Fight to the finish

HOWLAND – Ask anyone who has been around the game of soccer, and they will say the moments immediately following a goal are some of the hardest to defend.

It occurs normally as the team relaxes from taking or increasing its lead or equalizing, which can lead to a lapse in defense.

The Howland Tigers were on the wrong end of this situation during the Tigers’ 2-1 home loss to Canfield on Wednesday. Less than 2 minutes after Heather Stinson tied the match for Howland (3-1, 2-1 All-American Conference, American Division), Canfield’s Sophia Mancini received a pass in the midfield, dribbled around a center defender and blew past the other with a burst of speed before sliding the ball into the back of the net.

“That was bad marking,” Howland coach Joe Megyesi said. “That happens – that’s one of my freshmen in there. They still had heart because we got back in there, but it’s a tough loss.

“Our girls played well, I was really happy with that. It’s one of those games when you’re playing the top teams like this that can go either way. We ended up giving up that last one.”

For Canfield (3-1-1, 2-0), it covered up the fact Howland possessed the ball more up until that point – and not just to start the second half.

Even in the first half, Canfield struggled to see a lot of the ball, although when they did have it, the Cardinals were dangerous by getting behind the defense. It was in such a situation in the 32nd minute that Bailey Fischer used her speed to force a Howland defender to take her down in the 18-yard box, and the junior midfielder converted the penalty kick.

Cardinal coach Phil Simone said his team was fortunate to enter halftime with a lead.

“In my opinion, they controlled a lot of the first half,” Simone said. “They were in our end (a lot). For us to come out of the first half, 1-0, was a good feeling. They killed a little bit of the momentum by equalizing, and thank God we came back and got the game-winner.”

Megyesi said Howland’s early success didn’t escape his players at halftime and played a role in the team’s aggressive play to start the second half, which culminated in Stinson’s goal in the 47th minute.

The outside midfielder got loose on the right wing with a pass from Jenna Dorchock before taking taking a few dribbbles. When no Canfield defender stepped up to stop her, Stinson curled an 18-yard shot that went over goalkeeper Raquel Abel and dipped under the crossbar.

“Going in (to the locker room), they were still all pumped up,” Megyesi said. “The biggest thing they said, ‘Hey, it was a PK.’ That’s why we came out real nicely. We played well – we just came up on the short end of the stick.”

After Canfield retook the lead, Howland didn’t fall apart and pushed forward to equalize again. The Tigers came the closest in the 71st minute, when Dorchock stole the ball deep in Canfield’s half. The junior turned to create some space on the edge of the penalty box and shot toward the right side of the net. Unfortunately for her and Howland, the ball bounced off the right post before being cleared.

In the end, Howland lost, but the Tigers did so without their star player Seyla Perez, who has been out with a knee injury since an Aug. 28 win over Austintown Fitch. Megyesi said this performance showed the Tigers are a team and don’t need to rely on individuals to go somewhere this season.

“She hasn’t played the last couple of games, and the team was still solid,” Megyesi said. “That’s what I like – we’re a team. Not one or two individuals, we played well as a team.”

Still, Howland’s hopes of winning an AAC, American Division title took a hit with the loss to their biggest rivals for the crown.The Tigers can make up for the loss and put themselves right back into the thick of the race when they visit Canfield on Sept. 25.

Needless to say, Howland will be motivated for the return match.

“We’ll see them again at their place,” Megyesi said.