Chargers stumble late against East Chapel Hill in another close game

BY BRENNAN DOHERTY, News + Record Correspondent
Posted 4/1/21

PITTSBORO — On paper, Northwood women’s soccer team’s 2-0 loss to East Chapel Hill Tuesday night was hardly a disappointing result for the Chargers.

East Chapel Hill — the …

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Chargers stumble late against East Chapel Hill in another close game

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PITTSBORO — On paper, Northwood women’s soccer team’s 2-0 loss to East Chapel Hill Tuesday night was hardly a disappointing result for the Chargers.

East Chapel Hill — the leaders of the Big Eight Conference — entered with a perfect 5-0-0 record and a +28 goal differential (31 goals scored, three conceded), but needed an insurance goal in the 72nd minute to exhale before winning.

And yet, Northwood head coach Ascary Arias’ postgame speech to his team primarily focused on his concerns — namely the Chargers’ Jekyll-and-Hyde nature from half to half — and unanswered questions, such as why they aren’t communicating better on the field.

The loss dropped the Chargers to 1-3-1 on the season, a record that is perhaps a bit misleading if not illustrative of how fine the margins have been for Northwood.

Since winning by three goals in the season opener against Cedar Ridge, the Chargers have:

  • played fairly well against — but lost to — conference powers East Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill
  • dropped a one-goal game to Orange, and
  • saw a halftime lead turn into a 3-3 tie against Northern Durham.

The ingredients, Arias can tell, are there for Northwood to be successful. Having them present over the course of a game has eluded Northwood, though, which Tuesday’s game was another reminder of.

Although they trailed 1-0 at the break after an unfortunate own goal, the Chargers could have easily entered halftime tied or potentially in the lead. The second half provided far less ingenuity and confidence from Northwood, however.

“I think we realized that they were better than us,” Arias said. “(East Chapel Hill) is one of the top teams in the conference, so it got into some of the players’ heads. You’ve got to understand that they’re kids, they’re high-schoolers. Sometimes it’s hard for them to get past the mental aspect of the game.”

After settling into the match, Northwood began to control possession midway through the first half. The Chargers earned three corner kicks from the 23rd minute to the 29th minute, a dominant stretch punctuated by a near-goal from senior captain Imogene Cook.

A powerful and speedy player who seemingly made up ground in five-yard increments atop the football numbering-filled field, Cook made a long run down the right flank before sending in a cross that drifted toward the back post that clanked off the crossbar. Whether Cook meant for the effort to be a shot or a pass became irrelevant, as East Chapel Hill goalkeeper Nikki Blume was left stranded.

“That’s my specialty,” Cook said. “I’m really fast, so usually someone in the middle will try to find me wide, and I’ll try to take it down as far as I can and look for a cross, if that’s for Ava (Arias) or whoever’s in the 18.”

That strong stretch of play was quickly followed by the opening goal for East Chapel Hill in the 30th minute, however. The Wildcats took a long throw-in, a tactic meant to mimic the effects of a corner kick — and it worked. A miscommunication at the back led to Northwood goalkeeper Kennedy Oyan coming off of her line as the ball deflected off a defender in a crowded space and into the back of the net.

But on the whole, Arias was pleased with the first-half effort from his group. The second half, though, was a different story.

Marred by a lack of communication and tactical adjustments, Northwood failed to recreate the attacking prowess it had at times early on and instead conceded more opportunities to East Chapel Hill. The visitors’ second breakthrough finally came in the 72nd minute when junior midfielder Mia Bergin impressively finished from the left side of the box, putting her shot in the upper-right corner.

At this point, Arias is running out of ideas when it comes to getting his players to communicate better with one another.

“I think every team, no matter what sport, you have to have players who know each other really well and know each other well on and off the field,” Arias said.

Cook understands Arias’ frustration over the lack of communication and believes that it’s something she and her teammates will have to become better at as the season progresses. She did point out that it’s mostly a young group and the Chargers are still trying to gel following a season missed to the pandemic. Perhaps solving the communication problem could end up being what jumpstarts Northwood’s campaign, one characterized so far by flashes of good play but void of tangible results.

“I definitely think if you look at our record, you would assume we’re not a good team,” Cook said. “I mean, we’ve played great games. We’ve put up a lot of good fights. I think that maybe it’s just early in the season, maybe it’s from being a new team. We have a lot of talent on this team.”


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