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Trojans create a new identity

Khosroshahin, USC's first-year coach, has quickly changed the culture in the soccer program, and a national title is already in view.

December 09, 2007|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Ali Khosroshahin has imparted some formidable lessons in his first season as coach of USC's women's soccer team.

He gave players a sense of discipline and the drive to do things for the reward of doing them well, not just to be done.

He taught them to accept nothing less than their best and turn practice from a chore into "the part of the day that we all look forward to being a part of," time to learn and bond and have fun.

His players aced every test. It's Khosroshahin who will confront his toughest challenge today, when USC (19-3-2) plays fellow first-time finalist Florida State (18-5-3) for the Women's College Cup at Aggie Soccer Stadium.

Shortly after USC's 2-1 semifinal upset of UCLA on Friday, Khosroshahin learned that his mentor, Heros Baghoumian of Glendale, a former FIFA referee and longtime youth and college official in Southern California, had died after a heart attack. Khosroshahin was too deeply shaken to immediately begin strategizing for today's game.

"When I moved to California I was 14 and started playing club soccer," he said Saturday. "I'm Persian, and he was one of the referees and he was Persian as well. We hit it off, and he kept an eye on me ever since."

They had talked Thursday and Baghoumian had wished him luck against the Bruins, so Khosroshahin was stunned by Friday's news. "It was pretty hard on me," he said.

He will have to find a new inner strength, which may be difficult but not impossible for the man who transformed the culture of an entire program in a few months.

"He's done a heck of a job," said Mark Krikorian, the Seminoles' coach. "If there's anyone in the country who's done a better job I'd like to see it."

Long overshadowed by UCLA, USC is fast developing a distinct identity.

The Trojans have a well-organized and stingy defense and they've outscored opponents, 8-1, in five tournament games. Junior Amy Rodriguez is the top scorer with 10 goals, but freshman Ashli Sandoval's 11 assists have been a revelation to an opportunistic offense.

They also have an imposing presence in goal in 6-foot sophomore Kristin Olsen, who made a career-best eight saves against UCLA.

"She's awesome. She always plays like that," co-captain Ashley Nick said. "She's a reliable force in the back.

"I think she just gets big in there. People don't know where to shoot at her."

The Seminoles, who defeated Notre Dame in their semifinal Friday, have a 17-4 scoring edge in their five tournament games. They rely on the combination of junior Mami Yamaguchi of Japan (24 goals) and freshman Sanna Talonen of Finland (18 goals).

"I have confidence for my team, and if we play our soccer I know the results will come," said Yamaguchi, a member of Japan's national team. "I'm just excited."

The Seminoles also have players from Canada, the Netherlands and Germany, which can make for complications in blending languages and philosophies.

"Whether it's the food, classes, speaking and thinking in English, having to deal with an American coach who may be a little bit crazy, it's just different styles," Krikorian said.

Florida State has beaten USC twice in three meetings, most recently a 4-0 victory in 2005. That doesn't hold much significance because so much has changed for both teams -- especially for USC, under its new coach.

"It's a lot more fun," Nick said. "I think it's paying off, all the changes."

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

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