The Portland Pilots topped the Central Michigan Chippewas 1-0 in front of a crowd of 2,494 at Merlo Field Friday night, in the host team's first match of the Nike Invitational Tournament.
The winning goal came from Ellen Parker in the 82nd minute, courtesy of an assist from Ellie Boon.
It was not the most dominating of matches from the Pilots, who are ranked #15 and entered the game coming off an impressive 1-1 away draw with #2 Stanford. While Portland came out and took command of the game early --firing off three shots in the first two minutes, and forcing Central Michigan's Heather Laeufer into making two quick saves-- the game settled into a bit of a back-and-forth slog, as the Chippewas' disciplined defense thwarted the Pilots' advances.
Still, Portland stuck to its game, finally breaking through when Boon found Parker smack in the middle of the penalty box, about eight yards out. "Ellie had the ball just outside the 18 and took a player on, and then crossed it to me and I just finished it far post," Parker said after the game.
Up until this point, the Pilots had conjured several threats, including nine corner kicks and eight shots in each half, and forced Laeufer into seven saves. But for much of the match, the Pilots didn't do themselves any favors, even when they managed to crack the Central Michigan backline. Freshman forward Danica Evans appeared particularly plagued, as several times she found herself with the ball and a bit of space in the box, but for some reason hesitated on her shot, allowing the Chippewa defense to close. Evans, Parker, and Allison Wetherington finished with two shots apiece, while Micaela Capelle and Michelle Cruz lead the charge with three apiece.
After coming out so strong, the Pilots' intensity appeared to drop off, as did the team's on-field chemistry. The usually smooth Cruz/Emily Sippel connection, for instance, suffered occasional mistiming and heavy touches. Still, Portland's defense remained stingy, and the team continued to execute its gameplan before finally hitting paydirt.
"If you take the first 15 minutes and give us one of the four chances that we had, I think it's a different game," Pilots head coach Garrett Smith said after the game. "But we showed our patience. We didn't start shooting everything from long range; I didn't think we panicked at any point. And with a young team, with as many freshmen as we had on the field, I think that's nice to see."
The win pushed the Pilots record to 3-0-1. They'll play their second and final match of the tournament Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Merlo Field against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.