(Editor’s note: Story by Montana Sports Information)
MISSOULA – The Montana soccer team dropped its season opener on Friday afternoon at South Campus Stadium in Missoula, allowing a goal in the 78th minute as Fresno State came away with a 1-0 victory.
The loss spoiled the debut of first-year coach Chris Citowicki and snapped the Grizzlies’ 12-match unbeaten streak on their home field.
After coming up empty on its handful of chances, most of which came in the first 45 minutes, Montana gave up the game-winner deep in the second half on what was only the Bulldogs’ fifth shot of the match.
A ball was played into the box, where it ping-ponged around until it settled at the feet of Tori Nicolo, who took advantage of the gift and placed one into the net from six yards out.
“That’s the game of soccer,” said Citowicki. “It’s a game of moments, and you have to take your moments when they’re there. If you don’t, someone else is going to take theirs.”
Montana didn’t create a huge number of scoring chances, but the Grizzlies controlled possession in the midfield for most of the first half. But that possession only led to a few dangerous looks as the Bulldogs clogged the middle as the ball got deeper and deeper into their end.
“They did a good job taking space away behind them, and they did a good job taking away space between them,” said Citowicki.
“In those moments you have to go wide and get crosses, and we didn’t do that. We couldn’t get the ball in the box and for that reason we couldn’t create. It’s something we can fix.”
The Grizzlies looked sharp in Citowicki’s debut as a Division I head coach, with Alexa Coyle putting one off the crossbar from 25 yards out before the match was five minutes old.
Montana would double up Fresno State in shots in the first half, but the teams went into halftime in a scoreless tie.
“It was a game of two halves. The first half we did well. We had a lot of chances. We just didn’t score,” Citowicki said.
“I was very happy with how everybody played and the energy that they put forth, but we were doing the wrong things at the wrong times. We didn’t get the ball in the right spots to cause problems.”
Montana outshot Fresno State for the match but only put four shots on goal and didn’t create a single corner kick, while the Bulldogs had six, four coming in the second half.
“The second half was more on their end. They were attacking and ended up creating something out of nothing,” said Citowicki.
Montana got off three shots after Nicolo’s goal, but none was threatening. Karli Stone sent one wide right of the goal, and Sami Siems and Kennedy Yost both put shots on goal from distance that were easily caught by goalkeeper Marie Berwinkel-Kottmann, who picked up her eighth career win.
Montana started a pair of players — Ali Monroe and Caitlin Rogers — who were making their debuts in maroon. All seven players Citowicki used off the bench were also making their first appearances for the Grizzlies.
Montana will face San Francisco at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. The Dons built a 2-0 lead on Drake in the opening minutes of the teams’ match earlier on Friday afternoon and held on for a 2-1 victory.