(Editor’s note: story by Montana Sports Information)
MISSOULA – The opportunities were there, and that was no surprise. They’ve been there all year. But turning those opportunities into goals is beginning to feel like it’s an issue that may never get solved this season, not with only a handful of matches remaining.
And not without that $100 million player, who may be on the team but has yet to reveal herself.
Montana outshot Southern Utah 23-7 and dominated time of possession and golden chances created, but all that advantage only led to a single goal as the Grizzlies played to a 1-1 draw with the Thunderbirds at South Campus Stadium in Missoula on Friday afternoon.
The season in a nutshell: Montana is outshooting its opponents this fall but has just eight goals through 14 matches to show for all the good work that’s being done to build up to those opportunities.
“It’s becoming the same story over and over again every game. Are we going to find a way to close out the game? We just haven’t been able to get it done when we need to,” said coach Chris Citowicki, who sounded disheartened for the first time this fall following the match.
“We do it all the time in practice. Why it doesn’t translate into game situations, I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. That’s why (professional) clubs pay hundreds of millions of dollars for forwards, because they can do it when no one else can in that space.”
From the opening touch of the ball on Friday, it felt like Montana was up a player, so tilted in the Grizzlies’ favor was the flow of the match.
Montana would outshoot Southern Utah 8-2 in the first half and held an 18-4 advantage through 90 minutes of regulation, but it was the Thunderbirds who scored the match’s first goal.
After taking their first shot of the match nearly 27 minutes in, the Thunderbirds broke through on their second, this one coming in the 32nd minute.
A ball was bounced up the middle of the field by Saki Watanabe, and MaKenzie Lawrence got her foot on it first, chipping it over the head of Claire Howard, who was stranded near the 18-yard box. The ball bounced multiple times before going into the goal, slow-motion torture.
“You can accept it if they go down to the other end and score, as long as you know your team is going to get back in it,” said Citowicki.
He tried everything he could against a team that allowed 13 goals to its first five Big Sky opponents but had Montana shut out at the half.
Taylor Hanson was moved from outside back to forward to start the second half, and that put even more pressure on Southern Utah, which spent chunks of time bending and trying not to break defensively, clearing ball after ball out of the box.
For more than 30 minutes it looked like the Thunderbirds might be able to turn that into a winning strategy. But — finally — Kennedy Yost got loose in the box and was tackled. Foul. Penalty kick.
Yost and Janessa Fowler both took a team-high six shots in the match, and both stood over the ball at the penalty kick spot when it was time for one player to step up. Both appeared ready to make it 1-1 in the 80th minute.
Finally Yost stepped down and Fowler converted.
“We both wanted to take it, which was good. You want players who have confidence to step up in that moment that changes the game,” said Fowler.
“I ultimately stepped up and took it, but it was Kennedy who did all the work. She drew the foul. It was selfless of her to let me take it.”
It was 16 matches ago, dating back to last season, when Montana scored more than one goal in a match, so when it was 1-1 and Southern Utah, which had nine starters play 110 minutes, was running out of gas, it felt like that’s how it would end up, even as the Grizzlies continued to push forward and create.
“We can get one, but when are we going to get another? It’s been the story of the year,” said Citowicki. “For us right now, we’re just not putting it away. We don’t have that clutch person. I don’t know how else to solve it. We’re tried everything. It’s frustrating.”
It’s getting late now, with just three league matches remaining. The first of those — Sunday against a rolling Northern Arizona team — comes at home, the last two — at Portland State and Sacramento State — come on the road.
Citowicki knows how his team will compete generally — the Grizzlies have played well for three straight matches — but the goal-scoring thing has him scratching his head.
“We’re going to show up and compete like we always do. The question is, Are we going to be able to execute in front of goal? That’s it,” he said.
“This is three games in a row when we’ve had the right energy, the right intensity and have created the right opportunities. I know we’re going to come out flying. Whether we win, I have no idea. We need that $100 million player, the kid who comes in and every time the ball gets to her, she scores.”
Montana (2-7-5, 1-2-3 BSC) and Northern Arizona (8-3-2, 4-0-1 BSC) will play at noon on Sunday, with Senior Day festivities taking place before the match.
The Lumberjacks played a night match at Northern Colorado on Friday.