October 13, 2009

Comeback win keeps Chicago on track

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Playing at home with their backs to the wall, women’s soccer scored two second-half goals to beat Emory 2–1 on Saturday and, in doing so, rescued their UAA title hopes.

The Eagles (4–2–4, 0–1–1 UAA) went ahead in the 30th minute on midfielder Talia Dweck’s penalty kick after third-year defender Claire Denz was whistled for a handball in the box, a costly and controversial call against the Maroons (8–1–1, 1–0–1).

Chicago came out of halftime pressing hard for the equalizer and their effort was rewarded when third-year forward Sarah Loh beat Emory goalkeeper Kirsten Beacher to a loose ball in the six-yard box and scored in the 58th minute. Not to be outdone, fourth-year forward Brooke Bontz, whose six goals are tied with Loh for the team lead, drove in a rebound of her own in minute 74, netting her fifth game-winning goal of the season.

Unsurprisingly, a penalty kick given to Emory in the first half, which put the Eagles ahead, was deeply unpopular with the home fans. However, the players all indicated that it was a close call, even if they disagreed with it.

“The penalty obviously did not seem fair to us but at the same time, it is one of those instances where the ref called what he believed he saw and we just had to deal with the circumstances,” fourth-year defender Kaitlin Meyer said.

After drawing with Carnegie in the previous weekend’s game, the Maroons knew that any result other than a win could spell the end of their UAA title hopes. Thus, it was vital that Chicago score the two second-half goals needed to slip past Emory.

“At halftime, I think we were able to get together and understand what we had to get done in order to keep our goal of winning the UAA,” Meyer said. “There was a strong sense of urgency on the field both individually and as a team. Individuals started to make big plays one by one and this carried over to the whole team.”

The fact that Chicago was able to respond so strongly and come from behind to win the game reflects positively on the efforts of head coach Amy Reifert and her staff, who prepared the team for this exact situation.

“The previous day at practice we played a game management drill in which our coach creates game situations, such as a one-goal lead or deficit, and the purpose of the drill is to adjust our playing style and tempo accordingly to either maintain the lead or come up with a tie,” Loh revealed.

A penchant for snatching favorable results from seemingly dire situations is one of the hallmarks of an elite soccer team at any level. Despite facing a one-goal deficit, it never appeared that the Maroons were beaten or even likely to be beaten. And after the equalizer, it seemed nearly inevitable that a game-winner by the Maroons would follow.

In truth, this was a more complete performance than the box score indicates. Gormley’s goal was rarely seriously threatened, and the Maroons’ defense neutralized the Emory attack effectively. But going forward, Chicago will need to score earlier so that they do not make a habit of chasing goals late in the game.

Chicago’s goal of winning the UAA championship is still very reachable, and the Maroons have proven they are a good enough team to do so, but the matchup with Emory was a reminder that with one false step—or swing of the arm—the title can slip away.