At the beginning of the season, women’s soccer was dominant in all areas of the field. Not only did they seemingly score at will, they were also able to stop their opponents in their tracks. Since that impressive opening stretch against regional adversaries, injuries to key players have forced head coach Amy Reifert to readjust the tactical game plan, and the team is discovering—the hard way—that UAA competition is a much more difficult animal to master.
Chicago (6–3–2, 0–1–1 UAA) fell to Carnegie Mellon (6–4, 1–1) Saturday in Pittsburgh. Third-year star forward Abigail Coffin, who had put the home team ahead in the first half, completed her hat trick in a frantic final six minutes to bury the Maroons in their first league loss.
It was a game where momentum depended highly on smart possession, and the Maroons did not make the most of their time on the ball.
“This week we focused on being better offensively and tried to be more dangerous in the final third in general. [Against Carnegie,] we did not possess the ball well. We didn’t connect passes, and we didn’t find their weak side space,” Reifert said.
There were signs of a good afternoon for Chicago early on, when third-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergaele had her shot saved within the opening minute. The South Siders followed up Nachtergaele’s strong start by keeping their hosts under some pressure but failed to completely break through and come away, even with many concrete chances.
On the defensive end, the Maroons limited the Tartans to only three shots in the first half, but the crucial one came in the 23rd minute, after a free kick giveaway on the right wing. Fourth-year midfielder Amanda Rose’s delivery found Coffin, who towered over everybody in the box, to head the ball in for a Carnegie lead.
“We couldn’t have defended that first goal any better than we did,” Reifert said. “We knew [Coffin] was a threat heading the ball, and I would give [Carnegie] all the credit for the first goal.”
Just before the half-hour mark, the Tartans threatened to further augment the scoreline, this time through fourth-year forward Kasey Stever, who latched onto a long goal kick on the left wing. Although Stever was able to lift the ball past fourth-year goalkeeper Amanda Sutter, her shot lacked pace, and third-year defender Maggie Costich was able to track back and head out the danger.
A conservative attacking first half ended with Chicago barely out-shooting Carnegie four to three. But if the first half found the Maroons lacking in creativity, the second afforded them even fewer chances. Third-year right winger Olivia Ndyabagye and second-year left winger Katie Klamann both made forays into Tartan territory, but the plays invariably broke down before reaching their peak.
“We were not good offensively because we didn’t win balls,” Reifert said. “Sometimes that’s on the forwards not keeping possession, sometimes that’s because we’re not winning 50–50 balls. Part of that, you have to give some credit to Carnegie—they played harder than we did.”
Although the offense struggled to get any rhythm going, the defense kept the Maroons in the game for most of the second half by stifling Carnegie’s attack. The defense held until the last six minutes of the match, when the Tartans broke the game wide open. Off another set-piece delivery by Rose, Sutter was unable to hold on, and Coffin was on hand to put the home team up 2–0.
“They had very few chances other than from set pieces,” Refeirt said. “We defended them very well, except for the three goals.... But at that point, it got kind of crazy.”
It took only a minute for Chicago to fight their way back into the game, however, as second-year midfielder Claire Gill scored her first goal of the season, sliding home a cross from Nachtergaele inside Carnegie’s box and bringing the Maroons right back into the game.
Scrambling for a late equalizer, the Maroons piled everyone forward, but their hopes were buried by a goal in the 89th minute. Coffin was the culprit once again, completing the hat trick by rising above her defender to head in a cross by fourth-year forward Jessica Howard.
“They took the momentum and ran with it,” Reifert said. “We spent a lot of the game watching.”
This week, Reifert and the Maroons will search for more answers on the offensive front, which has suffered a dip in production since the season-ending injury of first year Sarah Loh. The rookie netted four goals in the first five matches of the season as the squad outscored its opponents 15–1. Her absence, along with that of
second-year Kaitlin Meyer—who left the Emory match last Saturday with her second leg injury in two seasons—represents a significant loss for the Maroons on two sides of the pitch, but Reifert is confident that the depth of her roster can pick up the slack as league competition gets heady.
The team faces a crucial three-day stretch this upcoming weekend away at Brandeis (7–3–1, 1–1) Friday and at 19th-ranked NYU (10–1–1, 1–1) Sunday. For Chicago, the next three days will be all about fine-tuning the offense for UAA–level competition.
“We need to work on winning the one-on-one battles, being more dangerous in the final third, continuing to work the backfield, and making [our attack] as sharp as we possibly can,” Reifert said.