Two minutes into their match against Bowling Green, the Spartans were up 1-0, rushing and attacking their opponents with all the hope of a warm September day and a potential win on the horizon.
Two minutes out from said win, the Spartans were tied 1-1, tired, feeling the chill of early fall under the lights and faced with their second consecutive overtime contest after letting a surefire victory slip away from them.
When recalling these moments, what was on women's soccer Head Coach Jeff Hosler’s mind?
“We got to continue to be more disciplined,” Hosler said. “Just a series of lack of discipline the last 90 seconds, that led to the equalizer. Unfortunately that’s the way the result falls today.”
MSU women’s soccer (3-0-2) drew BGSU (1-3-1) 1-1 after another 110 exhausting and physical minutes of soccer that put the Spartans' will to the test. The match played out with striking similarities to Monday’s game against FAU, including a strong first half, a mediocre second and a return to form in the final two overtime periods.
The Spartans struck first to take a 1-0 lead over the Falcons after a successful penalty kick from sophomore defender Zivana Labovic following a BGSU handball. The goal marked the second consecutive match in which the Spartans scored in the first ten minutes, a trend Labovic said allows her team to play with an added intensity in the first half.
“That was a really big thing for us, especially in both the huddles we had, talking about ‘Let’s get on top of them, let’s make them feel the pressure,’” Labovic said. “I think (Labovic’s goal) carried us through the first half.”
Even with the lead, it was hardly smooth sailing for an MSU team that likes to attack as much as possible. BGSU answered nearly every drive into their territory with tremendous and laboring presses, the opposite of an MSU team that works hard to wear their competition out with relentless offense.
In the first half, MSU was up for the challenge. Forwards Ellie Rogers and Lauren DeBeau led the way as MSU outshot BGSU 9-3 in the first period amid an imposing Falcon defense committed to making attacking soccer as uncomfortable as possible.
MSU even came close to building on their lead with a long, soaring shot from freshman forward Jordyn Wickes that nailed the crossbar. Rogers followed with another high shot and the Spartans looked as if they had all the momentum necessary to go on a run in the remaining 45 minutes.
“We just kind of ran out of final third moments,” Hosler said about the missed opportunities in the first half.
That all changed in the second period. BGSU senior midfielder Mackenzie Reuber and redshirt senior forward Nikki Cox starred early in the half as the Falcons drove the ball with ease on their way to more quality runs at the net. While redshirt junior goalkeeper Lauren Kozal answered the call every time-including a series of “rebounding” saves-BGSU firmly set the Spartans back on their heels with their offensive surges.
If nothing else, the Falcons forced MSU to play a brand of soccer unseen at DeMartin Field all season: purely reactive and overly defensive, a far cry from their normal brand of attacking football. Hosler acknowledged the shift in tactics and lauded the Spartans for adjusting well under the circumstances despite not being able to “keep the ball” as much they’d like.
“The first 15 minutes, we just couldn’t play our style,” Hosler said. “We had to start absorbing some pressure...We’re absolute warriors in and around the box, we won first balls, collected seconds and got us out.”
Labovic agreed and elaborated on the difficulty of facing a relentless attack.
“It can get hard when you’re constantly absorbing defense and balls at you,” Labovic said. “It can get a little stressful. I thought, at times, we handled it well.”
Even though senior midfielder Abby Gardiner said the Spartans were a “little frazzled” in the second half, they were certainly close enough to get away with it, despite losing graduate forward Ava Cook to an apparent injury in the 57th minute. Labovic battled hard to regain possession, senior forward Camryn Evans made some quality tackles and Kozal remained reliable in goal.
With two minutes to go, it seemed as if the Spartans would escape with the win.
Then BGSU sophomore midfielder Maya Dean emerged from a late scrum in the box to send a light shot towards the net. To the horror of DeMartin’s crowd, it flew just above Kozal for a deflating equalizer, 1-1. The Spartans waged an earnest attempt to answer but there wasn’t nearly enough time.
Overtime had arrived. Accepting the possibility of sudden death, Hosler said he told his team to stay aggressive and return to what had worked in the first half.
Do you want the news without having to hunt for it?
Sign up for our morning s'newsletter. It's everything your friends are talking about and then some. And it's free!
“In the first regulation, I said ‘We gotta go for it,’” Hosler said. “Give the girls a lot of credit, they did. They went for the three points."
Throughout the first overtime, the Spartans failed to maintain possession and sustain any sort of offensive drive. Regardless, they squashed some early threats from BGSU and stayed alive for the second and final extra period.
MSU returned to form for the final ten minutes, racking up four shots to BGSU’s one. Zabovic, DeBeau and Wickes notched solid chances while Cook returned to the game, stepping into a slow dribbler that missed the right corner of the goal by a foot and a half. The offensive chances had returned—they just weren’t converted and as the horn blew, the Spartans walked off the pitch exhausted and tied.
Hosler said some of the recent struggles with playing and scoring while ahead are due to the adjustments brought on by the implementation of his new, far more aggressive system. Players have been shuffled from position to position in an effort to get the most out of the team as he works to transition the offense, occasionally creating mismatches.
“We’re encouraging players to dribble. We’re trying to get more players higher up the field and get into dangerous spots,” Hosler said. “It’s just a lot of different coordination of movement. As the competition’s gotten tougher, it’s harder to work through.”
With a week to prepare for their next contest, Hosler said he’s a “one day at a time coach” and remains optimistic the Spartans will get back on track.
“I have all the confidence in the world we’ll figure it out,” Hosler said.
MSU travels to Oakland for their penultimate non-conference game on Sept. 7. The match is at 7 p.m.
Share and discuss “MSU women's soccer concede late equalizer, draw Bowling Green 1-1” on social media.