When Columbus Eagles training camp opened in early March, feelings of hope and optimism accompanied players as they arrived for tryouts and walkthroughs. As the calendar flips to June, those feelings haven’t subsided but rather increased as talks of a postseason run begins to look more like a reality.
Columbus began its 2018 season unbeaten in its first five games, collecting seven points in Women’s Professional Soccer League play. Last season, the Eagles amassed just 10 points total in eight league games (3-1-4). Head coach Daniel Seiffert has improved the culture around the Columbus locker room and remains unbeaten since taking over in December of 2017.
Seiffert recently earned his “A” license for the United States Soccer Federation and his confidence has grown because of it. His team has rarely been challenged this season, earning a commanding 9-0 victory in the preseason opener, and claiming a 2-0 victory in the WPSL opener where the Eagles didn’t allow a shot on goal from inside of the penalty area.
A trip north on Interstate-71 to Cleveland was the true litmus test for Columbus. The Cleveland Ambassadors always put up a fight against the Eagles whenever these two sides meet. That again would be the case as last Sunday afternoon, the Ambassadors jumped up to a shocking 3-0 advantage in the first half.
“I think we were a little slow in the first half,” said Columbus forward Hannah Marks. “We didn’t really get into our groove right away and once they put the first goal in, I think we put our head down a bit.”
The three-goal advantage presented adversity unlike anything the Eagles had seen since Seiffert took over. Marks and her teammates limped into the locker room at halftime, trailing a talented Cleveland squad by three goals.
“We knew that we were not playing to our full potential,” she said. “We knew that we could play a lot better.”
According to the Columbus forward, her head coach delivered a passionate halftime speech in which he challenged his team play up to its potential.
“We know we are better than this and everyone knows we can play better than this,” Marks said, reciting Seiffert’s speech. “Let’s go out there and do it. Why aren’t we playing to our full potential? Why are we not doing what we know we can do? What we’ve done in practice so many times before, let’s go out there and do it.”
The halftime speech woke the Eagles in the second half. Midfielder Micaela Powers began the comeback in the 50th minute, drilling a free kick from distance that got Columbus within two goals. Just 12 minutes later, captain Amber Kern made a brilliant run down the right wing as midfielder Ashley Gogolin found her with a pass in stride. Kern dancing around the goalkeeper, finished the opportunity and brought the Eagles to within one. The Eagles pushed on and found the equalizer in the 78th minutes as forward Erin Brockway capitalized on a mishap at the back from Cleveland to successfully complete the comeback.
“It’s a huge boost of confidence to see the work you’ve been doing for the whole second half finally payoff,” Marks said.
In the end, it was a 3-3 draw and a road point for the Eagles. Although the team would have loved to go to Cleveland and return home with all three points, fighting back from 3-0 down says something about will of this team.
The fact that the Eagles weren’t satisfied with the comeback and know that they first halves like the one against the Ambassadors aren’t acceptable is an even bigger testament to what this group is building.
“We tried to get the fourth goal but we ran out of time,” Marks said. “Had we played like that in the first half, we probably would have had a different outcome.”