Illinois continued its undefeated start to the season by defeating the Dayton Flyers 3-2 in an entertaining affair on Sunday afternoon. The Illini are now officially on a winning streak.
The first half was rather tame. Illinois’ attack may have been hampered by an injury to Hope Breslin’s right ankle which forced her to be subbed off. The only foray of note came after a box-to-box run by fullback Kendra Pasquale, which eventually resulted in a blast of a shot by her that sailed over the bar. The Illini defense looked stouter than it did on Thursday, only allowing five shots from a powerful Flyer attack, two of which were on target and were easily saved by goalkeeper Jaelyn Cunningham. The teams went to the break scoreless.
The second half was much more open than the first. Illinois started off on the front foot, eventually breaking through in the 49th minute as a corner was cleared out to a recovered Breslin, who sent in a shot that trickled into the back of the net. Additional credit goes to Alicia Barker who distracted the Flyer keeper enough to allow the ball to sneak past.
The Illini kept the pressure up following that. In the 53rd minute, a wonderful ball from Maggie Hillman found Kelly Maday in behind, who was then dragged down, drawing a penalty. Senior Arianna Veland made no mistake, doubling the Illini lead.
The Illini defense absorbed a period of Dayton pressure before turning the tables. In the 61st minute, Breslin whipped in a corner that found the head of freshman Eileen Murphy, who sent it to the opposite corner of the net to tally her first goal of her collegiate career.
Then, Dayton really started ratcheting up the pressure. Some miscommunication in the Illini back line allowed a few golden chances for the Flyers, and Cunningham was up to the challenge. Eventually, a collision between Cunningham and a Flyer forward resulted in a…controversial…penalty for the Flyers in the 67th minute, which Jordan Pauley powered past a diving Cunningham, cutting the Illini lead to 3-1.
The Flyers then got another five minutes later, this time from open play. Laney Huber was played in behind the Illini defense and slid a shot past Cunningham just before Alicia Barker or Lexi Carrier could recover.
Check out Laney Huber's first collegiate goal for the Flyers! pic.twitter.com/53aAoLBeAu— Dayton Women's Soccer (@daytonwsoccer) August 25, 2019
The final 18 minutes were action-packed. Each side had a few chances, including a few nervy moments in the Illini box that Cunningham cleaned up, but nothing came of it. The final score was Illinois 3, Dayton 2.
A couple of things:
1. That penalty called on Cunningham was an egregiously bad call, and nobody will have video of it anywhere, so I’ll try to describe it. A Flyer winger sent a cross in that Cunningham was coming out to collect. Alicia Barker headed it away, but a Dayton forward made a wildly ambitious cut across the face of goal and collided with the keeper. The ref then called a penalty on Cunningham, who was justifiably incredulous.
The only thing I could concede to the ref is that there was a collision. If there was VAR, they probably wouldn’t be able to overturn it because of that. Everything else about the decision was bad. Cunningham had the positional advantage, neither player had the ball but both were playing it, and she is the goalkeeper, for chrissakes. If that call was absolutely correct, it sets a terrible precedent where you could draw a penalty by just running into the goalkeeper. Let me put it this way: for there to be a foul, the fouling team generally has to get an advantage out of it (outside of malicious intent). Both players were taken out momentarily as a result of the collision, but who would be more important to their team, an attacker who would’ve been offside afterwards or the only player on your team that can legally use her hands?
Just terrible. Credit to Jaelyn for berating the ref enough for him to threaten to give her a card but not actually do so. That’s the value of being a senior.
2. The defense is still shaky. Three of the starting back four didn’t play much last year, and Rayfield has resorted to a platoon at right back. All-Big Ten freshman Ashley Cathro is out with an injury, and transfer junior Henar Urteaga has yet to make an appearance. It makes sense that it would be suspect considering the lack of experience and the switch of system for Barker, but it’s still not ideal.
Luckily, it seems like a problem that will get better with time, and the non-conference schedule is perfect for this. The Illini offense should score enough to allow for a bit of a cushion for defensive mistakes, and the opposing attacks should be good enough to cause but not exploit mistakes.
3. Thank heavens Hope Breslin came back for the second half. She was taken off with what looked like a non-contact injury five minutes in, and she couldn’t put any weight on her right leg. Having her play in the second half is a good sign. Hopefully there aren’t any lasting effects because Breslin is a key creative cog in the Illini attack this year.
4. Ashleigh LeFevre came on for Breslin out on the left wing in the first half, and the Flyer midfield and defense decided to ignore her runs when the ball was either in the middle or on the opposite side of the pitch, as would pretty much any Illini on the ball. She was out there again (with Breslin up at forward) in the second half, only this time the Illini would swing the ball out to her in space, which played a decent-sized role in helping open up the game.
5. Eileen Murphy continues to look like the heir apparent to Arianna Veland. They’re both towering central midfielders who have an affinity for scoring with their head. Veland is much better at spacing and making the correct pass, which makes sense since she’s a senior and Murphy is a freshman. Again, that’ll just come with time.
6. Up next for the Illini is their West Coast road trip. First, it’s a stop on Friday in Malibu for a match against an undefeated Pepperdine squad, which is the likely the biggest non-conference test for the Illini this season. The Waves have not given up a goal this year, and their most recent match was a scoreless draw against No. 12 Texas A&M.