This weekend marks the midway point of the Columbus Eagles' summer season. All that remains are five WPSL Midwestern Conference league matches and one end-of-the-season friendly against the Cleveland Ambassadors. The halfway point is a good time to reflect on where the club’s been, and where it’s going.
Columbus sits second from the bottom in the standings. In six matches, the Eagles have secured one point, a draw against the Dayton Dutch Lions on June 6. While the club’s on-field play hasn’t earned it a victory, lately the loss of points have come down to one mistake or a weird referee decision. Columbus has half a season to change the narrative on the 2021 season, and this weekend while fine the team in St. Louis, Missouri.
For the second weekend in a row, the Eagles play a Saturday to Sunday doubleheader. In order to fit all Midwestern Conference teams into their schedule, Columbus will have its first and only overnight road trip. of the year The six-hour trip begins Saturday night against Fire & Ice SC, a familiar opponent for the Eagles.
“Our Saturday opponent will be difficult as they have traditionally always been very strong,” said interim head coach Mark Wise. “However, due to missing 2020 and having a few players retire or take 2021 off, they could have some vulnerabilities.” Another vulnerability is the potential loss unavailability of their head coach, whose high school soccer team is playing in the state final over the weekend.
While the St. Louis-based Fire & Ice joined the same conference as the Eagles in 2021, WPSL conferences can change season-to-season. Fire & Ice SC and the Eagles movement within the league means they have some history against each other. In 2017, they were in the same division and the St. Louis side won both matches 5-0 and 2-0. Teams of course turn over, and in 2021 Fire & Ice SC has had an up-and-down season. They have two wins, two losses and a draw. Both losses came to the first-place team in the conference, Indianapolis’ FC Pride.
On Sunday, the Eagles take on a WPSL side that formed in 2018, the St. Louis Lions. The Lions are last in the WPSL, losing the four matches they’ve played. In those matches, St. Louis scored four total goals and conceded 21. It’s the first time that Columbus looks like the favored team going into a match, but away trips can be tricky roster-wise. This weekend will be no different.
Columbus is taking a 16-player roster to the “Show-Me” state, which allows for good rotation of players, but big names are missing. Midfielder and captain Ashley Gogolin, fullback Marike Mousset, defender Michaela Powers, midfielder Alivia Milesky, goalkeeper Hannah Sargent and forwards Alicia Donley and Madison Costner are all staying back. This means that the team is going to need big performances from a few new faces joining Columbus for the weekend.
In goal will Abby Weller. The 6-foot-1 Xavier goalkeeper hasn’t been on the Eagles team sheet in any competitions of 2021, but has experience with the team. In 2019, she played for them in a preseason indoor, match. There are three player who trained with the Eagles but haven’t logged on-field minutes: Olivia Neidhardt, Ashley Townsend and Ellen Weikert.
Neidhardt is a midfielder from Olentangy Berlin High School. Collegiately, she joined Marshall University, logging 272 minutes in seven matches played. Townsend — no relation to Eagles forward Abby Townsend — is a freshman at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She’s also a midfielder who will help fill the void with Gogolin out. Weikert is a midfielder as well, coming out of the Columbus Crew Elite youth team.
A name that doesn’t have experience with the Eagles is Lauren Taylor. The midfielder played collegiately at Ashland University. Taylor joined Columbus for the weekend on a recommendation from Eagles forward Deijah Swihart. Both played together at Ashland, which any amount of chemistry helps when looking at a roster full of new faces.
Swihart, defender Sheryl Shope and forward Dani Gunderson are three names to watch. Swihart has come in as a substitute in her few WPSL matches, but her play stands out on the field. With her up front is team veteran Gunderson. The two provide Columbus with a strong attacking duo who can track back into the midfield to play defense, depending on what’s happening on the field. The young midfield will need to gel quickly if the Eagles want to come home with a win.
Shope can switch between a fullback or center back. She’s started predominantly as a fullback when the team is at full strength but slid into the center back role last weekend against Cincinnati. She’ll most likely be alongside Erin Duffy and Morgan Wilcoxon, who have both played shifted across the backline depending on the need of the team.
“I am confident that this roster will play well, as they are all talented players in their own right,” said Wise. “However, we are interrupting the flow a bit here and this group will need to learn how to play together quickly.”
How to Watch
All WPSL matches are streamed online, on the Eleven Sports website. Saturday’s match kicks off at 8 p.m. ET, with Sunday’s game starting at 6 p.m. ET.