As the conference season swings into full gear, women’s soccer will look to show it can compete at a high level away from its lucky home turf.
With many players on the young team getting their first taste of room service against a conference opponent this weekend, the 14th-ranked Maroons (8–1–1, 1–0–0 UAA) pay call to a hungry and physical Emory (5–4–0, 0–1–0) squad Saturday in Atlanta. Having struggled to finish around the net in their last three bouts, Chicago will aim to execute consistently in the face of a tough environment and an eager opponent.
The game will be a key test of how well the women have coalesced over the first 10 fixtures of the season. Traveling in this deep league is notoriously difficult, and the crew still has something to prove away from Hyde Park. They’ve won every match at Stagg so far this fall, extending their home streak there to 30 contests. Away from the friendly confines of the South Side, however, the Maroons have been a comparatively meager 2–1–1, including a 4–1 shellacking at 15th-ranked Wheaton (IL) (9–2–0, 3–1–0 CCIW) September 26.
“This is an important game for us. While a fair amount of these kids have traveled, certainly not all of them have been on the road before,” head coach Amy Reifert said. “We’re a very routine-driven group, and we’ve been on the road enough this year that we have a routine for the road. We need to follow it.”
“It’s imperative that we set the tone,” fourth-year midfielder Maya Pratt said. “Winning the conference is our main team goal this year, and clearly winning both at home and away is crucial to our success.”
It’s an exam Emory will be happy to administer. After having lost two in a row, including a 4–0 pasting at Wash U in their UAA opener last Saturday, the hosts should bring a peculiar brand of southern hospitality to the field. With the knowledge that two in-conference losses would essentially eliminate Emory from the league race, a team with a rough-and-tumble reputation will have the extra incentive of desperation.
“We’re looking for a fired-up, excited team. Our kids are going to have to be ready from the whistle at Emory, because they’re going to be ready,” Reifert said.
While the defense is anchored by fourth-year goalkeeper Amy Franciscovich (1.47 GAA), it’s been a total team effort on offense in Atlanta. Third-year forward Ali Sullivan (6 G, 2 A) leads Emory in points, and second-years midfielder/forward Joyce Lam and midfielder Jillian Brady will be among those helping Sullivan create on the Chicago half of the field. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they haven’t had much luck on the opponent’s end in recent days. They’ll enter the game scoreless in their last 194:23.
Of course, the Maroons have had some struggles of their own in beating the keeper. They were a juggernaut in attacking during the early third of the season but have slipped as of late, missing some solid opportunities both against Wheaton and in their 1–0 UAA opener win over Carnegie (4–4–1, 0–1–0) Saturday. Matters may have come to a head in a 2–0 victory over Lake Forest (5–4–0, 3–1–0 Midwest) Tuesday, when Chicago clearly outclassed their guests in earning 29 shots to the visitors’ 2 but only found twine twice.
“I just don’t think we’re creating enough really good chances. We haven’t missed any walk-ins or wide open goals, but we also haven’t quite executed enough to put it in the back of the net,” Reifert said.
Certainly a large degree of responsibility for this blip in production can be assigned to the absence of third-year forward Christine Farmer from the lineup. Farmer tallied an astounding 26 total points over the team’s first eight games, a full 22 ahead of the trio tied for second on the squad. Until her return from a sprained MCL, which could come as late as October 21, the team will be looking to players like Pratt, second-year midfielders Siggy Nachtergaele and Olivia Ndyabagye, and fourth-year forward Jordan Pouliot to take a greater share of the burden in getting Chicago on the board. Pouliot especially seems primed for an offensive explosion after breaking through for her first goal of the season against the Foresters.
“We’re so thrilled that Jordan got that goal, because it may only take one for her [to get started], the way she’s been playing in practice. It was just a matter of time and getting her to believe that they’re going to go in game situations as well,” Reifert said.
“[First-year midfielder] Brooke Bontz has done a tremendous job filling in both in the midfield and offense, and will play a critical role this weekend against Emory. As always, Siggy plays an impact role in the middle, and I think it will be necessary for her to step up and be a finisher this weekend as well,” Pratt said.
While Chicago’s lineup should be very similar to what we’ve seen at home over the last week, it’s still an open question as to who will get the start in goal. The Maroons have an embarrassment of riches at keeper, as second-year Polly Cline recorded five shutouts and a 0.57 GAA in nine games after presumptive starter third-year Amanda Sutter dislocated her thumb in summer training. The latter is now all healed up and earned a shutout of her own Tuesday to lower her GAA to 1.18. It remains to be determined whether the Maroons will pick one for a full-time starting job or have both split time at the position.
Whoever minds the net should be in for an exciting contest as the Eagles will go all out when they attempt to save their season. But with Chicago’s finest preparing for a key trip to fourth-ranked Rochester (8–0–1, 1–0–0) a week from today, the Maroons should be up for the challenge.