Late Mean Green penalty kick serves 2-1 loss to Panthers

Top-tier talent in Conference-USA toured Miami this past weekend, Oct. 17-19. Rice University fell to the women’s soccer team on Oct. 17, with overtime painting a thrilling narrative to begin the two-game weekend. North Texas University, now with 11 wins, strutted onto the field at FIU Soccer Stadium Sunday, Oct. 19, for a 1 p.m. match.

The implications of either losing or winning were dire for the Panthers. With a win, the Panthers would jolt upwards in the C-USA standings to a possible top five spot. A loss for Head Coach Thomas Chestnutt and his team makes the road to the C-USA Tournament that much harder.

A road swarmed with adversity is ahead.

Glancing at the lineups for both teams, a physical attitude resonated from both schools. Not one North Texan was undersized, while the Panthers have proved to use their smaller size to their advantage. A whistle blew and an upset victory was immediately the goal of each Panther.

“I thought we came out a little flat in the first half,” said Chestnutt to FIU Athletics. “[North Texas was] opportunistic, that’s the way they are.”

In the first 45 minutes, the opportunities were flowing mainly towards the Panthers. In shots, NTU had all three of theirs on-goal, while the Panthers had five shots and four on-goal. The bar for the entire game was set early, though.

At the ninth minute, a two-on-one break formed for the Mean Green after a pass by senior defender Marie Egan was intercepted. One pass by NTU’s Karla Pineda to Rachel Holden and a quick 1-0 lead presented itself.

Pressure settled in for the Panthers.

“There wasn’t necessarily a lot of pressure [on] whether we were capable of winning,” said redshirt junior Scarlet Montoya. “There was a lot of pressure because we needed to win.”

After facing an early deficit, the Panthers responded by cranking up the intensity and vocal nature of both their offense and defense. Senior midfielder Johanna Volz lit the fuse for the Panthers offense by sending a loud screamer at Mean Green goalkeeper Jackie Kerestine (six saves). That was just one of her two shots, both of which came in the first half.

“The team always had their composure when we were down,” said Chestnutt.

A level-headed composure that was needed for the full 90 minutes. North Texas Head Coach John Hedlund put the “mean” in Mean Green with his unsportsmanlike conduct. Actions that were taken so far as to be warned by Head Referee Christopher Spivey—shouting sarcastic remarks at both the coaching staff of the Panthers and each player, as well, and purposefully delaying the match by holding onto the game ball for far too long on a Panthers throw-in late in the second half.

The physicality of NTU didn’t go unmatched, as the Panthers chose to rise to the occasion.

“I thought we did really well,” said Montoya. “In the end, I thought we were always the better team.”

Montoya mentioned that sometimes physicality causes fouls and four were served to NTU versus the Panthers’ three. A game-changing foul came at the 83rd minute for the Panthers, though.

During the second half, both teams were fighting for position, trying to lift their heavy legs due to the scorching sunshine beating down onto the field. Senior forward Ashleigh Shim, who continually had herself in position alongside redshirt senior forward Chelsea Leiva, found herself receiving a ball deep into the Mean Green half. As Shim looked to turn, she was tackled with vigorous intention by an NTU defender. A whistle immediately blew, awarding a free kick at the top of the penalty box.

A strong wall of Panther and Mean Green ladies aligned in front of Montoya. No matter, as a rocket ignited and landed at the back of the net, passing Kerestine in the lower left corner at the 83rd minute.

“Well, we needed [the goal],” said Montoya. “The goalie just gave me that space and I took it.”

Simple and to the point, akin to the orchestration of her second goal on the 2014 season.

A tie was imminent, as both sides kept sending balls to each others’ back lines. Four minutes after the equalizer for the Panthers, a questionable penalty kick was given to Mean Green’s Karla Pineda. Freshman midfielder Courtney Phillips chased down Pineda at the top corner of the penalty box. Just as Phillips reached her mark, Pineda furiously turned, making hard contact with the Arlington, TX, native.

“An unfortunate challenge in the box gifted [North Texas] a [penalty kick],” said Chestnutt. “…and obviously they buried it.”

At the 87th minute, a 2-1 lead held true until the final whistle. The Panthers, now 7-7-1, 2-3-1, still sit outside the top eight at No. 11 in C-USA. North Texas moves to 11-4-1, 5-1-1 and maintained their top-spot in the conference.

A two-game Texas road trip next weekend, Oct. 24-Oct. 26, is now more important than previously thought. The University of Texas at San Antonio welcomes the Panthers on Oct. 24 at 8 p.m. and an intrastate trip brings them to the University of Texas at El Paso on Oct. 26 at 2 p.m. UTSA is drowning at the bottom of the conference (13th) and UTEP at the third spot.

This weekend must result in six points for the Panthers, as both teams are beatable, yet unfamiliar (no series history between the two), or their plight to a top eight spot come playoff time may become muddled.

When asked about these last three games left in the season, Montoya glanced down, then up with a sense of willingness to accept the road ahead—a road swarmed with adversity.

She smirked and uttered three words for three important games: “We gotta win.”

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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