The AU women’s soccer team beat a gritty Mount St. Mary’s 3-2 in its season opener Tuesday at Reeves Field. But while the Eagles won, their performance displayed both their offensive firepower and their defensive inconsistency.
Senior forward Maha Elnabawi scored a dramatic game-winner with five minutes left to finally secure a victory after numerous chances.
Elnabawi, who came on as a substitute in both halves, reached a crisp right-sided cross from junior midfielder Marcela Ricupero. The cross came after Ricupero beat several defenders and streaked on a 35-yard run down the right wing.
Sophomore midfielder Christina Gonzalez let the cross run past her to Elnabawi, who lurked at the back post and hammered home past the Mount’s goalkeeper Margaret Pyzik.
“It was all Marcela,” Elnabawi said, almost in awe of her teammate. “She took it all the way from half-field and could’ve finished it herself.”
But Ricupero, AU’s most creative player, had barely missed on several go-ahead chances earlier in the half, and instead slotted a pinpoint pass across the 18-yard-box to the open senior.
“Marcela’s a really smart player,” Elnabawi said. “As a forward, you have to realize that sometimes you’re not on in the finishing department. That was the only place she wasn’t on today, though.”
For Elnabawi, one of only two seniors on this young but experienced team, her goal marked a return from a season-ending knee injury suffered early in the 2003 campaign.
Still recovering from off-season surgery, Elnabawi played the final six minutes of the first half and the final 30 of the second. During that time, she saw little of the ball until she drove home the winner.
“She’s still nowhere near where she wants to be, but she’s always going to pop up in those situations,” said AU head coach Michael Brady.
“She wants to do well personally, but she’s mature and is prepared to play whatever role is needed of her.”
“As a forward, scoring goals is the greatest part of the game,” Elnabawi said. “It makes everything seem okay, especially coming back from an injury.”
The goal certainly cheered up her teammates as well, who had fought all second half to go ahead - with Ricupero coming closest - but missing every time.
The Mount did what they could to keep the Eagles honest, generating several dangerous counterattacks, most through right-winger Kim Henry.
AU’s frustrating second half followed a first period where The Mount went ahead AU napping twice, only to have the Eagles respond quickly.
The Mount scored first in the seventh minute when a pass from midfielder Kelli Devine found its way to forward Danielle Hume. unmarked in the center-forward channel, who easily beat AU ‘keeper Alison Doyle from close range.
AU tied it when freshman midfielder Irene Karistinos latched onto the end of a long free-kick from sophomore defender Meg Runeari in the 13th minute. That right-sided kick skipped past several attackers and defenders in the penalty area before Karistinos reached it six yards from the back post for the easy put-away.
Henry created The Mount’s second goal in the 31st minute, getting free in the right corner and sending a solid cross to forward Nicole Di’Angelo. Her 12-yard strike beat Doyle and Runeari, who was on the back post and nearly headed the ball away from the goal.
AU made quick work of that 2-1 deficit when sophomore forward Jana Lee scored in the same minute. The towering Lee headed home another Runeari free kick, rising above a cluster of bodies to beat Pyzik, who came out and was stranded off her line.
After such a seesaw first half, the Eagles were pleased with the results of the second.
“I said to the players it’s a good sign when you can not play your best and still do what you need to do to win a game that’s competitive,” Brady said
AU travels to Fairfax, Va., this weekend to play in James Madison University’s invitational tournament. On Saturday, the Eagles face Rhode Island, followed by Alabama on Monday. The Eagles won’t return home until Sept. 16 for a match against Virginia Commonwealth.