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Columbus Eagles face unique challenges in their trip to Chicago

Roster differences, including at coach, will test the Eagles on Saturday.

One way to judge the strength of a team is how well it adapts to adversity. The Columbus Eagles have one of those tests this weekend when they travel west, facing off against the first-place team in the Premier Arena Soccer League Great Lakes Division, the Chicago Mustangs.

The first hurdle the team will need to jump is their available roster, including at head coach. Originally, this match was scheduled for Feb. 13 but was rescheduled to Saturday at 5 p.m. ET due to Chicago’s inability to secure a field for the competition. CEO and coach Mark Wise is out of town and unavailable to be on the bench. In his place will be midfielder Amberly Knox playing the role of player/coach.

“I have total confidence in her ability to lead the team this weekend,” Wise told Massive Report this week.

As an amateur level team, the Eagles players don’t get paid and play in matches based on the availability in other areas of their life like work and family. That date change impacted player availability too, so the team’s roster will look different than it did in the 6-6 draw against the Cincinnati Sirens on Feb. 6.

Columbus will travel with one goalkeeper, Vanderbilt alum Lauren Demarchi who had a standout performance for the Eagles in the first game. Multiple saves from Demarchi kept the Eagles in the match during early pressure from Cincinnati and she made key saves in the final quarter when Columbus fought back from a three-goal deficit.

In front of her is where the Eagles will have to adapt the most. Returning from the season opener are Knox, Deijah Swihart and Susan D’Isidoro. Offensively, this group scored four of the six Eagles goals this season. That’s where the roster similarities end.

In place of the missing names from two weeks ago will be two returning Eagles and two players being brought in on a trial basis.

Morgan Wilcoxon and Jordan Fike rejoin the Black & Gold. Wilcoxon is a former Central Michigan player who was unavailable in the first week of the season but is a permanent name on the roster going forward. Fike was previously on the Eagles 2020 WPSL roster that was never able to compete due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She graduated from Capital University in 2019 after leading her team in assists (10), tied for the most goals (10) and is a two-time All-Ohio Athletic Conference first-team forward with the Crusaders.

The two new midfielders are Mariah Whitaker and Sheryl Shope. Whitaker has experience playing in the WPSL, with Indianapolis, Indiana’s FC Pride. Prior to that, she was named to third-team All-Big East during her collegiate career at Xavier University, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Shope graduated from Wittenberg University and is involved in Columbus Futsal. A strong performance from either Whitaker or Shope could see them return for the Eagles in 2021.

Overall, the Eagles will only have seven positions players outside of Demarchi to rotate through for four quarters. This is a concern for Columbus. In arena soccer, there are unlimited substitutions and the Eagles were able to rotate to avoid any one player draining too much energy after a long, 18-month gap between competitions.

Indoor soccer’s pace is going to require creativity in how Columbus substitutes, players increased minutes on the field and the team’s style of play overall. If the Eagles try to match the pace of the Mustangs, they may not have enough left in their tanks to push all four quarters. It would make sense to see more possession and an attempt to slow the game down, which is not easy to do in the arena game.

One position not on the Eagles roster is a formal defender. On Feb. 6, Swihart did drop back into deeper, defender-like, positions. That will likely happen again throughout the match without Monique Reventlow being available. Team defense is going to be crucial.

Even with these challenges in front of them, Wise is confident in his team.

“This will be a tough game for us,” he said. “We are not at our top strength, but this is a great roster.”

The Mustangs come into the match having only played once, a Jan. 30, 9-3 victory against the Sirens, but it’s enough to make them the early-season leaders in the PASL Great Lakes Division.

On top of field scheduling concerns, Chicago also will not be streaming the match. Check Massive Report next week for details from the game and check our Twitter and Instagram accounts for the final score and more.