When fans sit down to watch a Division-I conference semifinal soccer game, odds are they expect to see crisp, clean and up-tempo action paced by sharp passing and superb ball-handling.
Yesterday’s America East Tournament semifinal between the top-seeded Boston University women’s soccer team and the fifth-seeded University of Maine at Nickerson Field could not have been less like that.
Instead, the usually high-flying BU offense had to combat a stingy and physical Black Bear defense in a contest packed with turnovers, restarts, goal kicks and throw-ins.
Maine established early on that BU would have to fight for every yard, as Terrier attackers were smothered by the Black Bears every time they brought the ball across midfield. The Black Bears made sure that if the Terriers planned on bringing the ball into the attacking zone, they were going to earn it.
Maine noticeably slowed the pace of play, forcing the generally up-tempo Terriers to patiently work the ball up the field and pick their spots more carefully. If a Terrier attacker didn’t keep her body between the defender and the ball, it was a sure bet that a Black Bear was at least going to get a foot in to deflect the ball away.
Maine has developed a reputation as a physical team with one objective every time it steps on the field ‘-‘- to keep opponents off the scoreboard. In its first-round contest with the fourth-seeded University of Hartford last Thursday, the Black Bears played their game to perfection, holding the Hawks to just three shots on goal through regulation and two overtime periods on their way to a shootout win.
‘Maine is playing for a tie,’ BU coach Nancy Feldman said. ‘It’s no secret that’s how they got here. They got a penalty kick win against Hartford.
‘They had six ties in the regular season. They’re going to be a team that’s going to try to slow it down. They’re going to defend with numbers and they’re going to be hard to penetrate in the final third.’
The midfield battles between BU junior Emily Pallotta and Maine sophomore Kelsey Wilson were particularly physical, as Wilson battled Pallotta for elbow room all afternoon.
‘I think it shows a lot of the experience our team has,’ Pallotta said of the poise BU showed in the face of Maine’s aggressive play. ‘We have a lot of upperclassmen who have been in high-pressure situations like this.
‘For us to be able to keep our focus and keep being aggressive, even when things get a little chippy in a tight game, shows that our team has a little bit of extra push and a little bit of extra poise to be a championship team.’
Feldman insisted that, despite their obvious physicality, the Black Bears are not a dirty team.
‘I’ve always had a lot of respect for the way Maine plays because they play hard, but they’re not cheap,’ Feldman said. ‘There’s nothing dirty about the way they play. They go hard, and they’re going to battle you for 90 minutes. They’re going to try to get in your hip pocket, but to me it’s all fair and square. We knew what we were going to be up against.’