Syracuse shutout 1-0 by La Salle in season opener

first_imgThe Syracuse of 2018 looks a lot like the Syracuse of 2017.A team that was shutout eight times in 18 games a year ago started the 2018 season with a 1-0 loss against La Salle on Thursday evening at SU Soccer Stadium. An offense that started in neutral steadily picked up as the game wore on. But even a markedly-improved second half attack failed to crack the Explorer’s back line.“It comes down to technical execution inside the goal area,” SU head coach Phil Wheddon said after the match.And Thursday, Syracuse played catch up, in that regard. In the sixth minute, La Salle senior Madison Bower, who notched 11 goals last season, gathered an aerial pass on the edge of the 18-yard box.Leaning on her defender, back to the net, Bower slid the ball to her right and turned to the sideline, planted her right foot and brought the ball back inside with her left. With her defender dispatched, a lane cleared and a deftly-curled right-footed shot to the right of SU’s graduate-transfer goalie Jordan Harris put the Explorers on top.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“The first five minutes and the last five minutes of every half are really important,” sophomore forward Kate Hostage said. “So we just put it behind us and treated the second half like the first half.”Needing a comeback, the Orange featured junior defender Taylor Bennett at the top of its attack. Having played forward late last season, Bennett and Wheddon spent the offseason preparing for Thursday’s debut, they said.Wheddon’s rhetoric for Bennett’s switch rests on two reasons: new defensive depth and Bennett’s shot. Freshmen defenders Abby Jonathan and Jenna Tivnan eliminate the necessity of Bennett in the back four. As for the latter, Bennett’s first collegiate goal came on a 35-yard free kick against Albany in her fourth game.Despite the impetus of a blistering shot, traces of Bennett’s physical defensive style hampered her in the final third. In the 39th minute, Bennett and her defender bore down on a ball rolling toward La Salle goalkeeper Claudia Jenkins from the left side of the box. The defender cleared, Bennett dropped her shoulder and toppled over Jenkins in the box.“I’d like to see some more composure at times,” Wheddon said of Bennett’s rough play, which earned her a yellow card.In response to Bower’s early tally, Syracuse grew into the game. Build-up play in the first two thirds of the field connected more and play flowed through the back line and deeper central midfielders, Mackenzie Vlachos and Meghan Root.But as the Orange moved into the final third — and a clear shot wasn’t more than a few yards and a clean pass away — the attack fell apart. Bennett said the inability to make the final pass was SU’s main malaise.At halftime, Wheddon implored his team to be more technical and patient with the ball in the final third, he said. He also adjusted to La Salle’s back line dropping off by playing balls into the wide gap between the Explorers midfield and defense, having the forwards hold and allowing the midfield to join the attack. Bennett stepped up. She placed the ball on the spot, stood back, and charged on the refs whistle. The thud of Bennett’s foot striking the ball was followed a split-second later by the muffled sound of a diving Jenkins punching Bennett’s shot skyward.“The goalkeeper makes a heck of a save,” Wheddon said. “I know myself that I would not want to be in goal if Taylor’s striking the ball.”After searching for an equalizer for another 30 minutes, time caught up with SU.The Orange hasn’t lost a home opener in nearly 12 years — a 2-3 loss on Sept. 15, 2006. But after 90 minutes on Thursday, Syracuse ended up in a familiar spot: on the wrong end of a shutout. Comments In the second half, it started to work for SU. Possession flowed until a midfielder flipped the ball to Bennett or another forward — usually Sydney Bracket, Kate Donovan or Kate Hostage. The forwards held up play, giving SU attacking chances down the wings.Still, crosses were blocked or headed away and the ensuing corners punched away or misplayed. Aerial balls never found a friendly scalp. Syracuse’s attack picked up steam but couldn’t find a way to push the ball across the goal line.“It’s really frustrating,” Bennett said. “It’s just part of taking care of business.”The flow of Syracuse’s attack kept speeding up in the 61st minute. Root charged forward through the right midfield, taking on a defender. The freshman placed her left foot on top of the ball and spun off the defender, drawing an “Oh!” from the crowd.Free of her defender, Root flipped a ball down to the right corner for Clarke Brown, who got over the ball and crossed to Hostage, all alone on the far side.Hostage gathered, took one touch toward the middle of the box and as she drew her right leg back, a defender bowled her over. SU had earned a penalty kick, a free shot from 11 yards.center_img Published on August 16, 2018 at 10:23 pm Contact Andrew: [email protected] | @A_E_Graham Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more