October 10, 2006

Rare shutout as women's soccer stifled

There’s a first time for everything, and on Saturday women’s soccer was dealt a double whammy.

In a game that could have gone either way, the 14th-ranked Maroons (8–2–1, 1–1–0) suffered their first scoreless match the same day Emory (6–4–1, 1–1–0) handed the squad its first league loss.

It wasn’t for lack of opportunity that the South Siders were sent packing from Atlanta without a goal for the first time in 2006. Although outshot by the home team 8–6, the Maroons challenged fourth-year goalkeeper Amy Franciscovich, forcing her to make five saves. The Eagles mustered little on the offensive front, with third-year netminder Amy Sutter collecting just two saves in her second straight start. Unfortunately, she couldn’t record back-to-back shutouts after holding Lake Forest (5–4) to a 2–0 blank sheet last Tuesday.

An hour into the match, third-year forward Whitney Briggs finally broke the deadlock between the two teams. When a mistake by fourth-year defender Sally Hall gifted her the ball, the veteran Briggs then beat Sutter from just inside the box.

It was an unwelcome turnaround for the Maroons, who had started out strong in the second half. For the most part, they executed their game plan of keeping possession, making smart passes, and utilizing the wide players whenever possible.

“We knew their defense was very flat and easily thrown off, either to one side or just completely spread out, so that seams and switches would be effective,” said second-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergaele.

Throwing the squad off its strategy was second-year midfielder Alexa Wahr. She dominated the air and the Maroons had a hard time getting around the midfielder’s imposing five-foot-nine frame.

For the first time, the absence of seam-busting third-year Christine Farmer created a noticeable hole in Chicago’s offense as the forward sat out for her third straight game with an MCL injury. The mystery surrounding the time frame of her recovery has only been compounded by head coach Amy Reifert’s ongoing search for a replacement up front. Although first-year forward Brooke Bontz has shown that she has the ability to hold up the ball just as well as Farmer, there has yet to be a proven goal poacher in Farmer’s vein. The rookie Bontz has seven shots on the season but has so far failed to make ball meet net.

“[Fourth-year forward Jordan Pouliot] has been great attacking the backline to open up seams, Brooke has held the ball for us up front and [first-year forward Melissa Plesac] is getting better and better at poking the ball through to her fellow forward to get us one-on-one,” Nachtergaele said. “What Farmer brings to the table is an incredible work rate and creativity that allows her to hold that ball for us longer than anybody else, so we need to make up for that in her absence.”

Another factor Reifert has to contend with is the question of who goes to the away games. UAA rules stipulate that teams may only take 18 players on the road, and with so many new faces, it will take a combination of veteran experience and rookie drive to get crucial results away from home.

“I think it’s critical right now, though, that we do stress how important UAA games are. We just lost a conference game that we should have won, and that only puts more pressure on us to get up for next weekend’s double header,” said fourth-year midfielder and co-captain Maya Pratt. “Two wins next weekend are necessary to keep us in the running, and I’m sure that will be constantly reminded to everyone this week in practice.”

The Maroons face another road test on Friday, taking on Rochester (8–0–2, 1–0–1) in upstate New York, where they’ll look to use their possession better than they did against Emory.

“We need to possess in the middle, so we can then look to attack the space outside with our wide players, or play manageable balls through to the forwards,” added Pratt, who scored her first goal of the season last Tuesday in the domination over non-conference opponent Lake Forest.