by PETE JANNY, Contributor
The Manhattan College women’s soccer team (1-3-2; 0-0-1 MAAC) kicked off MAAC play at Gaelic Park on Sept. 14 at 7:00 p.m. against a familiar foe in the Stags of Fairfield University (5-2-1; 0-0-1 MAAC).
On this muggy night, the on-field product that both teams displayed was anything but muggy in what was a thrilling double-overtime affair. However, despite such back and forth excitement, neither side came away victorious.
Both teams were a little sloppy right out of the gate until the Stags grabbed ahold of the momentum and gave the Jaspers problems in every aspect of the game for the remainder of the first half. In the ninth minute, Fairfield’s senior back Jenny Jacobs had the first real scoring chance of the game coming down the left side, but her shot was handled easily by Manhattan senior goalie Kelly DiGregorio. As the first half wore on, it became apparent that the Stags were using their physicality to gain an advantage over the Jaspers.
“They are an athletic team and we tried to get in an athletic match with them,” said Head Coach Brendan Lawler on his team’s first half performance. “It just took us a little bit to figure that out.”
Manhattan sophomore midfielder Tia Painilainen helped her team weather the storm midway through the first half by showcasing her elite playmaking ability. Her corner kick in the 27th minute provided the Jaspers with their best opportunity up to that point, but fellow sophomore midfielder Bri DeLeo’s header attempt sailed over the crossbar. The Painilainen/DeLeo combination wreaked havoc again moments later when DeLeo’s beautiful chip pass gave Painilainen her best chance of the game, but her one-time shot was a little too strong and sailed over the goal.
“After figuring out our game we were able to execute well with the ball with passing and moving,” said Painilainen, who played the 2016 season for the University of Arizona before having to redshirt last year due to transfer regulations. “We created a lot of scoring chances so we just need to be more confident to finish those.”
Meanwhile, the pressure of Fairfield’s attack persisted and after freshman midfielder Amy Akerley’s blast off the crossbar in the 40th minute, sophomore forward Alex Madden broke through for Fairfield’s first goal in the 41st minute.
“We talked in halftime about how things are good, but we weren’t getting that last pass in there and we weren’t getting that last run in there,” said Lawler.
The Jaspers were clearly receptive to their coach’s message coming out of halftime. The way Manhattan responded to Fairfield’s goal says a lot about the belief and tenacity of this team.
In the 55th minute, coming down the right side, Painilainen connected with sophomore midfielder/forward Lindsey Healy who then found sophomore midfielder Gemma Perez, whose shot from 10 yards out equalized the score at one. The goal was Perez’s first of the season.
“I decided to challenge their outside back,” said Painilainen. “I played to Lindsay who took a great touch towards the end line and then slid it back to Gemma for the goal.”
This much-needed boost for the Jaspers changed the complexion of the game and set the stage for a wildly entertaining 50 more minutes of action. After being outshot 11-4 in the first half, the Jaspers suppressed Fairfield’s continuity and went on to outshoot their opponent 12-7 for the rest of the game. In the 83rd minute, a crazy sequence developed which resulted in an open net opportunity for sophomore midfielder Shelby Jones, but an army of Fairfield defenders blocked her shot at an opportune time and were able to clear the ball away. Manhattan’s last opportunity in the final seconds was thwarted by an offsides whistle which effectively ended regulation time.
In overtime, DiGregorio registered a few big saves, while on the offensive end Manhattan was unable to convert on any of their final scoring opportunities. The final whistle marked the end of what was a great game between two physical and well-organized teams.
“We just need to clean up the small technical details. We are in the right places and we are seeing the right passes, but we just need to execute those,” said Lawler. “Once we do that we will create even more opportunities.”
The Jaspers will have a full week of practice before continuing MAAC play at Canisius on Saturday, Sept. 22.
As for Painilainen, she’s enjoying every minute of her new opportunity at Manhattan after coming over from a highly-competitive conference in the Pac-12.
“I have really liked every aspect of being here,” Painilainen said. “Everybody has made me feel part of the team and I think this is a great opportunity for me to get a lot of responsibility.”
If she continues to flash the potential she showed on Friday night, Manhattan’s offense will ascend to new levels.