Southern Miss Soccer drops home opener against LSU


Photos by Montanah Middleton

Southern Miss fought evenly with LSU throughout the first 45 minutes of Sunday’s match, but the Tigers’ second-half burst of three goals resulted in a 3-1 deficit that the Golden Eagles could not overcome.


Southern Miss drops to 0-3 in its non-conference slate to begin the season, but Head Coach Mohammed El-Zare praised the effort and energy the Golden Eagles put into the match.


“I am very pleased with the team’s performance and with how we executed our game plan. As you saw in the first half, we caused a lot of problems and had opportunities to score,” El-Zare said. ” We could have scored on those opportunities in the first half, but I’m pleased with the organization in the attacking and the defensive phase of the game. We frustrated them and put them in a situation where they were uncomfortable.”


LSU outshot Southern Miss 17-5, bringing Southern Miss’ shot differential to 77-14 in the first three games. However, El-Zare says that this statistic does not represent the truth about how the Golden Eagles have been playing.


“If you look at the previous games, they outshot us, but 40 or 50% of the shots were off target, so if they want to shoot from 35 or 40 yards out, knock yourself out. I’m ok with that,” El-Zare said. “It’s about efficiency in the way you play. I felt that we forced them to shoot from a certain distance that they’re not comfortable [with], we had possession, and then we played our brand of soccer going forward.”


LSU got on the attack first and nearly scored on a shot from Mollie Baker that sailed just wide of the goal and then another missed opportunity from Alesia Garcia.


Southern Miss gained momentum towards the latter half of the first period and strung a succession of drives into the Tigers’ territory.


Adaira Nakano placed a shot towards the upper corner of the goal, but LSU goalkeeper Mollee Swift made a diving save.


Garcia nearly scored at the end of the half for the Tigers, but the referees called time before she could convert the play. However, she got her goal at the beginning of the second half to put LSU up 1-0.


The goal started a flurry of scoring as Southern Miss responded minutes later. Bernadett Stefan threaded the needle on a pass to Ilana Izquierdo to equalize the game and earn the Golden Eagles their first goal of the season.


Izquierdo, the C-USA Freshman of the Year and the team’s leading scorer last season, recently returned from representing Colombia at the FIFA 2022 U-20 World Cup. She remains an integral piece of the team’s attack and a leader by example.


“What Ilana brings in has nothing to do with technique, tactics, and all of that. She brings in a mindset and a way of training, living, and a way of just being an exemplary student-athlete,” El-Zare said. “She brings in a mentality and professionalism… it’s top-notch. That is what she brings to us…she brings that mentality that makes us better, confident and creative.”


Southern Miss could not find the advantage though, as LSU pushed ahead with a goal from Brenna McPartlan and then the deciding score in the 75th minute from Olivia Wilkes.


“We started well…we just need to play for 90 minutes. I feel that we’re making progress every game and how we’re playing, solving problems, improving our fitness, and getting players back from injuries. I am pleased where we are at this point of the season, and the results are coming for sure.”


The LSU game continued Southern Miss’ stretch against Southeastern Conference competition. The Golden Eagles opened the season with losses to Auburn and Alabama and have Mississippi State and Ole Miss on its schedule this week.


“You want to identify your strengths and weaknesses [and] you’ve got to compete against more competitive teams, but also it gives us purpose to work for it, gives us some objectives to challenge ourselves to continue to get better,” El-Zare said.


Southern Miss will face another SEC test at home Thursday against the Bulldogs.