series of near misses, Weber tucked a curling shot into the top left corner of the net from 16 yards at 55:32.
"Everybody felt we could win," Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum said. "It's hard to say you're the better team when you don't win, but I thought, at times, we were better."