Women’s soccer’s losses over weekend sting a bit

Oscar Rzodkiewicz, Assistant Sports Editor

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Tom O’Connor | The Daily Eastern News
Itxaso Aguero dribbles the ball toward the opposing team’s defense. Eastern lost 1-0 Sunday in its home opener to Fort Wayne at Lakeside Field.

The two-game slate for the Eastern women’s soccer team over the weekend felt like one step forward and two steps backward.

The Panthers opened up the season with two tough road non-conference matchups against Ball State and Missouri-Kansas City, and despite the losses, it seemed like the rust was starting to fall off the team that returned 13 players from last season.

This past weekend started with another difficult opponent as Eastern stayed on the road to face Milwaukee, and although the team had some bright moments, the second half got out of hand, similarly to the 6-0 loss to Ball State just two weeks ago.

Three set plays—two corner kicks and a penalty kick—hurt the Panthers at the start of the second period, ballooning Milwaukee’s lead to three before another goal off a takeaway made it 5-1 with just over 30 minutes to play.

Don’t get it twisted: Milwaukee won 16 matches last season and has dropped only one in six contests during this campaign, and Eastern lost to this same squad last year by the same amount of goals before going to the OVC Semifinals.

That same story cannot be written for the Fort Wayne match just two days later.

The Panthers returned home for the first time all regular season to face a Mastodons squad that managed just four wins in 19 contests last season, including a 4-3 loss to Eastern in mid-October.

Ultimately, it was another set play that broke the seal to give Purdue-Fort Wayne the win, but the scoreless performance against a team that allowed 46 goals in under 20 matches last season deserves a deeper dive.

In the season opener against Ball State, the team struggled to gain possession which put senior goalkeeper Sara Teteak under pressure frequently and disallowed many scoring chances for Eastern.

Against the Mastodons, however, the issue seemed to be maintaining ball control, not getting possession in the first place.

Both halves of Eastern’s home opener began in similar fashion: The Panthers allowed a couple early scoring opportunities that Teteak was able to quash.

The difference was how the team settled in during the first period compared to the second.

Unnecessary turnovers in the latter 45 minutes prevented Eastern from creating quick scoring chances, such as junior Victoria Wharton’s great downfield pass to freshman Nicoletta Anuci for a great setup to even up the score against Milwaukee early.

In turn, it allowed Purdue-Fort Wayne to get into position for a tight goal in front of the net off a free kick.

I’ll give credit to the Mastodons considering they managed to create seven shots on goal, but the Panthers did not do themselves any favors in this one.

The Eastern sideline after the game was solemn, like it would be after many losses, but this one felt like the Panthers could have gotten in control with some crisper passing and tighter focus.

There have still been positive takeaways from the early season struggles.

Anuci has already tallied three points and is proving to be a pleasant spark for the offense with both her speed and her footwork, while Teteak has shown resilience in the face of pressure around the goal.

Time is running out for Eastern to put it all together before OVC play rolls around, though, as the Panthers get one more home matchup with Chicago State before hitting the road to face preseason-ranked no. 2 Tennessee-Martin to open the conference docket Sept. 20th.

Strong defense was Eastern’s bread and butter last season, allowing just 24 goals in 20 contests and just 7 scores in 10 matches during OVC play, but stagnant offense makes defending much tougher, especially when the opponents are able to gain possession so deep in Panther territory.

Last season’s non-conference slate looked less polished for Eastern than its OVC work, and perhaps that will prove to be the case this year as well.

It will all come down to how the team responds to struggles like these.

Oscar Rzodkiewicz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]