EL PASO, Texas – The UTEP soccer team gave defending Big Sky champion Northern Arizona more than it wanted in a 3-2 defeat in the season opener for both squads in front of a rowdy crowd at University Field Thursday evening. Nearly 600 Orange and Blue faithful packed the stands, the biggest attendance since 2018 against I-10 rival NM State.
Taya Lopez (47’) and Emerson Kidd (69’) both found the back of the net for the Miners, with Lopez unleashing a cracker on a penalty kick and Kidd deftly slicing the ball past the wall on a set piece. The effort had the Orange and Blue tied, 2-2, with under 10 minutes remaining against the preseason favorites in the Big Sky before the Lumberjacks’ Maddie Shafer (84’) snuck a shot past a diving Tionna Taylor. Shafer had assisted on a tally by Allison Veloz in the 65th minute, but Kidd’s masterpiece served as the then equalizer.
“I think today was full of emotion. Not just for me but for the team. They’ve had such a body of work and effort put in today and to feature it at home in front of a great crowd was immense and it helped up us create as much as a homefield advantage in our debut,” first-year UTEP Head Coach Gibbs Keeton said. “To compete against the Big Sky champion and have two comebacks in the game – and what people need to know, it’s two games in a row where we showed fight. It’s not a moral fight, it’s not having to lie to [the team] fight. We scored two goals in this fight and one in our last fight (at New Mexico). We were up for it today and now it’s just about having that conviction moving forward. It doesn’t get any easier on Sunday (at San Diego State) but I think our belief gets better today. We need that to drive us because we’re doing a bit of atonement in our belief, and it was awesome having each other’s backs and in the second half you saw our opponent scramble. [Northern Arizona] is mature and is used to being in games like that and they put them away when they needed to.”
The Miners held advantages in both total shots (11-9) and shots on goal (7-5) while successfully fending off six corner kicks from the visitors. Taylor was credited with a trio of saves in the tilt while Lumberjack GK Trinity Corcoran was busy by making five stops.
UTEP held its defensive shape well early in the contest, with both shots from the visitors easily saved by Taylor through eight minutes of action. She denied Dai Williams in the third minute while turning away the try from Joey Lujan in the eighth minute.
The Miners then looked to get on the offensive, earning a free kick in Lumberjack territory. Kidd, who provided the strike on a set piece in UTEP’s 1-1 tie in an exhibition game at perennial Mountain West power New Mexico on Aug. 9, rocketed a shot that was blocked by the NAU defense.
An unlucky play resulted in the visitors taking the lead in the 15th minute where a well-positioned Miner defender had an unfortunate touch on a clearing attempt that resulted in an own goal. UTEP didn’t hang its head, though, and it went in search of the equalizer.
Ashlyn Neireiter’s try from outside the top of the box drifted wide left in the 32nd minute. The Orange and Blue earned their first corner kick of the tilt in the 35th minute, but the Lumberjacks barely beat the Miners to the ball to head it away.
UTEP did well to catch NAU offside in last minute of the half, sending the match to break.
The Miners tormented the Lumberjacks with a high-energy attack in the onset of the second stanza, resulting in Lopez being dragged down in the corner of the box. She then stepped up and left Corcoran helpless with a brilliant finish to even the tilt.
UTEP turned up the heat after pulling even, forcing Corcoran into making a quartet of saves over the next 13 minutes. The best chance of them was courtesy of Allison Stickney that had enough pace on it to coerce Corcoran into bobbling it, but the ball was blown dead on a foul during a mad scramble for the rebound.
Corcoran was tested again in the 61st minute on a shot from Kidd that came from UTEP’s side of the pitch. It sailed to the middle of the box and took a high hop before the keeper managed to corral it. The visitors then broke the deadlock with the tally by Veloz, but the Miners had an answer.
A handball against NAU just outside the 18-yard box gave UTEP a prime opportunity, and it wouldn’t waste it. Kidd used tremendous accuracy with a left-footed strike that got by both the wall and a caught-off guard Corcoran.
The two teams battled over the next 14 minutes before NAU netted the eventual match winner with Shafer finishing a cross from Allie Larsen. The Miners worked the ball up the pitch down the stretch, but they were unable to find another strike.
UTEP will now turn its attention to a road match at San Diego State at 7 p.m. MT/8 p.m. PT Sunday.
Season tickets for 2023 remain on sale now for just $35 per seat. Individual game tickets can be purchased for $8 per seat. Fans can call 915-747-UTEP or visit UTEPMiners.com/Tickets for more information.