Vicenza’s short trip to Aviano a double success
Stars and Stripes April 22, 2023
AVIANO, Italy – Try to explain soccer to someone and it basically comes down to this: Get more goals in the opponents’ net than they do in yours.
So shots on goal are generally a good indicator of a team’s success. Take the Vicenza Cougars girls for instance. They outshot the Aviano Saints 30-2 on Saturday in a 7-0 victory. The shots-on-goal margin might actually provide a more accurate picture of the game than the mercy-rule score as it was that lopsided.
However, shots on goal don’t always tell the entire story. The Aviano boys learned that by falling 5-3 to the Cougars despite a 20-12 advantage in that all-important category. And goalkeeping, which is often a mitigating factor, really wasn’t.
“You can have a lot of good looks, but if you don’t execute …” Vicenza girls coach Adam Ridgely said with a smile while walking off the field.
He could be smiling because his team – the defending DODEA-Europe Division II champion – had plenty of both.
Maya Fitch was a one-person wrecking crew, scoring four times. The sophomore put her team up 1-0 early on with an attack up the left side of the field. She shook a defender, then lofted the ball from the left side of the goal to the right upper corner over the head of Aviano goalkeeper Grace O’Connor.
Moments later, Fitch struck again, scoring when O’Connor couldn’t handle a shot from distance. Vicenza went up 3-0 when Lilly Pollard scored on a long free kick, the ball taking a weird bounce right at the end over O’Connor’s outstretched hands and into the goal.
It was that kind of day for O’Connor, normally a sure-handed keeper, and the Saints. She managed to stop almost half of the Cougars’ attempts, but plenty got through. That included another shot off her fingers from Pollard as the Cougars went up 4-0 at halftime.
Fitch scored twice more in the second half as she found herself alone a few yards in front of goal with no Saints defenders pressing her.
“There are some defensive adjustments we need to make,” Aviano coach Sarah Hartman said. “We’re going to use this as a motivational tool …”
Tyler Holt scored the goal that officially ended the game on a pass from Fitch a bit more than midway through the second half.
Ridgely said Fitch deserves any credit she gets, but a host of players were responsible for the shutout. He also singled out midfielder Brooklyn Jeni, a transfer after the season last year from Utah, for setting up several of Fitch’s attacks.
The Cougars lost a tough 3-1 decision to Naples last week.
“We had a better week,” he said. “We’re getting there by bits and pieces. We’re still learning when to be aggressive and go forward with the ball.”
Saints’ coach Ian Birch said he thinks his team is moving in the right direction, even if the results haven’t been showing it. Aviano has had a seemingly endless series of close games in the past few years where a few plays have made the difference.
Saturday was no different. The Cougars struck almost immediately, with Kaya Peterson outracing defenders up the left side of the field on Vicenza’s first possession and shooting the ball into the right side of the net. But Aviano didn’t wait long to tie it as sophomore Xavier Fox mirrored Peterson’s attack by scoring from right to left on a similar breakaway.
The Saints then almost took the lead several times. One goal was called back by a close offsides call. Another offside infraction stopped what looked like another good chance. Vicenza keeper Nicholas Morton stuck out his foot to deflect another shot. Terrance Johnson’s shot glanced off the right upright.
So when Vicenza’s Anthony Poropat struck after a corner kick bounced around the front of the Aviano goal, it was 2-1 Vicenza even though the Cougars had been outshot 7-4 at the time. Jalen Robertson’s score just before the halftime whistle put the Cougars up 3-1.
Robertson, Poropat and Peterson have “very good chemistry,” Vicenza coach Philip Paniagua said, even though they haven’t been playing together very long. Robertson transferred in from New York and Peterson got a late start to the season.
Peterson demonstrated his skills early in the second half, eluding an Aviano defender with a 360-degree spin close to the goal after a long run and left-footing the ball into the net.
But Fox wasn’t finished yet. He scored again after another long run and then struck moments later to cut the lead to 4-3. He came close to an equalizer, but the ball sailed just over the center part of the net.
Peterson then set up Robertson with another goal to give the Cougars a more comfortable advantage, which they held until the final whistle.
“You’d always rather have the win,” Birch said. “But our primary focus is being ready to play in three weeks in Germany.”
The Cougars and Saints play again in two weeks before traveling north to the season-ending championships in the Kaiserslautern Military Community from May 15-18.