In moment after agonizing moment Saturday, women’s soccer found itself on the cusp of victory, inches from opening conference action with a perfect record. But sometimes close just doesn’t count.
Finding an incredible stride on defense but unable to register a goal for the first time this season, 21st-ranked women’s soccer (5–2–2, 0–0–1 UAA) battled 17th-ranked Emory (8–0–1, 0–0–1 ranked fourth in NSCAA/Adidas rankings) to a scoreless tie in UAA action at Stagg.
Saturday morning, things weren’t looking up for the Maroons. Winless since September 12, the squad had dropped its last two decisions, including a 2–1 heartbreaker on Tuesday that snapped a 35-game at-home undefeated streak. Rookie forward Sarah Loh, who burst onto the Chicago sports scene with five goals in her first five games, was injured. Heading into the biggest test so far in the season, the Maroons were desperately lacking momentum.
Walking on to the pitch, however, Chicago was confident they could contend.
“I think we saw Saturday as an opportunity to get ourselves back on track,” head coach Amy Reifert said. “Conference play is everything. You don’t have time to put your head down if you want to win conference.”
Beginning the day’s action, the Maroons proved that their early-season success was no fluke, instantly showing their ability to contain Emory’s potent offense. Pinned by the Eagles in front of their own goal, the Maroons mounted a spectacular defensive effort to keep the visitors off the scoreboard.
“We covered spaces well, we covered each other well,” Reifert said. “It was a focus for us last week at practice to get more organized defensively and to make better, quicker decisions. I just think we were a much more organized group on Saturday.”
The Eagles’ offensive onslaught gave spectators a plethora of nerve-wracking moments, yet Chicago never appeared fazed.
With 22:38 remaining in the first, fourth-year goalkeeper Amanda Sutter stopped a one-on-one breakaway shot only to give the Eagles a rebound opportunity. Getting to the box in the nick of time, third-year defender Maggie Costich was there to make the block as Sutter recovered from her diving save.
Contributing six saves in the shutout, Sutter, who boasts a .786 save percentage, now has four scoreless outings on the year.
Impressive plays such as this joint effort dominated the scene for the rest of the period, as Chicago stopped the Eagles’ flight again and again but never found an offensive groove of their own.
Despite encouraging play protecting their own goal, Chicago had trouble creating offensive opportunities, rarely moving the ball much past midfield.
“I felt like we didn’t control the midfield in the first half like we like to,” Reifert said. “If we have more possession in the midfield, it’s much easier to keep the ball in our end of the field, and we talked about that at halftime. If our midfielders can control the ball, we have better opportunities to score.”
Charging back after the break, Reifert’s locker-room advice paid off, and Chicago seemed determined to reverse its role as defender. The Maroons now found themselves the relentless attackers, with the Eagles forced to come up with defensive miracles to hold them off.
After controlling the ball in enemy territory for the opening moments of the half, Chicago saw its first real chance when second-year midfielder Katie Klamann outmaneuvered Emory defenders to take the ball deep in the box and pull off a shot with 38:33 remaining.
Spending much of the period challenging fourth-year keeper Emily Fedeles, Chicago couldn’t manage to convert any of their countless scoring opportunities.
With 7:13 left in regulation, third-year midfielder Olivia Ndyabagye lofted a cross just in front of the goal, but fourth-year forward and the team’s tied-for-first goal-leader Christine Farmer couldn’t pull off a successful shot. Drawing a foul during the play, third-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergale took a free kick at 6:40, but the chance was yet again stymied by Emory’s defense.
Desperate for a game-winner as regulation ran out, second-year forward Brooke Bontz got off a shot with under a minute left, but it was stopped by Fedeles.
“We had probably five or six instances where we had opportunities to score and didn’t finish,” Reifert said. “We didn’t have any really simple chances, but we did have a lot of missed opportunities, and we need to take better advantages of those.”
Mounting Chicago’s last serious assault with just under four minutes to play in double overtime, Bontz again smoked Eagle defenders to take the ball right up to the posts but couldn’t come up with a golden goal.
“I felt that there’s no question we should have won the game,” Reifert said. “We were two evenly matched teams, and we had opportunities to win, and we were the home team. I wasn’t satisfied at all with a tie.”
Sharing fourth place in the UAA with the Eagles, the Maroons get another shot at conference action this weekend with a road trip to Carnegie Mellon (5–4). Before taking on the Tartans, they’ll make a stop in Lake Forest (5–4–1).