MATTHEWS – The Charlotte Eagles lady soccer team’s first foray into the highly competitive Women’s Premier Soccer League was a hugely successful one.
The team is comprised of college players from all around who converge together for two and a half months.
It can be a daunting challenge to get them to come together as one team, and the players have a short time to bond before taking to the field.
“We do a lot of things with them together off the field, so it’s a lot more things than just playing soccer together,” Eagles coach Sam Hope said. “We do team Bible studies, team dinners and the girls are constantly around each other so they grow pretty quickly together.”
Once the team hit the field, they got rolling right away with a 2-0 win over Charleston Fleet FC, a team they’d beat 1-0 in their second game 10 days later.
“We got off to a good start, and they kept it up the rest of the year,” Hope said.
Hope is in her second season with the Eagles. She starred with the Charlotte 49ers before playing professionally with Kvarnsvedens IK in Borlange, Sweden. She also has previous assistant coaching stops with Gardner-Webb and Lenoir-Ryne.
Even with all of that experience, there isn’t a great way to know how the team will hold up through the eight-game regular season.
When the Eagles closed out the regular year, they were 7-0-1 after tying Discoveries FC in the finale. At that time, they’d outscored their opponents 19-3 entering the playoffs.
To open the playoffs, the Eagles had to sneak past Asheville City 3-2. Skyler Prillaman, a rising junior at High Point University by way of Bassett High in Ridgeway, Va., had a hat trick in that game and led the Eagles with 13 goals this year.
In the semifinals, Makena Silber put in the game’s only score as they pushed past Chattanooga Red Wolves SC. Silber is a rising sophomore at Illinois after starring for Prairie Ridge High in Illinois.
The win improved the Eagles record to 9-0-1 entering the regional championship against Pensacola FC, a juggernaut team that has claimed many league titles.
“It means a lot just for us to get here,” Hope said. “This is our first year in the WPSL so I think we went into it a little bit blind, not knowing what the level would be like but still recruiting the same way that we previously had. It’s telling. We’ll continue to recruit the same caliber of players, but I’m really proud of the girls on our squad.”
Due to NCAA regulations, some schools wanted their players to report back a little early, leaving the Eagles down “five to six” players, many of which usually started for the Eagles.
Just over nine minutes into the game, unbeaten Pensacola FC caught a break with a penalty in the box resulting in a free kick which put them up 1-0 early.
The Eagles had their chances for the equalizer not long after.
Around the 30-minute mark, and after squandering several other earlier chances, the Eagles looked to break through when former Fort Mill and current Clemson star Kimber Haley passed a beautiful ball into the box. Several scoring chances resulted as the Eagles fired three or four shots including two that clanked off the crossbar. About two minutes later, the Eagles nearly scored again on a set piece, again set up on a Haley cross into goal.
This time, after a couple of shots ricocheted around, the ball lay unattended on the ground for a couple of seconds after the Pensacola FC keeper made a nice save, but she managed to get back on the ball and preserve the shutout.
The killer came when Pensacola FC scored their second goal after the 45 minute half and a minute or so into the two minute stoppage time addition.
Pensacola FC added another one relatively early to take a 3-0 advantage.
“Momentum was in our favor there for all of the first half and some of the second half,” Hope said. “We had our chances, but just couldn’t put one of those away.”
Silber would put the Eagles on the board later, but they could get no closer.
But an 8-1-1 finish in the WPSA, the country’s largest such enterprise, is nothing to sneeze at.
“Maybe we wore down a little being down some players, but I’m really proud of the girls on this squad,” Hope said. “They did awesome and they fought hard. They never game up and we are a resilient team. Hopefully our success playing in a league like this will get some of the girls to want to come back.”