The American University women’s soccer team (0-1-0, 0-0-0 PL) came up short against William & Mary (1-0-0, 0-0-0 CAA) 2-1 in its return to Reeves Field on Thursday evening.
Despite AU leveling the score in the second half, W&M’s Tribe responded two minutes later with a game-winning goal.
The game’s unrhythmic tempo turned in W&M’s favor after they earned a penalty kick in the 28th minute. The controversial call came after AU graduate student Asia Horne went to the ground and tried to slide-tackle a W&M player in the box. The Tribe’s midfielder Kayleigh Shackford stepped up to the spot and slotted the ball in the left corner, putting them up 1-0.
Despite being down by a goal, the Eagles did not submit. In the 75th minute, AU midfielder Emily Smith sent in a lofted ball from the corner flag that fell to the head of fellow Eagle Ashley Molz. Junior Alysa Vazquez capitalized on Molz's rebound and found the back of the net bringing the score back to even.
However, the Tribe responded 10 minutes later with a goal that ultimately lifted them to victory. W&M’s Caroline Monahan caught AU’s first-year goalkeeper Julia Kato on the wrong foot with a clinical finish in the upper left corner.
AU started the game strong, but wilted as the game wore on. In the first half, the Eagles controlled 55% of total possession. The respectable difference in possession percentage dropped off in the latter half with the Tribe stringing together more pass sequences and maintaining 50% of possession. AU also struggled to disrupt W&M’s ball movement, hold the ball after forcing turnovers and AU head coach Marsha Harper said after the game that AU still has to work on executing offensively.
“Our possession and being able to execute and keep the ball… that's something that we were not at the level that we want to be at,” Harper said postgame.
Harper said that she wanted her players to keep connecting with each other throughout the game in order to be successful against a defensively inclined squad like the Tribe.
“Once they've been under a lot of pressure or they're able to force a turnover, and now they're trying to immediately get it forward, I was looking for them to relax, keep and connect and make sure that we have a high percentage pass,” coach Harper said.
However, AU’s defense wasn’t able to contain W&M’s unrelenting attack, and the Eagles’ offense was grounded by the Tribe’s staunch backline. The Eagles only mustered six shots, while the Tribe rattled off a troubling 15.
After Monahan — who had two of the six shots on net — beat the hands of Kato in the 78th minute, AU looked defeated for the time remaining across the pitch.
“We let off a little bit and we allowed them to play their game, but we should have continued to fight and continued to show our grit and get another goal,” Vazquez said postgame. “That's what we're going to learn from this.”
Nonetheless, Harper said that there were a number of key takeaways the team could take from the loss.
“I think the players are becoming more critical of their own play,” Harper said. “So as a coaching staff, we don't have to come down on them, really, because they're mindful of what they didn't do and what they need to do going forward.”
Another glaring positive for AU was the impressive performances of the two starting first-years, Brooke Steel and Jordan Mahoney.
“There were some bright spots of players that have stepped up, really for the first time,” Harper said. “Brooke Steel is continuing to put in a shift and Jordan Mahony in the back.”
Steel and Mahoney weren’t the only freshmen who saw substantial playing time. Giuliana Capraro started the game on AU’s backline and proceeded to play a full 90. Kato also started the match in front of net for the Eagles.
Coach Harper said the first-year players add a new layer of bite to this team in several ways, which AU desperately needs following a winless season last spring.
“I think [it's] their ability to do what we're talking about, to keep the ball and also the commitment to understand and the composure, to play aggressively the way that we want to play, while also being able to keep the ball,” Harper said. “Just that overall confidence.”
While this was ultimately not the result the Eagles wanted, AU was able to play in front of cheering fans and family for the first time since the fall of 2019.
“It's been amazing,” Vazquez said. “Our fan base is amazing, and having even students come out and support us really means a lot to us but especially our families who are constantly here and just showing us love.”
AU will hit the road on Aug. 22 to take on James Madison, where Harper’s side will look to claim their first-ever win against the Virginian foe.