Sept. 9, 2010

Courtesy of Messiah

Baltimore, MD -- The 2010 movie Clash of the Titans might have been a blockbuster flop, but Wednesday night's clash between soccer titans was anything but.

An early top 10 match-up between #1 Messiah visiting #8/#7 Johns Hopkins University proved to be a physical battle for regional top honors, one in which the Falcons proved to be victorious by a 2-1 score.

Messiah (3-0) did appear to have control in the first half, doubling up the host Blue Jays in total shots 10-5. Whether it was a pre-game speech or motivation to prove its unanimous number one ranking in both the NSCAA and D3Soccer.com Top 25 polls, the Falcons had the better of possession in the opening minutes of the game.

But despite the ball control and offensive opportunities in favor of the Falcons, Messiah could not get connect on the chances they had in front of the Hopkins' goal. Head coach Scott Frey said that a lack of finishing created to the tensions within the game.

"Johns Hopkins is a quality team," Frey said. "It is tough to win when you don't finish the chances you get against a good team. Good teams don't give up chances like we got that often, and we have to get better at finishing when we have those chances."

Looking for a finishing spark, Frey went to the bench. He found speedy junior Lisa Wingard.

Wingard, who had been limited all season from injury, took her chance when she stepped on the field. Senior defender Molly Bletz gained possession on the left side of the attacking third and served in a deep cross to the far post. Wingard darted in towards the box from the right side and one timed the ball to the back of the net at the 37:16 mark.

"The goal helped us settle down and feel confident in the way we were playing," Frey said. "I felt like we deserved a goal and we definitely needed it."

The start of the second half was a continuation of the first. Just one minute and 21 seconds into the period, senior goal scoring machine Amanda Naeher found the ball on the left side of Hopkins' defense. Naeher proceeded to turn towards goal and laced a liner to the near post and past the keeper for Messiah's second score of the game, the senior's fifth.

But two minutes later, the Blue Jays found their own opportunity against the Falcons and finished strong.

Off a corner, Hopkins senior Allie Zazzali volleyed a low shot just past junior keeper Autumn Reilly to keep hosts' chances alive, narrowing the score to 2-1.

Over the next 40 minutes, both teams pushed back and forth with spurts of possession and chances to score. Both teams turned the ball over in the midfield and went on counter attacks to try and find another goal.

Messiah's second half production was evident with five corner kicks, but Frey's club could only muster three shots in the game's final 40 minutes.

After a Falcons turnover in the midfield, the Blue Jays came up with perhaps either team's best chance to add to the scoreboard. Hopkins (2-1) gained control and made a dangerous run down the right side, hoping for a counter attack score. Blue Jays' sophomore Laura Moody slotted a ball with intent to reach Zazzali up top.

Junior Kelsey Gorman denied the chance, however. Running from the opposite side of the field in support, Gorman cleared away the ball with five minutes to play in the game, stopping JHU's last opportunity to create a scoring moment.
"That is just experience," Frey said. "Kelsey has played a lot of games for us (starting all 54 played) and that play shows how confident the back line is with one another. Those four do the right things and play so well together."

With a huge early-season test behind them, Frey and company get to finally play at home, hosting St. Mary's College Saturday evening.

Messiah hasn't played on Shoemaker Field since Nov. 5 of last year, an NCAA Second Round game which saw visiting Endicott College fall to Falcons with a nearly last minute goal by Naeher to win 1-0.

"The girls are always excited to play on The Shoe," Frey said.