By Dave Utnik/News & Messenger
Improvement didn’t result in a victory against the Charlotte Eagles on Saturday night, but for the Northern Virginia Majestics it almost felt that way.
At least for the defense.
After yielding nine goals during a winless road trip to Atlanta and Charlotte last weekend, the Majestics made their Hellwig Park debut on Saturday night and played one of their finest W-League matches of the season in a 1-0 loss.
Even without star defender Corinna Strickland on the field, the Majestics were resilient in front of goalie Aly Pont. It helped, of course, that the turf field was perhaps 20 degrees cooler than it was last Sunday, but the visiting Eagles had few real chances to convert despite 10 shots on goal.
“One got away,” Pont said.
Still, the seven saves she came up with gave the Majestics a chance to salvage a tie. If only the offense hadn’t failed to score for the fifth time this season.
“We’re playing, first of all, to get out there and have fun. But I think we’re also playing for respect,” Pont said. “[Charlotte] might have come out tonight a little uncertain of what they might see and we showed them a good game. I think that will be our goal the rest of the year.
“Hopefully our other goal will be to score a few goals. I think we’d all like to see that.”
Scoring has been an elusive feat all summer for the Majestics, who lost their fourth straight match and fell to 1-7 in the Atlantic Division. They’ve produced four goals in eight games, including two by West Virginia University freshman Casey Vornadore.
With two matches remaining – at home Sunday against Tampa Bay and the season finale against the Washington Freedom Futures on July 17 – the Majestics are out of playoff contention. But Saturday’s performance suggested there is plenty to play for.
“It felt more like a college game out there with the passion from both sides,” Pont said. “My defenders worked hard and that gave me a chance to do some things too. It’s a whole group effort.”
Samara Stephens-Dowd, who played previously for the Richmond Kickers Destiny, has emerged as a shutdown defender in her first summer with the Majestics, while Brittain Maas, Colleen Deegan, Kimberly Kroll and Breiana White helped neutralize an attack that has produced the second-most goals (13) in the division.
Ashleigh Gunning, the W-League’s seventh-leading scorer with six goals and 13 total points, chipped in the game’s only goal in the 68th minute on an assist from Christy Rife.
That was the only shot that snuck past Pont, who helped Princeton share the Ivy League championship and earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament last fall.
“Any time I can get on the field is great,” said Pont, who went 85-6-1 in four seasons at O’Connell before earning All-Ivy League first team honors. “I love playing and I think this is going to be an awesome experience and I’ll go into my college season completely ready to play.”
The Majestics return home next week on Sunday, July 11th, to face the Tampa Bay Hellenic at Hellwig Memorial Park in Manassas, Virginia. Match time is scheduled for 4:00PM.