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Eagles face two strong opponents in a match-filled weekend

The second- and third-place teams in the conference face a Columbus side that needs to adapt and overcome absences.

Ralph Schudel - Massive Report

On Saturday, the Columbus Eagles start a stretch of matches that is hard to fathom for those new to the Women’s Premier Soccer League. Over the next three weekends, the Eagles play six matches, at least one game every weekend for the remainder of June. To start this stretch, Columbus plays two of the best teams in the Midwestern Conference in the Cincinnati Sirens and Lady Victory FC.

Columbus’ indoor victory against the Sirens in March looks more and more like a distant memory. The Eagles won 19-2 against a Cincinnati lineup that wasn’t at full strength. There are big differences between the indoor and outdoor games, and the Sirens are a good example of it.

So far in 2021, Cincinnati has won both of the team’s matches and hasn’t given up a goal. The Sirens’ first match of the WPSL season came in Columbus, beating the Eagles 4-0. In the match, Columbus had its fair share of chances, but got beat on the Cincinnati counter attack. That victory came a day after Cincinnati played an away match in Dayton, a 3-0 win.

The Sirens will face a different looking Columbus side than on May 23. A glaring difference for supporters is the backline where center back duo of Monique Reventlow and Michaela Powers won’t be available Saturday. Reventlow is spending the weekend trying out for the U.S. National Beach Soccer Team. Powers is slated to return for Sunday’s home match.

“It’s a big deal to represent your country,” said interim head coach Mark Wise. “We wish her luck but it does make a big hole in our backline. It gives an opportunity for young players to step up and show us what they’ve got.”

Fans can expect captain and midfielder Ashley Gogolin to slide into the center back role, something she’s played in past years. Filling in her holding midfield role is Makaylee Zuercher from Wright State University.

The Eagles travel to the Sirens with only 14 players available players for their last match against Cincinnati in 2021. It’s also the team’s last chance until next year to beat their rivals in WPSL play. Supporters have to go back to June 24, 2017, for the last time Columbus beat the Sirens in the league.

Sunday’s test is the Eagles’ biggest of the season to date. Columbus welcomes Lady Victory to Capital University’s Bernlohr Stadium for a home match against a team that started the Eagles’ 2021 season on the wrong foot. Columbus lost 6-0 when traveling to Indianapolis earlier this year in a contest where the Eagles look disheveled. They went into halftime down just one, but saw things fall apart in the second half. Lady Victory sits second in the table with six points after three matches.

This last home matchup before a three-match away stretch will be a benchmark in how much the Eagles have grown since their opening season loss. It’s easy to blame a poor performance on the fact that the team came together a week and a half before. It’s even easier to point the blame for the loss on a road trip where many of Columbus’ regulars weren’t available. Excuses don’t get you points in the standings though.

Since that first loss, team chemistry has grown and performances on the field have strengthened. Sunday is the match for the Eagles to prove this point. Helping the team is a first-choice offensive group up top. Forwards Alicia Donley, Abby Townsend and Madison Costner are all potentially available to start. Each has shined individually this season, but they’ve never been available as a trio.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it, this weekend will be difficult for Columbus’ women’s soccer team. Wise realizes the weight of this tough weekend up ahead. Awareness is one thing, but a plan is another. It’s something that the coach has prepared for in the past three weeks.

“Both teams we play are good,” said Wise. “We will need to go deeper into our roster for subs and that means giving our starters time to rest. Our subs will need to be able to step up and play well. We have tried get a lot of players some experience to build our depth.”

Saturday evening’s away game has a less than a full-strength team, as away matches normally do in the WPSL. With a Sunday match looming 17 hours after the end of the trip, decisions will have to be made by the Eagles. It could mean fielding two different sides or splitting time more equally to allow rest for players within each match.

Giving time on the field two days straight requires careful management of minutes to avoid injuries. The last thing that any player needs, especially those on the Eagles that have fall college soccer ahead of them, is an injury sidelining them for an extended period. The last time Wise and the Eagles played matches on back-to-back days was in July of 2017, where they drew the Sirens and a loss to the Cleveland Ambassadors.

Supporters can watch both matches on Eleven Sports, formally known as MyCujoo. On Sunday, supporters are allowed to buy tickets and attend the match in person. Local Columbus sports talk radio station 97.1 The Fan host, and avid Columbus Crew supporter, and radio show host, Jonathan “T-Bone” Smith will be in attendance, leading an initiative to get supporters into the stands to support the Eagles.

Saturday’s away match kicks off at 7 p.m. ET with Sunday’s kick at 2 p.m. ET. Next weekend, the Eagles travel to St. Louis for two matches in Missouri against the St. Louis Lions and Fire & Ice SC.