Panthers split weekend conference series at home

The women’s soccer team began conference play this weekend, splitting the series against Old Dominion University and University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

On Sept. 26, a familiar whistle was heard throughout the FIU Soccer Stadium. The crowd was modest and the weather was hot, per usual. But the tone was different. This game wasn’t an ordinary duel—it was the first Conference-USA match for the Panthers this season.

Old Dominion University was welcomed into Miami. Upon walking into the stadium, the away team is usually the first out to the pitch to warm up, with the Panthers walking on shortly afterwards. For C-USA matchup number one, the Panthers were the first team to grace the war-torn field.

When asked just how much pressure was added onto the game against the Monarchs, redshirt senior forward Chelsea Leiva said: “A good amount. I mean, it’s the first conference game. It’s great that we started off on a good note. It’s one game at a time.”

For the first 45 minutes, the Panthers strung together a beautiful set of chords to produce a lead that, eventually, became too much for Old Dominion to overcome. Through the first 12 minutes, both teams were feeling for each other, seeking an early weakness in one’s defense. Head Coach Thomas Chestnutt stressed possession for his Panthers, so his team was stuck trying to find creases to work within. The Monarchs showed flashes of their ability to disrupt the Panthers’ offense, but it took one moment to change the tone for the Panthers.

Leiva, who had four goals coming into the night, found her first of the game at the 20th minute on a through ball into the box via senior forward Ashleigh Shim.

“Anything I can do to help the team win is what I’m about,” said Shim. “…I like to hold on to the pass rather than go to goal.”

Shim got very close to finding the net, herself. At the 89th minute an empty net presented itself as the Monarch goalkeeper left her line. Shim played a ball down and tried to pinpoint the right side of the net, but to no avail.

The selfless play of each Panther was rather contagious from that point onward. Redshirt junior midfielder Scarlet Montoya placed an accurate cross towards Leiva (four shots, four on goal). The Royal Palm Beach native found her second goal on the night which crept into the left side of the net, leaving ODU shell-shocked. Montoya capped her sixth assist on the season, giving coaches something to smile about.

Going into halftime with a 2-0 lead is comforting for any team, but still dangerous.

“In the second half we came out flat,” said Chestnutt. “The lines weren’t with the bodies, but we fought through it.”

Old Dominion outshot the Panthers 5-4 in the second half, but failed to reach the equalizer before the 90 minute mark was reached. Freshman goalkeeper Nevena Stojakovic was tested all night, with close calls keeping coaches, players and fans on the edge of their seats.

Sunday, Sept. 28, provided the final home game of the seven-game home stand for the Panthers. After the dominant 2-1 victory against ODU, UNC marched into Miami to visit Chestnutt and his team for game two of FIU’s Alumnae Weekend.

Coming into the 1 p.m. match, the 49ers had been served a loss at the hands of their first conference opponent, Florida Atlantic University (1-0). The Panthers had the chance to win their first two conference games, which hasn’t happened since 2012. Much was riding on the outcome of this important afternoon show-down.

Similar to the match against ODU, the Panthers began incredibly strong, with crisp passes that seemingly caught Charlotte off-guard.  The possession was lopsided and it only took five minutes for a goal to be found. Shim continued her display of sharing the ball by finding a trailing teammate, Leiva, for a quick score in the box on a two-on-one breakaway. Leiva has seven goals now on the year, while Shim recorded her third assist (second only to midfielder Scarlet Montoya’s six).

“It’s super important,” said Shim on the early goal. “It sets the tone for the whole game. It lets the opponent know that this is our field.”

Chestnutt, also, spoke on how crucial it is to get off to a speedy start: “Oh, it was important. We stressed how important the first half was today… We, also, stressed that the game is 90 minutes long.”

After getting on the board, the Panthers kept true to their script of tight-knit defense. Through the remaining 40 minutes, only two Charlotte players had a single shot on-goal: Amanda Jones and Jennifer Lee. A major contributor to breaking the passes and potential attacks by the 49ers came via senior defender Marie Egan, who had a very active game on defense.

The Colorado native finished the game with one shot on-goal, but had plenty of plays that didn’t find their mark in the box score.

After trailing 1-0, the 49ers began the second half with a sense of desperation. Possession began to level, but the Panthers found their opponent lingering in their half of the field for far too long. At the 51st minute, freshman goalkeeper Nevena Stojakovic (four saves, two goals allowed) deflected a ball wide left of the net to stop the shot for CHA. One minute later, an equalizer found its way. Martha Thomas of CHA capped off a pinpoint corner kick by Jennifer Lee that swung past an out of position Stojakovic.

All knotted up, the Panthers, unfortunately, couldn’t find a way to get past the added pressure of the 49ers. There were three second half shots by Leiva and six in total for the Panthers, but only one on-goal for the final 45 minutes. Chances were scarce towards the final 20 minutes, but one golden moment was all it took to seal this game.

At the 86th minute, heartbreak rewrote the narrative for the match. Trying to advance the ball, the Panthers attempted to pass their way out of trouble. Rebecca Beatty sniffed out a passing lane and disrupted the offense, then found Martha Thomas in the box for her second goal on the afternoon and the eventual game-winner.

“Second half was sort of back and forth,” said Chestnutt. “We’d control it for some periods [and] they’d get some opportunities. We’ll do a better job of controlling the game. It wasn’t an easy day.”

The Panthers now stand at 1-1 in conference play, 6-5 overall. Their next opponent is a rival Florida Atlantic team that is 6-5-1 with a 1-1 conference record.

FIU takes on FAU Friday, Oct. 3. at 7 p.m. in Boca Raton, the Panthers’ first away game since Aug. 31.

 

About the Author

James Profetto
:Staff Writer for FIU Student Media. Majoring in Broadcast Media. Sports guru with a passion for movies, music and getting to know people. Aspiring play-by-play commentator. You'll see me on TV one day.

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