by PETE JANNY, Asst. Sports Editor
The Manhattan College women’s soccer team (1-4) continued their non-conference schedule when they hosted Saint Francis College (0-4) last Friday night. With the MAAC season creeping closer, this seemed like a must-win game for a team that had lost each of their first four games of the season.
Manhattan rose to the occasion in this one, turning in their best overall performance of the season. After a closely contested first half, Manhattan outplayed the Terriers badly in the second half en route to a big 1-0 win. Junior Tia Painilainen did the scoring honors in the 87th minute when she finished off a mesmerizing Manhattan passing sequence with a blast from the left side of the box that found the back of the net.
As the first half wore on, it became increasingly clear that Manhattan’s offense looked far more composed than it did at any point in the first four games of the season. Backed by strong defensive play, the offense gradually began to figure out the Terriers defense.
One way in which Manhattan was able to expose the opposition’s backline was by getting the ball to the feet of Painilainen early and often.
Charging down the left sideline, the junior striker was the recipient of some nice passes in the first half that allowed her to showcase her skills. Her first of what would be six shots on goal on the night came in the 15th minute when she unleashed a shot near the border of the box that that was easily handled by Saint Francis goalie Julia Hernan. Five minutes later, Painilainen was at the forefront of the Manhattan attack again when a scramble for the ball in the box gave way to a one-time turnaround shot for Painilainen that was pushed aside by a diving Hernan.
Unsurprisingly, junior Arianna Montefusco was a force for Manhattan yet again as she too got in on the offensive fun in the first half.
Her big chance came in 33rd minute when she fired off a shot from point-blank range that was pushed to clearance by Hernan. Like so many of Manhattan’s chances on the night, Montefusco’s shot was the culmination of a beautiful passing sequence. This particular instance saw Bri DeLeo feed a through ball down the right sideline to Gemma Perez, whose service into the box landed at the feet of Montefusco.
Despite outplaying the opposition in the first half, Manhattan was given a scare in the 37th minute when Saint Francis came dangerously close to grabbing an unexpected lead. The threat developed thanks to traffic outside of Manhattan’s box that caused the ball to take a lucky bounce before finding its way to Teresa Reid on the left side of the box. Dribbling with daylight, Reid fired off a shot that forced Camryn Nici to make a spectacular save to keep the game scoreless. The shot proved to be the Terriers’ best chance of the night, with the save being Nici’s best highlight of the night.
By the end of the first 45 minutes of play, Manhattan owned an 8-5 advantage in shots, yet were still held scoreless. Despite having no goals to show for, Manhattan head coach Brendan Lawler was pleased with the way his team played in the first half.
“It was a great first half. We had a lot of dangerous scoring opportunities,” Lawler said during a halftime interview with Go Jaspers. “We’re doing most of the things we need to do but now we just need to do that last thing which is finish and score some goals.”
That decisive goal would eventually come, but not before Manhattan experienced some more heartache. Within the first minute of play in the second half, Painilainen further added to Manhattan’s heartbreak when she failed to capitalize on an open net opportunity from just outside the box. The chance represented the team’s best opportunity up to that point in the game.
Meanwhile, the referees stayed busy the whole night, calling off a number of Manhattan attacks for offsides. The most consequential of them all came in the 49th minute when a Bri DeLeo breakaway was called off because of her illegal positioning behind the Saint Francis backline when the ball was played to her.
In the 66th minute, Montefusco almost sent the crowd into a frenzy when her free kick on net was stopped in acrobatic fashion by Hernan. However, Montefusco would soon make everyone forget about that tough break when she assisted on Painilainen’s game-winning goal in the 87th minute. It was a fitting ending to a game in which Painilainen and Montefusco were heavily involved in.
When it was all said and done, the Jaspers held a resounding 21-5 advantage in shots. Manhattan’s defense was so spectacular in the second half that Saint Francis couldn’t even record a single shot in the final 45 minutes of play.
Nici shined yet again for the Jaspers, recording two big saves to keep the shutout intact. The senior goalie’s two saves on the night may have been a far cry from her 9.3 saves per game average across the first four games, but that’s all she needed to do in this one against a lesser quality team in Saint Francis. Nici is no stranger to shutouts, having held the opposition scoreless in all three of her career wins.
With a win now under their belt, the Jaspers will look to keep the momentum going when the University of the Pacific (0-5) comes to Gaelic Park on Friday, September 13th. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 PM.