While an impartial observer might fairly conclude that the Clemson women’s soccer team deserved better in its ACC-opening 2-1 overtime loss at home to 21st-ranked Maryland, Tiger coach Eddie Radwanski has clearly had his fill of moral victories, and contends that it’s no longer a matter of deserving better, but of being better.
Better, at least, in the attacking-third and on the finishing side of the ledger.
“We’ve got to be better,” said Radwanski. “It’s great to say we played well, gave a good effort, and were probably the better team on the field, but that doesn’t decide the score. We’ve still got to win and put the ball in the net.”
The fact is that the Tigers are currently playing an aesthetically-pleasing brand of soccer as far as their possession and organization, and their ability to put opponents under high-pressure.
On the other hand, they’re leaving their scoring chances conspicuously by the wayside, and in the rugged ACC, where results are oftentimes decided by the finest of margins, a failure to convert when an opportunity beckons can end in disaster.
And that was much the nature of the loss to Maryland, a game in which Clemson built play attractively and created numerous chances, but couldn’t cash them in. The Terrapins, meanwhile, seized and finished what were perhaps their lone two credible scoring opportunities.
The first was a gift due to a lapse of defensive execution, and the second a fifty-fifty ball that turned into a numbers advantage and a golden-goal game-winner.
Maryland has a lethal and elusive weapon in forward Haley Brock. All she needs is a ghost of a chance to make a defense pay steeply for a moment of inattention, and that’s exactly what happened in the 35th-minute, when she punished a misplay by the Tigers that might just as well have been a surgical and deliberate feed from a Terrapin teammate.
Breaking through in the right side of the area, Brock pulled Clemson Keeper Kailen Sheridan near-post, then calmly finished far-post from 11 yards.
“We can’t continue to have those moments of giving the ball away under no pressure, and sending a kid in on a breakaway,” said Radwanski. “We’re just killing ourselves.”
Instead of folding, and to the Tigers’ credit, they recovered their precision of play early in the second-half, and the result was a 51st-minute equalizer by Catrina Atanda, who converted a penalty kick after a Maryland defender was whistled for a hand-ball in the box.
Following that, chances for Clemson to take the lead mounted but went begging, and when regulation ended in a 1-1 deadlock, it was Maryland who snatched the golden goal and the deflating 96th-minute overtime victory.
Once again, Brock was the catalyst as she won a contested ball and broke behind on the right flank. With unattended support queuing-up on the doorstep at both posts, Brock squared to Cory Ryan who controlled at the front-stick then spread the ball across for Ashley Spivey. As Sheridan shifted down her line, she was beaten early as Spivey switched the flow and clinically reversed her shot into the lower right corner of the net.
“We came back (in the second-half) and put our stamp on the game and earned a good goal, and the momentum was with us,” said Radwanski. “But I give Maryland credit. They came on the road, and they dug-in and had to defend, and they battled and stayed in the game. And with those kids up-front, they’re always going to have a chance.”
Right now, with the Tigers standing at 2-2-2 on the young season, Radwanski thinks that it’s a matter of confidence and belief as far as his team finding its goal-scoring touch.
“In the first-half we got some great combination play and were in 1-V-1 with the goalkeeper from 10 yards out, and we hit it over (the bar), and don’t even hit the frame,” he said. “We’ve just got to be better in those moments.
“It’s a mentality, and our young bunch is just going to have to learn. It’s a thin line in this conference, and there are a lot of good teams. You’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities when you get them. We had our opportunity and we didn’t take advantage of it. So there’s no one to blame but ourselves.”