The Columbus Eagles entered Sunday’s match against the Dayton Dutch Lions following three straight defeats to begin the Women’s Premier Soccer League, being outscored by a combined 12-1 scoreline. But each match showed signed of progress.
In Dayton, Columbus put together the team’s most complete performance of the young season, earning a 2-2 draw. While some ties feel like a loss, this Eagles' result felt like a victory. Columbus clawed back from two deficits to earn the team’s first point of the season without a number of regular players.
From the opening whistle, the match was wide open. The Dutch Lions and the Eagles each had spells of possession and challenged the opposing goalkeeper. For Dayton, first half goalkeeper Jessika Seward was active, a look Columbus’ offense hadn’t seen yet this season, coming out of the penalty area multiple times. In the ninth minute, Seward went five yards outside of the 18-yard box, only to have the ball stripped by the Eagles. Her defensive backline came to her rescue though, keeping Columbus from scoring.
Starting midfielder Sarina Dirrig managed the Eagles’ best shot of the first half on frame in the 11th minute causing Seward to make a save. That was one of many chances put on net, showing that Columbus’ midweek focus on offensive shape worked.
Interim head coach Mark Wise credited one specific area for the improvement.
“The backs and mids are making connections with the forwards and we are starting to consistently get opportunities up front,” said Wise about the Eagles' improved passing. “So, I think the difference is more time together and learning to play together as a team.”
That passing was on display early, but Columbus couldn’t get a goal on the board in the first half. Part of the reason for that lies in Dayton’s substitution strategy, swapping seven players at the 20-minute-mark. This tactic allowed for a boost of energy, but also could hurt tactics. For Dayton, it paid off three minutes later.
While much of the game featured improved passing from the Eagles, old mistakes emerged in the 23rd minute. A soft pass in the midfield was picked off by the Dutch Lions. A quick passed up field to forward Marcella Sizer allowed her to get around a Monique Reventlow tackle to score the first goal of the match. Columbus went into the half down a goal, but looking improved.
Just three minutes into halftime, the Eagles equalized on an own goal. In the 48th minute, Columbus built up to an attempt that went over the crossbar. On the subsequent goal kick, Dayton defender Hayley Jakovich made a poor pass that Dirrig easily intercepted. The midfielder took a shot from outside of the penalty area that deflected off defender Ella Bianco to put the black and gold level.
The match stayed relatively quiet for the next 20 minutes until Dayton took the lead again. Forward Laney Huber found the end of a cross from defender Bridie Herman at the far post. The ball took an odd bounce over Columbus goalkeeper Hannah Sargent, putting Dayton up one with 18 minutes left in the match. The Eagles continued battling until four minutes later, when first-year player Marike Mousset changed the game.
Off another goal kick, the Dayton defense passed up field, this time with a pass that made it nearly to the midfield line. Mousset intercepted the pass, fighting off a Dutch Lion player for 10 yards. Instead of finding an open teammate, Mousset cut to her left towards the corner of the penalty area. Once she reached the 18-yard box, she sent in a low angled shot that hit the far corner of the net that was followed by a leaping celebration by the Eagle standout.
Columbus held on, in what had to be a relief for the Eagles after difficulties coming out of the gate in their 2021 outdoor season.
Getting on the Scoreboard
Sunday was the Eagles’ most successful match offensively of 2021. Prior to the draw, Columbus scored just one goal in three matches. The catalyst for the Eagles’ one goal was forward Madison Costner, who scored in the only match that she played thus far.
Getting goals from two players that have made their mark week-by-week is a good sign. Not only because teams need to score goals to win matches, but because it’s building the confidence of the attack. Knowing that Columbus can score goals goes a long way for building momentum in the last month of the short season.
The Eagles are a squad comprised of current and former collegiate players. When comparing the roster to other teams in the Midwestern Conference of the WPSL, who have academies that compete throughout the entire year, it’s easy to see the difference. Columbus has players returning each season and that experience is what helps the team grow as a unit in a short period of time.
Before the loss last week to FC Pride, the Eagles focused on defense in their lone practice of the week. It resulted in giving up only two goals, compared to four and six in weeks prior. The next week, Columbus focused on offense and turned it into a two-goal performance. Wise’s Eagles have the ability to grow quickly, which is important in a league that lasts just until mid-July.
This weekend, the Eagles have their biggest test of the season. Columbus plays two matches in two days, traveling to Cincinnati to face off against the Sirens on Sunday before welcoming Lady Victory FC to Capital University the next day.