Saturday was a special day for soccer in Central Ohio with club and community coming together as one. The Columbus Eagles returned home to Otterbein University for the first time in two weeks for a contest with Empire United. Columbus remained committed to claiming three points after losing its last home contest against Motor City, and earning a draw against FC Pride.
This match was a special event for fans as the Eagles welcomed Columbus Crew SC supporters and the Save The Crew movement to the Otterbein campus. Club owner Mark Wise and his staff emerged as one of the first business allies of the grassroots movement aimed at keeping Crew SC in Central Ohio.
With the game scheduled to kick off at 4 p.m., Mother Nature had other plans, looking spoil the festivities. Kickoff was delayed by 30 minutes due to lightning and severe weather in the area.
Finally, the match began with the Eagles on the front foot, establishing a possession advantage from the beginning. Forwards Dani Gunderson and Rachel MacLeod challenged the Empire defensive early and often through the first 15 minutes. Gunderson unleashed several strikes from outside of the penalty box, challenging the Empire goalkeeper in search of an early advantage.
Columbus broke through in the 22nd minute as Micaela Powers found defender Samantha Demante running down the left side of the pitch. Demarte picked up her head and found Kelly DeNiro with a cross to the back post that the midfielder easily converted an uncontested chance on goal for the 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes later, Columbus continued to turn up the pressure on the attack. Defender Megan Minnix outmuscled an Empire player to gain possession at midfield. She found forward Ellie Gavin streaking down the field, and the first-year Eagle hammered it home with a defender draped all over her, giving Columbus a 2-0 advantage.
The Eagles took the advantage into the locker room at halftime, but Mother Nature wasn’t done trying to spoil the party. The officials denied entry to the pitch to the players due to more severe weather and lightning in the area. Spectators had to wait another 30 minutes for the weather to clear the area.
Play resumed and Columbus came out of the break looking to put the match completely out of reach. United withstood an early Eagles attack, but Columbus was awarded a corner. DeNiro confidently took the corner kick and found midfielder Ashley Gogolin, who slotted home the header, expanding the lead to 3-0.
Not to be outdone, Larissa Najjar found the scoresheet just two minutes later. Making a beautiful run on the through ball from DeNiro, Najjar found herself one on one with the goalkeeper. She slotted the ball to the keepers’ left and Columbus’ lead grew to a 4-0 advantage.
Just after the 70th minute, weather began moving back into the Westerville area. The center official spotted lightning to the west of Memorial Stadium, and after meeting with the two teams made the game official in the 70th minute. The match goes down as a 4-0 win for Columbus, and marks the first victory from the Eagles since May 19th against Cincinnati.
DeNiro was delightful
The Columbus midfielder dazzled a packed house at Otterbein University. Passing, shooting or scoring, DeNiro found a way to do it with class and grace. She proved a catalyst for a Columbus offense looking to build momentum heading into the post season.
It’s been six years since Ashley Gogolin last found a score sheet. The midfielder didn’t score once during her four years at Wright State University and didn’t score during her time with the Chicago Red Stars. The last time Gogolin featured on a scoresheet was during her time with her U-18 club team. Could this be the start of something good for the first year Eagle?
Columbus head into a much needed bye week. Head coach Daniel Seiffert emphasized getting minds and bodies right as the team begins the later portion of the season as the Eagles make a push to the playoffs.