Columbus Eagles coach Matt Ogden gives instruction to his team during Saturday's 1-0 victory at AAFC Lumberjills on Saturday night. [Grant Burkhardt, Columbus Eagles]
The race to be crowned East Region champion kicked off this past Saturday as the Columbus Eagles FC faced off against the AAFC Lumberjills, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The game served as the perfect opening to East Region play, seeing as the Ohio Valley Conference rivals have a history of competing against each other. Last season, the two clubs also met in their first games of the WPSL regular season.
In last year’s meeting, the Eagles took the game in convincing fashion, winning 2-0 over the Lumberjills enroute to a second-place finish in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Lumberjills meanwhile faced some adversity throughout the season managing to muster only one win. This year, both clubs entered the game with their sights set towards competing for a conference championship and a berth in the WPSL playoffs.
Led by English coach Matt Ogden, the Eagles entered the game as heavy favorites, but the hometown Lumberjills were not willing to go down without a fight. Lumberjills coach Zach Wilks had the Lumberjills pressing early and often in the first half and the team nearly connected on a number of dangerous opportunities.
Forward Amy Babon, a bright talent from Saginaw Valley State University, led the attack for the Lumberjills and just barely missed the goal on a long shot in the 27th minute. Lumberjills goalkeeper Madison Paige was masterful in the first half making a number of diving stops to keep the Lumberjills in the game.
Yet in the 32nd minute, the Eagles’ offensive pressure became too much for the Lumberjills defense. After a string of quality offensive possessions, the Eagles forced the Lumberjills defense to clear the ball out for corner kicks on consecutive possessions. With the second try, the Eagles did not disappoint. A quality service from the corner prompted only a partial clear by the Lumberjills, and Eagles midfielder Alivia Milesky was there for a half-volley strike from the top of the 18-yard box.
“When it got deflected towards the 18, all I remember saying to myself was lean over the ball and strike through it with power,” said Milesky, a newcomer to the squad from the University of Ohio.
With a 1-0 lead heading into halftime, the Eagles were able to maintain the one-goal advantage for the entirety of the game. Eagles goalkeeper Andrea Vera controlled her box both in the air and on the ground in helping the Eagles secure the shutout.
For the Lumberjills, the game is a step in the right direction, for they look to grow after a challenging 2018 season. The team features a quality mix of returning players and a slew of new additions that are looking to help vault the Lumberjills into playoff contention.
The Eagles were ecstatic to begin their season with three points, on the road.
“The connections that the girls have is clear,” Milesky said. “The goal for the entire team is clear, play good soccer and win games.”
Both teams will look to build off an encouraging first week of conference play. The Lumberjills are back in action Tuesday, for they host Cleveland Ambassadors, the defending conference champions. Columbus returns to action Sunday with its home opener against the Cincinnati Sirens.