Photo courtesy of BC Women's Soccer / Twitter

Eagles Shutout 0-3 Against No. 16 Notre Dame

Stop me if this sounds familiar, but Women's Soccer lost another game 0-3 to a ranked opponent, this time No. 16 Notre Dame on Thursday night in Newton. The ACC game was the third annual Pink Card Match for breast cancer awareness.

Notre Dame struck first in the 22nd minute, moments after the Eagles challenged Fighting Irish goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood. The goalkeeper made a save and the ball went the other way, with Olivia Wingate receiving the ball from a Notre Dame player just past the midfield line and dribbling forward. As the Eagles defense closed in, Wingate slipped the ball through to Maddie Mercado, who was one-on-one with BC keeper Wiebke Willebrandt. Mercado took one touch before poking it past Willebrandt and into the side netting to make it 1-0 Notre Dame.

The next two Notre Dame goals came within sixty seconds of each other, both in the 63rd minute. The first was a reverse of the first half, with Mercado feeding Wingate to make the score 2-0. Like the first half goal, Mercado had space in the final third, pushing in from the right side and slipping a through ball into the box for Wingate, who took a couple touches and struck the ball home to the near post.

Fifty seconds later, the Fighting Irish found the back of the net on a combination play that used five passes to stretch from the left side of the field to the center, finding Kiki Van Zanten. The Notre Dame forward spun with the ball to create a pocket of space for herself, before taking a touch and launching a rocket just inside the left post from distance.   

The first half was the best the Eagles have looked in ACC play this year, despite giving up a goal in the 22nd minute. After switching formations from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, BC converted players like Laura Gouvin into a full-back, while moving Sophia Lowenberg into a central midfield role. At the top, Ella Richards, Sam Smith, and Emily Sapienza all overlapped, allowing for a wider variety of movement and more engagement with the field play. The new formation also helped structure the defense with support from the midfield, with both Lowenberg and Sam Agresti clogging up the center of the field, allowing the defense to set.

Emily Sapienza had the best chance of the first for the Eagles, shooting a low ball from the right side that Notre Dame goalie Woods was forced to save by diving. Unfortunately, the Fighting Irish scored moments after the Sapienza shot, proving how quick momentum can shift.

It would be easy to pick on the things that went wrong as frustrations mount, but what the Eagles should focus on is the things that went right. In the second, despite the 60 second breakdown, BC had their chances—including a shot that went off the crossbar and another by Sam Smith that trickled just wide. Throw-ins, corner kicks, and long range over the top balls—all those plays caused chaos in the box and several Eagles looked dangerous. Gouvin looked solid in her new position and her ability to get balls into the box from distance, along with O’Mahony and Lowneberg, will prove vital in the coming matches.

Another positive for the Eagles is how confident Willebrandt is, completely commanding her box. Given the past three games, it would be easy for the goalie to stay at home or take less risks inside the box. Instead, Willebrandt has become more vocal and pushed her defense farther forward and taken a more active role in the back—repeatedly charging out to grab loose balls, using her goal kicks to push the ball further down the field, and commanding the air on corner kicks. Willebrandt also still makes the saves that leave everyone gasping, wondering how she got her positioning right in a millisecond. 

BC isn’t going down without a fight and the team is willing to adjust to their competition—the change in formation proves that. The game to game adjustments will help the Eagles build towards an ACC win, as the right combination of speed, technical ability, and prowess will reveal itself in time. Richards, Smith, and Barth looked dangerous, but so did substitute Sydney Segalla, whose ability to run onto any ball adds another offensive and defensive threat to the Eagles. Michela Agresti had a phenomenal game on defense, blocking a shot in the early minutes of the game and continuing to give Notre Dame no space throughout the entire game, reading play perfectly to navigate the ball out of dangerous situations.

The Eagles (4-5-3) return to play on Thursday, October 6th, taking on Syracuse (8-3) at 5:30pm at Newton Soccer Field. Syracuse will be the first unranked ACC opponent the Eagles face.

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