(Editor’s note: story by Montana Sports Information)
MISSOULA – In the end, after 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, it was a result — Montana 0, Eastern Washington 0, on Friday afternoon at South Campus Stadium in Missoula — that neither team felt very good about.
The Eagles, because they hit two crossbars and had what appeared to be the breakthrough goal in the second half, only to have it waved off because of an offside call.
The Grizzlies, because after getting outplayed for most of the first half, they outshot the visitors 12-5 in the second half and overtime, only to come up empty despite a number of dangerous looks.
Both teams will be able to point to moments — and inches — that could have made the difference. Both will look at it as an opportunity lost, so maybe the outcome was just after all.
“I think a tie in the end is a fair result,” said first-year coach Chris Citowicki, whose team has now played to three scoreless draws this season.
“With our first-half performance, they deserved the opportunities they had. And I was pretty happy with our performance in the second half and overtimes.”
The Eagles (5-4-3, 1-1-1 BSC) rolled into town as the Big Sky Conference preseason favorite and rightly so after winning the league tournament the last two seasons.
And they controlled play for most of the first half, taking 10 of the match’s first 12 shots over the opening 35 minutes.
It wasn’t an issue of more talent or better players in Eastern’s favor. It was the pressing style of play the Eagles employed that put the Grizzlies (1-6-3, 0-1-1 BSC) on their heels.
When Montana did gain possession, the Grizzlies tended to play the ball long, more to relieve pressure than to get a counterattack started. Which allowed the Eagles to regain the ball and keep attacking.
It was deadlocked at the half, and Montana was fortunate that was the case.
“It wasn’t a question of energy or effort, it was a confidence issue. The first 20 minutes we just wanted to play long, because we weren’t confident to play against their press,” said Citowicki.
“If you’re not confident, people are going to pick on you and beat you, so we challenged them at halftime. We believe in you. Believe in yourselves. If it goes wrong, it’s my fault for telling you to do it. They did it, and it was very effective.”
Montana started possessing the ball better in the second half, and shots came about because of it. Five were put on goal but none could make it past EWU goalkeeper Kelsee Winston.
“If you watched us in the second half, we built the ball and played soccer,” said Citowicki. “Once we got back to playing our style of soccer, it was pretty effective. I loved the opportunities we created. We just need to put them away.
“That being said, when you’re in a game as close as this, if you can’t score, you need to be clutch in the back, and the save by Claire (Howard) at the end was outrageously good. It was incredible.”
Montana had one its best chances of the match in the first overtime, but McKenzie Warren sent it high over goal, and Alexa Coyle and Janessa Fowler both forced Winston to make saves midway through the second extra session.
It appeared the outcome would be 0-0 as the match entered the 109th minute, but then Allison Raniere took a shot from 35 yards that made a direct line toward the upper right-hand corner of Montana’s goal.
Up stepped Howard. Or more accurately, up rose Howard, as the Griz goalkeeper lunged upwards to her left, using every inch of her extended right arm to get just enough of the ball to send it wide of goal.
“Chris always says these games are games of moments. I hadn’t had a lot of action, so that was my moment to either come up big for the team or walk away with a 1-0 loss,” she said.
“Those are shots I see regularly during the week, because my team challenges me that way. It’s a big credit to them for putting me in situations in practice where I feel confident I can save those balls.”
Montana now has just four goals through 10 matches, which overshadows another good season by Howard, who has four shutouts and a 1.20 goals-against average.
But with the Grizzlies averaging less than half a goal per match, does Howard feel pressure to be perfect every time her team takes the field?
“I don’t think of it that way,” she said. “The four (defenders) in front of me and I say before every game that we don’t give up goals. That’s something we’ve always prided ourselves on.
“We recognize we need to be the energy of the team, the heart of the team, so that if the forwards aren’t scoring, we need to do our job and keep the ball out of the net as best we can.”
Citowicki went seven deep from his bench, matching the most he’s used his reserves since the opening weekend of the season.
Freshman midfielder Kylie Hanson played an effective 48 minutes and put a shot on goal, and freshman Katie Hansen, recruited as a center back, played 15 minutes up front.
Warren took a team-high four shots while playing 97 minutes. Taryn Miller and Taylor Hansen both played all 110 minutes, with Hansen, an outside back, getting forward for three shots, one on goal.
Montana will face Idaho (5-5-1, 2-0-0 BSC) at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The Vandals played at Northern Colorado on Friday night.