Saturday, September 15, 2012

Eastern Washington flies by Idaho in second half for 2-0 win

Black (L) thrilled with opening strike, Small (C) challenges & Eagles celebrate second goal | Photos: Gerald Barnhart
It has been a slow and difficult start to the season for Eastern Washington University as it struggled to find a solution to a depleted midfield, but the Eagles now find themselves on a roll with one more non-conference match before Big Sky action kicks off. On Friday they downed potential future conference rival Idaho, 2-0, behind a goal and an assist from Cassie Black.

Coming off their first-ever victory against Boise State, 3-1, a week ago in Portland, the Eagles downed another side from Idaho with a two-goal second half performance.

A counter 11 minutes into the second half changed the complexion of the match when a long ball out of the midfield from Taylor Berdar (Spokane, WA) allowed Black to outrun two defenders to acquire the ball and quickly fire past Liz Boyden (Spokane, WA) from just outside the area.

The strike was a frustrating occurrence for the Vandals, who held the advantage in the first half in possession and 10-6 in shots. The match kicked off with a very slow tempo and Idaho controlling a vast amount of the possession for the opening five minutes before things evened a bit more.

“We came out strong and were dominant in the game,” said Idaho Vandals head coach Peter Showler. “We just weren’t putting the ball in the back of the net. And this game is about finishing your chances and we didn’t finish ours. I mean, 22 shots to nine tells the story but two of those nine are what count. That’s all that matters unfortunately; getting in the back of the ol’ onion bag ya know.”

Nathalie Schwery with 11 saves
The Vandals also had the better of the chances in the first half with Chelsea Small getting the first good look 20 minutes in when she drove into the box from the left side and forced two point-blank stops just inside the six by Nathalie Schwery, who may have played the biggest role in the outcome of the match.

“Nathalie is unbelievable. We got this kid right off of the U20 World Cup playing for Switzerland and she was a freshman last year,” said Eastern Washington head coach George Hageage, noting that though she has had caps for her country, the transition to the collegiate first division proved difficult. “Last year Division I was just faster, it was different, and she was having a hard time adjusting last year. She’s done a great job since then. Spring was great; she is playing awesome this fall.

“She’s had some injury problems, but we are lucky to have another goalkeeper that’s pretty good as well – Jamie Walker, who is a senior. Both of them have been playing great. But that was outstanding today. That was one of the best games I have seen out of the goalkeeping.”

Less than a minute later a ball played in to a wide open Meli Cortez just outside the box. She drove in and fired from about 17 yards only to be stopped by Schwery, who had come out on the play. The rebound fell right back in Cortez’ path, forcing Schwery to recover quickly and smother the ball at the midfielder’s feet 14 yards out.

Eastern had its first good look three minutes later only to see Boyden make the stop at the near post as the shot was fired from a few yards out on the second attempt off a corner.

Idaho built another opportunity down the left side in the 36th when Emma Caringello drove down the flank and crossed the ball in to Jill Flockhart, whose first-time effort from about 14 yards went high of the target.

The Eagles closed out the half with a couple more looks. Danielle Jones took a quick shot from inside the area that was easily saved in the 39th, and in the final minute Siara Byers got the ball on a counter at the edge of the box, where she turned around a defender, leaving only the keeper, but the shot went just wide of the far left post.

Hageage makes halftime adjustments
Though play continued to be back-and-forth in the second half, the Eagles were finding better movement and opportunities, which became evident with the opening goal in the 56th.

“In the second half we switched,” said Hageage “We got out of our 4-3-3 because we realized they kind of had a rhythm going – they bypassed the midfield a lot and that meant that anything in the midfield we had to fight 50-50 wise and – we’re missing a couple players – we’re not quite as strong as we have been in the previous games in the middle, which was our concern coming in.

“So we switched to a 4-4-2, flat four in the center and I think that disrupted them long enough for the first 15 minutes of the second half to allow us to get a couple of opportunities, and fortunately we put them away. And then after that, we were defending. That’s all we were doing. Once we got the two-goal lead, we weren’t interested in getting forward.”

Idaho wasted little time trying to find an answer. Two minutes later Small, a consistent threat in the attack, took a shot from the left corner of the box that was stopped by Schwery.

Six shots for Small, including one off bar
“Yeah, and they know that,” Showler said of Small’s attacking prowess. “She would have two or three players on her every time she got the ball and they did a good job of closing her down and denying her the space.

“But these are the games where with 22 chances, these are games we have to win. All credit to Eastern, they just never gave up and got two cracking goals – two well taken goals. When we get that many chances we have to kill teams off, and that’s not what we did today unfortunately.”

In the 65th, a ball was played out from the midfield to the left flank, where Small turned and created some space to unleash a shot from just outside the edge of the box that would go off the far side of the crossbar.

The denial by the crossbar would be critical as Eastern struck just moments later at the other end when Black created the second goal in the 66th minute by collecting the ball and delivering a cross into the box that Kasey McNeill (Kennewick, WA) knocked on to Haley Stading for the close-range finish.

“We talked about trying the 4-4-2 and trying to see if they could find Cassie or Siara running behind them because we felt they played a little flat and one of their center backs is a little slower – the one on the left side,” said Hageage.

“That’s kind of where we targeted and that’s actually where the ball went. Cassie chased it down and she’s on a roll right now with three goals in two games here. That definitely changed the complexion. The second goal, that’s huge. Once you do that, especially in the second half, it’s all about holding that two-goal lead that we all know in soccer is hard to do so that’s why we decided to just drop people in.”

The Eagles nearly pushed the advantage to three in the 72nd minute when Amanda Bliesner (Spokane, WA) got behind the defense to chase the ball down, firing from about 25 yards and narrowly missing the upper left corner.

Schwery continued her dominance in the match defensively for the shutout, stopping chance after Vandal chance in the late stages, particularly with five minutes left on the clock. A cross from Flockhart was one-timed by Erica Hart (Spokane, WA), forcing a nice save. Less than a minute later her lone mishandling of the game allowed the Vandals inside the box to have a couple back-to-back chances from close-range, but Schwery recovered and denied them all before the ball was finally cleared.

Showler, Vandals looking for a late rally
“She made two great saves there; one with her leg and then came out and did well,” said Showler. “We peppered the goal and they did a resolute job keeping us out.

“At the end of the day George and his girls should be proud of their result. I am disappointed, but I am not disappointed about how we played. I can’t fault the effort and work rate and creating those opportunities. We just have to do a better job finishing them.”

Finishing was the theme of the day as the match was the fourth time in the last five games – all on the road - in which the Vandals have been shutout. For Eastern, Hageage says the opportunities have been there throughout the non-conference slate, but the ball has simply found the back of net in the last two matches. 

“Idaho is a really, really good team and I know they are struggling a little bit as well, but Peter will get them back together and they will be fine as well so we will see them later on scoring some more goals like they did at the beginning,” said Hageage.

“We don’t get a lot of shots, but if you look at our shots on goal we get a lot of quality chances and none of them were falling earlier. And now, stuff like this are going in. If that’s gonna happen I think that will just open up and give our team more confidence, and I think when we get to the Big Sky you will see our shot totals rise.

Eastern Washington plays their final non-conference match Sunday at home against Hawaii (1:00 pm ET) while the Vandals have three, beginning with a home match Sunday against Washington State, which has flirted with the Top 25 this season. The following weekend they face Utah Valley at home and UNLV on the road before kicking off their final season in the Western Athletic Conference.

With the Vandals leaving the WAC, Friday’s match may have been a preview of future conference showdowns as the University of Idaho is expected to apply for and join the Big Sky Conference for non-football sports.

“I have no idea if that’s gonna happen – that’s the speculation, but until we sign on the dotted line, I don’t know,” said Showler and the potential of being in the same conference with EWU. “I know the Big Sky well having been at Portland State as an assistant. So I know the coaches and the arena that were in. But until it is signed, sealed and delivered… there’s no decision being made yet.

Hageage was welcoming of the possibility. “I think that’s great. If you look at it now, it would be Montana, ourselves and Idaho… regional rivalries like crazy. And we like those kinds of things - that’s good. They have a good staff and Peter’s done a great job. I think it will just help raise the profile of the Big Sky, especially in the Pacific Northwest.”