Women’s Soccer Comes Up Short in Season Opener

WS: Manhattan 1, Hartford 2

by Pete JannyAsst. Sports Editor

After a tumultuous 2018 campaign, the Manhattan women’s soccer team has a chip on their shoulder this season as they look to put themselves back in the conversation for MAAC supremacy. The Jaspers first chance to redeem themselves came last Thursday on the road against the Hartford Hawks.

Manhattan couldn’t have asked for a better test than the Hawks. If you scour the list of division one schools in the Northeast in search of the most menacing women’s soccer teams, you would probably find the Hawks towards the top. The past half-decade has been a special stretch for Hartford, having amassed 55 wins and a share of four regular season AEC championships since 2014.

Manhattan can attest to how hard Hartford makes life for their opponents. Entering Thursday’s meeting, Manhattan has struggled against Hartford to the tune of 1-3-1 record in the all-time series.

Those struggles continued on Thursday night with Manhattan suffering a 2-1 loss in what was an equal parts exciting and frustrating game for the Jaspers. The loss extended Manhattan’s losing streak against Hartford to four games.

The opening minutes of the game featured some of the best highlights of the night thanks in large part to the referee’s open-mindedness. By the time the opening six minutes had elapsed, there were already two penalties called; one for each team.

The first penalty call came just 2:58 into the game and the Jaspers made sure to take advantage of it. Junior Arianna Montefusco stepped up to take the kick for Manhattan and buried it, giving the Jaspers an early 1-0 lead.

It looked as though the Hawks were also going to benefit from the referee’s decision-making when they were awarded a penalty in the sixth minute. As it turns out, Hartford wasn’t as lucky as Manhattan as they missed the kick to keep the Jaspers’ lead intact.

Moments later, Hartford made up for their miss when Samantha Nelbach found the back of the net off a downfield feed from classmate Sierra Stone in the eighth minute to level the score at one apiece.

After the chaos of the opening minutes had ended, normalcy was restored with neither team finding the back of the net for the remainder of the half. Although both teams displayed a few sequences of crisp passing, neither team was able to breakdown the other’s defense to grab a lead.

Hartford had a great chance to take the lead in the 40th minute when freshman Ishani Sharma sent a beautiful through ball to senior striker Bridgette Alexander as she made a run down the right sideline. Alexander’s ensuing strike would sail just wide of the far post to end the threat.

The Jaspers would give the Hawks a scare a few minutes later when Manhattan sophomore Eve Montgomery fired a cross in the box after creating some space down the left sideline. With no Manhattan player on the receiving end, Hartford’s backline hastily ended the threat by clearing the ball out of danger.

At the end of the first 45 minutes, it was still unclear as to who looked like the more probable victor. As the second half progressed, it became evident that Hartford was ready to take control of the game. With both defenses already performing well, Hartford’s newfound offensive cohesion out of the break caused trouble for the Manhattan defense. As a result, Hartford tested Manhattan goalie Camryn Nici many times in the second half.

Hartford’s pressure finally paid dividends in the 57th minute when Senior Kaila Lozada’s cross from the left side found an open Alexander in the heart of the box, giving her enough time to power a shot by Nici for the elusive go-ahead goal.

Now down 2-1, Manhattan needed to find a way to counter Hartford’s growing momentum.

Sophomore Bri Floyd, in her first appearance with extended minutes, created a big opportunity in the 68th when she delivered a dangerous ball into the middle of the box, but no other Green shirt was able to pounce on it.

Nici looked confident and composed in her first game as a full-time starter now that Kelly DiGregorio has graduated. If it wasn’t for Nici’s career-high six saves, Hartford may have very well cruised to victory. Her diving stop in the 71st minute of Gabriela Gamora’s curling shot from just outside the box helped keep the Manhattan deficit at one.

Despite the impressive play of Hartford, Manhattan still had some good chances to avoid going home winless. The best chance of them all came with just over 10 seconds left when junior Tia Painilainen missed a point-blank shot in front of the net after receiving a cross from the right side. Painilainen, one of the team’s best offensive weapons, appeared to rush the shot and thus sent the ball just wide of the net. It was a heartbreaking ending to Manhattan’s night.

Contrary to what most spectators would’ve probably thought, Manhattan actually owned a 7-6 advantage in shots in the second half despite being clearly outplayed. A few of those fruitless Manhattan shots came in the final minutes of the game as the Jaspers did everything they could to try to tie the score. This cascade of shots eventually culminated with Painilainen’s big missed opportunity.

When it was all said and done, Manhattan had been outpaced in both shots, 12-9, and corner kicks, 8-0. The loss also marked the first time since the 2014 season that Manhattan lost a game in which they scored first, spanning a stretch of 34 games.

Manhattan will look to get themselves in the win column when they host the Fordham Rams on Thursday, August 29th for this year’s Battle of the Bronx. Kick-off is slated for 7 PM at Gaelic Park.