Standing 5-foot-10, Boston College women’s soccer defender Gianna Mitchell is an imposing presence for opposing forwards to stare down. Mitchell is deceptively quick and physical enough to win battles, both in the box and on sprints down the sideline. On Sunday afternoon, she proved she’s no slouch on offense either. Deadlocked in a scoreless draw entering the 76th minute against Northeastern—a team the Eagles have never lost to in program history—Mitchell jogged the length of the field, settling in front of Huskies keeper Nathalie Nidetch for a corner kick.
A few seconds later, she was celebrating alongside teammates after connecting on the eventual game-winning goal, fighting through Nidetch’s prying hands to nod the ball in the back of the net for her fourth career score—one that handed the Eagles their second-straight win to open the 2018 campaign, beating Northeastern, 1-0.
The host Huskies (1-1) had held their own through the first 45-plus minutes of play, but a different BC team emerged from the locker room after the break. The Eagles (2-0) methodically unleashed shots in Nidetch’s general direction, and while few found the frame, the constant pressure had most in attendance prepared for the eventual breakthrough. Those watching would’ve likely expected the likes of Olivia Vaughn and Jenna Bike—two forwards who combined for 10 shots—to score, but it was Mitchell’s guest appearance in the box that sealed the deal.
The goal, scored with 14 minutes left, came after a lull in chances for both teams. Huskies faithful were up in arms after BC defender Rachel Newborough appeared to drag down a Northeastern forward in the box on a cross a few minutes prior, while the Eagles were 10 minutes removed from their last meaningful look—a Sam Coffey through ball that landed just out of Bike’s reach. Coffey quickly redeemed herself, though, swinging a perfectly placed cross from the right flag to set up Mitchell’s game-winner.
Suddenly staring at a 1-0 deficit with little time left on the clock, the Huskies picked up the intensity, and nearly caught the Eagles sleeping. Five minutes later, Northeastern defender Mikenna McManus slipped through a pair of defenders and ripped a clean, hard shot to the left of BC keeper Alexis Bryant. The four-year starter made an impressive kick save, however, flipping the ball up in the air and quickly snagging it to prevent a rebound.
Then, with three minutes left, the Huskies squandered their last real chance. Kerri Zerfoss chipped a pass over the backline to feed a streaking Chelsea Dumond, whose first touch on the ball skipped to the left side of the box. By the time she caught up to it and played it back to Zerfoss, both Bryant and BC’s defense had recovered, and the ensuing shot was stopped by a diving Bryant.
Outside of those two opportunities, Mitchell and the Eagles’ defense stifled Northeastern at every turn. Just like the season opener, the back line of Mitchell, Newborough, Erin Convery, and Kayla Duran was quite effective. Newborough was particularly strong on the right side and dealt with several long balls, while Duran came up big a few times on clearances. Not only was Mitchell the star of the show on offense, but she also had several highlights on defense—including a controlled header on a ball soaring over her shoulder that went perfectly back to Bryant, despite two Huskies trailing hot on her heels at the end of the first half.
Northeastern’s defense was tough throughout the first half, but cracks started to appear in the second. Vaughn’s speed down the middle of the field began to open up chances, and she nearly scored on a few long-distance shots. It seemed like BC was often settling for the long-range looks, but Coffey and Bike both facilitated chances in the middle of the field at times. The connection between the two was apparent on several occasions, including once when Coffey sent a ball to the far side of the box from 40 yards out that Bike nearly got a clean foot on. The strong chemistry bodes well for future matchups, especially with Vaughn serving as a distracting weapon alongside the other two playmakers. Vaughn’s seven shots led all players on the pitch, and the frequency with which she found herself creating space was impressive.
The problem for BC throughout, however, was a lack of strong midfield play. Both ends of the pitch featured impressive performances, but over the course of much of the game—including arguably the entire first half—Kayla Jennings and Co. weren’t able to bridge the gap between the back line and their teammates up top. Jade Ruiters was brought in near the end of the first 45 to mix things up, but she didn’t do much to change the turnover-plagued midfield. Coffey, an attacking midfielder, could be seen at times getting frustrated with the communication and missed passes. Still, the adjustments at halftime largely reversed the trend, as Bike started to drop back and bring the ball up more—a shift that created further chances.
Overall, the Eagles held a decisive 19-6 edge in shots, and although the number of shots on goal was equal at three apiece, it was clear which team had more talent. Northeastern’s back line fought valiantly down the stretch, but the inability to stop Mitchell from getting her head on a ball that both a Husky defender and Nidetch had a chance to deflect cost Northeastern its first loss of the season. BC, meanwhile, is 2-0 for the first time since 2015, a year that marks the program’s last NCAA Tournament appearance. Two days removed from Vaughn and Gaby Carreiro’s explosive performance in the season opener against Quinnipiac, it was Mitchell who lifted head coach Alison Foley’s team on Sunday—a true display of the depth of this year’s Eagles, a group with its eyes on a return to the postseason.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor