Visiting Florida Atlantic received goals from Libby Wissman (20’) and Pernille Velta (28’) to sneak past UTEP, 2-0, at University Field Sunday afternoon. Sophomore GK Alyssa Palacios made nine saves for the Miners (11-6-2, 4-5-0, Conference USA) to keep her squad within striking distance but the Owls (10-6-2, 6-2-1 Conference USA) managed to come away with the win.
Shots were 18-12 in favor of FAU, but the Miners had a 5-3 advantage in that department in the second half. Both teams took eight corner kicks. FAU’s Sydney Drinkwater was credited with two saves in keeping the clean sheet but the Miners kept her busy all day.
The closest call for the Orange and Blue came with corner kicks sandwiching three shots, two of which hit the crossbar, in a 30-second sequence in the 11th minute. Another great look in those opening minutes of action was when a cross got past Drinkwater but the sliding Miner attacker couldn’t quite get there in time to finish it.
“Without a doubt if we had scored one of those first goals it would have changed the game,” UTEP head coach Kevin Cross said. “I don’t know if it was lack of luck or lack of a sacrifice but we’ve got to get the ball in the back of the net. It wasn’t our worst performance but it wasn’t our best. We start our tournament on Friday (senior night vs. Southern Miss).”
There was back-and-forth action early in the game, with Alexa Bain, Payton Ross and the rest of the Miner defense putting in outstanding efforts to stave off an FAU corner kick (5’). UTEP then launched a counter attack that sent freshman Lauren Crenshaw streaking up the pitch deep in FAU territory. Her rocket (6’) forced Drinkwater to make a save that set up a corner kick. Carleigh Simmons sent it into the area but it was cleared away by the FAU defense.
After Palacios made a good save on a tough angle shot by Felt, the Miners started to really control possession and play. UTEP earned a corner kick (11’), leading to one of the wildest sequences of soccer on the year.
Carleigh Simmons’s service was hammered in on net on a header (11’) by Aleah Davis that clanked off the crossbar and bounced down and back into play. Bri Thomas pounced on the rebound but incredibly her shot also cruelly clanked off the crossbar. The ball remained loose in the box and Jeanna Mullen blasted a shot (11’) that somehow the FAU defense blocked over the line for a corner. Simmons sent another corner but the Owls were able to send it away and survive the 30-second flurry.
The unfortunate close calls for UTEP loomed larger when the visitors got on the board in the 20th minute. Off a corner kick the ball was touched to Wissman who hammered home the chance from six yards out. The Owls extended it to a 2-0 cushion after Velta controlled a pass from inside the box, spun and unleashed a well-struck shot. Palacios dove and managed to get her finger tips on it, altering the shot trajectory in the process, but it still snuck inside the far post.
Palacios was perfect from that point on to keep the Miners within striking distance. She calmly collected a try (34’) by Mary O’Hara while tracking a heavy shot (38’) by Kelsey Parry well to make a clean save. She turned away Parry again in the waning minutes of the stanza.
Armed with the 2-0 lead FAU really looked to slow down the pace of play in the second half. The Owls dropped back players to clog up the midfield and contest every opportunity in its defensive third. UTEP looked to counter that strategy through timely runs and stringing together several passes to create some space to work with. The Miners held advantages for both shots (5-3) and corner kicks (5-2) in the frame with an attempt to rally.
Nicole Lindsay looked to get things going for UTEP with a great ball into the area but Drinkwater anticipated the play well and came off the line to grab it. Three minutes later Bri Barreiro found some space to work with but her shot (53’) sailed high.
UTEP earned one of its five corners of the frame in the 56th minute but once again Drinkwater foiled the chance by punching away the service that was seemingly destined to find Davis or Thomas. The Miners had a good opportunity with four minutes left in the match but Kennadie Chaudhary’s shot (86’) was blocked away. Mullen stayed with it and blasted a shot that was gobbled up by Drinkwater. Davis then had a header blocked on the Miners’ final corner kick (89’) of the tilt.
The Orange and Blue will look to refocus and prepare to face Southern Miss in their “Senior Night” contest at 7 p.m. MDT Friday.