Sunday’s Women’s Premier Soccer League match for the Columbus Eagles was a long time coming. It was 687 days between a Columbus home match with fans in the stands. The Eagles were well acquainted with their opponent too, in-state rivals Cincinnati Sirens. What resulted was a close first half and a difficult showing in the second, with the Eagles falling 4-0.
The goal scoring didn’t take long for it to get started, with the Sirens finding the back of the net in the second minute. Cincinnati exploited the Columbus defense, a group that’s still working on playing alongside each other, and made the Eagles play from behind for the rest of the contest.
To the home side’s credit, the first 45 minutes looked better for Columbus than the team’s away trip to Lady Victory FC on May 16. The Eagles had longer stints of possession, which resulted in three chances on goal in the first 10 minutes with each opportunity coming in a different way. The first chance, in the eighth minute, saw winger Abby Townsend head an in-swinging cross that went just over the bar. A minute later, winger Jordan Fike timed a run perfectly, but the pass veered a bit off target to make anything of it. The final was a free kick by midfielder Micaela Powers that also went just over the bar.
For a Sunday in late May, the weather in Columbus was a bit toasty, with an 86-degree kickoff temperature. Because of that, water breaks were necessary. Prior to the first stoppage of the match in the 23rd minute, Eagles goalkeeper Hannah Sargent made two big saves to keep the match close. Cincinnati won the ball at midfield and went on a two-player break. Instead of passing, the Siren forward took a shot on goal herself, but it didn’t challenge Sargent. A minute later, Cincinnati sent in a much more confident attempt on net, with a diving Sargent keeping the ball against the post, instead of it cutting through the corner of the net.
After the break, Columbus had better passing and possession, limiting a strong Sirens counter attack for roughly 10 minutes. Then Cincinnati went back to work. Sargent again made a big save, helped out by center back Morgan Wilcoxon who broke up a break in the final moments of the half.
The Eagles’ best chance to equalize came in the 49th minute when forward Dani Gunderson and moved the ball into the Sirens penalty area. Gunderson shot from six yards out, but the effort deflected off Fike near the goal line. It would have been tough for Fike to move out of the way of the shot, but if she were anywhere else on the field, Columbus could have changed the narrative of the contest.
Any time that the Eagles had bouts of good movement and possession, the Sirens coach made substitutes. Since the WPSL is a summer league, and a lot of collegiate athletes use it for offseason conditioning, there are unlimited substitutions and players can return after coming out. The Sirens made adjustments to the lineup in batches, always stifling any long-term momentum for the Eagles.
Cincinnati added a second and third goal in the 55th and 61st minutes. Outside of some long-distance efforts by the Eagles, there weren’t moments where it looked like Columbus was going to get back into the match. In the 80th minute, the Sirens weren’t keen on slowing the match down and scored a fourth off a beautiful top corner shot. Sargent laid out to reach the ball, but it went just past her fingertips.
Positives to take away
While the scoreline looks lopsided, the Eagles' week-to-week improvement was noticeable. As the club spends more time playing alongside one another, they’ll start to find goals and their defensive shape. Missing from the match was midfielder Alicia Donley, a former member of the University of Tennessee women’s team. She was a late scratch after getting a wisdom tooth removed. Interim head coach Mark Wise has her in the starting midfield.
If Donley can return and contribute, Powers can move back to center back and allow a veteran defensive duo to help backline communication alongside Monique Reventlow, although, Morgan Wilcoxon did step up multiple times against Cincinnati, and kept the loss from looking worse.
Fans in the stands
Another positive despite the loss was the socially distanced crowd that gathered. The Eagles had a strong turnout against the Sirens. It can get even stronger at home games going forward at Capital University’s Bernlohr Stadium as COVID-19 induced attendance restrictions begin to loosen.
Columbus is now winless and goalless in the team’s first two matches of the WPSL season. Looking at the Midwestern Conference table, the Eagles sit in seventh place with a -11 goal differential, but are also the only team that played two matches in the conference.
FC Pride, out of Central Indiana, travels to Columbus for a Saturday 2 p.m. ET kickoff, on May 29. That match, and all remaining home matches in the season, are all played at Capital University.
Supporters can purchase tickets on the team’s website, or stream the match live on MyCujooTV. Columbus Crew supporters’ group, the Nordecke, sponsors all home match productions.