All good things must come to an end. And while the women’s soccer team’s season is by no means over, the Bulldogs could not save their program-record winning streak from some Philadelphia rain this weekend.
The No. 22 Elis (11-2-1, 3-0-1 Ivy) fought rain, a muddy field and an unusual Penn (7-4-3, 1-2-2) formation on Saturday, falling just short in their bid to extend their winning streak to 12 games, instead tying the Quakers, 1-1. Despite the even final score, the Bulldogs outplayed their opponents, outshooting the Quakers 13-6 — 3-1 in the two overtime periods alone — and racking up 11 corner kicks to Penn’s two.
Midfielder Christina Huang ’07 said the game’s two halves were very different for the Elis.
“The first half we were on our heels,” she said. “The ball was stuck in the midfield first half and no one could get chances. They only took one shot, but had one goal.”
The sole Quaker goal come on a breakaway 18 minutes into the game. Penn caught the Elis on the counterattack, sent a direct kick over the defenders’ heads, and forward Carolyn Cross was able to get to the ball and put it past goalkeeper Chloe Beizer ’07. Beizer said the score stayed on the team’s minds until halftime.
“For the rest of the half, we were desperate, and every time we couldn’t score, we got more and more discouraged,” she said.
Halftime arrived with no Eli goals, and head coach Rudy Meredith made a key change in the Yale formation. Penn played an uncommon 3-5-2 formation, with three defenders, five midfielders and two forwards, a line-up the Bulldogs had not seen thus far in 2005. Meredith moved one defender into a midfield slot, a move players said made a big difference.
“We were like a whole new team,” Huang said.
While players praised Meredith’s change, he was harder on himself.
“I was reluctant to change because we’d been so successful,” he said. “But my gut told me to change, and I didn’t, and I’m still mad about it because I think it changed the outcome of the game.”
Players were not so quick to blame the coach’s decisions, saying the real problem was the field conditions.
“You couldn’t even dribble the ball, you had to just kick it to yourself, since there was so much standing water,” Beizer said. “Any pass would just stop. It was a really big disadvantage, since we’re such a passing team.”
Huang said the weather made the ball slow on the ground and so heavy with rain that it was difficult to send into the air. She said the passing problems were compounded by a more physical Penn team, better able to power through the mud than the speedy Elis.
But Meredith said the poor conditions were no excuse. He said he picked sides at the beginning so the team could attack one side that was muddy, with the hope that the Quaker goalie would slip. But that choice meant the Bulldogs would be attacking into the wind, another decision he said he regrets.
Huang said complacency on the team also played a role.
“We weren’t as focused on Penn, we just assumed it was another notch on our belt,” she said.
Huang scored midway through the second half on a free kick, bringing the game to a 1-1 tie. Beizer said the team was confident going into the ten-minute overtime period.
“In overtime we had the feeling we’d come out with a victory, since they hadn’t really tested us,” she said. “On the whole, it looked like we were dominating them. In overtime, we had a bunch of good opportunities, but we just couldn’t put it away.”
Finishing has been a problem in other games this season; Beizer noted the 1-0 win over St. Johns Sept. 6, a victory that took the Bulldogs an overtime period to earn despite a 16-5 edge in shots. Meredith said following up on chances created during the game would be the focus of the next couple of practices.
Though the tie broke the team’s winning streak of 11 games, the Elis’ spirits remain high.
“In a sense this tie was something we needed,” Huang said. “We want a ring. I don’t think that desire has lessened at all. We just realized that we have to earn it. I still think we have a winning attitude.”
The Bulldogs travel to New York to face Columbia Friday, followed by Dartmouth and Brown at home the week after. Meredith said the games against Columbia and Dartmouth will be key.
“Right now it’s a two-game season for us,” he said. “If we win both games, we win the league. We control our destiny. We just have to not panic.”