add_theme_support( 'post-thumbnails' );Eagles Fall 3-2 to no.15 South Carolina - BANG.
Photo courtesy of BC Women's Soccer / Twitter

Eagles Fall 3-2 to no.15 South Carolina

The Eagles stared down no.15 South Carolina in their home opener, falling just short of the comeback in a 3-2 loss on Thursday, August 24th. Ella Richards had a brace, but it wasn't enough to salvage a point from the game. Wiebke Willebrandt had four saves on seven shots to keep the Eagles in the game.

Catherine Barry scored what would be the game-winning goal in the 46th minute, opening the second half by taking the air out of the Eagles' lungs. Shae O'Rourke, the opening goal scorer, found herself back on the scoresheet with an assist, sending a long ball over the top to switch fields and spring Barry. Finding herself alone on goal with just Willebrandt to beat, Barry timed her shot perfectly with the bouncing ball, opting to send it near post, just past Willebrandt. Barry's goal made the score 3-1, and it proved to be the decisive goal.

Shae O'Rourke opened the scoring for the Gamecocks, finally breaking through an Eagles defense that had done well to keep South Carolina from looking dangerous. Using her speed, O'Rourke managed to beat the Eagles defender to a bouncing ball sent in over the top. With a miscue on the backline, O'Rourke had space to take a touch, bring the ball under control, and then chip Eagles keeper Willebrandt, who had come off her line to try and pressure O'Rourke into missing her shot.  

Luckily, Sophia Lowenberg answered 15 minutes later to draw the Eagles' level. Sydney Segalla took her space on the right side, using her speed to send South Carolina scrambling before finding Lowenberg at the top of the box. With a nifty spin move, Lowenberg gave herself the space to send a low, skipping ball just past South Carolina goalkeeper Heather Hinz, who had bought the spin move and was moving the wrong way. This was Lowenberg's first goal of the season and drew the Eagles level with less than ten minutes left in the first half.  

Two minutes later, the Eagles conceded a penalty kick to South Carolina, allowing them to retake the lead. In a game where the referee was content to let both sides play, BC likely expected the foul to go uncalled, but luck was not in their favor. Camryn Dixon stepped up to take the kick, calmly burying the ball into the left-side netting to give the Gamecocks the lead going into the second half. 

Down but not out, the Eagles would manage to pull another goal back in the 61st minute with a goal by captain Claire Mensi. Taking advantage of a corner kick, Laura Gouvin sent the ball in toward the far post, where Mensi was making the trailing run. Mensi drilled the ball into the back of the net, giving the Eagles life with 30 minutes to go and momentum on their side.

While not a perfect night for the Eagles, the tough test against a ranked opponent demonstrated how competitive the Eagles actually are going into ACC play. In the second half, despite conceding early, BC had the better chances; they just couldn't find a way to find the back of the net consistently. Especially dangerous on set pieces, the Eagles were finding their targets but just couldn't get enough on the ball to consistently force saves out of South Carolina keeper Heather Hinz.

The Eagles lost the game on moments of lapsed concentration that South Carolina took advantage of. South Carolina closed out the game by denying the Eagles scoring opportunities for the last 30 minutes, despite Segalla and Emily Sapienza having some luck attacking the right side. Struggling to keep sustained possession, the ending of the game felt more like a track meet than a soccer game, with the advantage being on the side of the Eagles with their speedy wingers. South Carolina's defensive shape kept the Eagles out wide, and there appeared to be no answers in the middle of the field.

Defensively, the Eagles have improved in each of their matchups. The trouble has been putting together a consistent 90-minute effort that doesn't leave Willebrandt exposed. Two of South Carolina's three goals came from single effort, over-the-top runs that were partially the result of the backline allowing the opposing team's forwards too much space. Connected to the midfield lines, BC allowed South Carolina to force them to sit deeper, making them vulnerable to the long, cross-pitch balls that South Carolina wanted to play with.

 The Eagles (0-2-1) take on San Jose State (1-1-1) at Newton on Sunday, August 27th at noon. The game is celebrated as Back to School Day.

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