In a stark contrast from the hot and muggy conditions for the home opener against the Syracuse Orange, which resulted in a thrilling 1-0 double overtime victory, tonight's match against the Niagara Purple Eagles was much cooler, but things got heated on the pitch in a 1-1 tie that saw Niagara score late in regulation to take the lead and Buffalo score even later to even things up.
In the first half, the UB offense was much more aggressive against the smaller Niagara team, tallying seven shots, four on goal. In further contrast from Sunday, UB had three corner kicks in the first half alone, compared to two all game against the Orange. The defense, as usual, held up strong and dictated the flow of play throughout the half. However, offside calls were the story with UB collecting ten in the first half, some ruining quality scoring opportunities. Things also were heated around the 37th minute when Jackie Hall and a Niagara player exchanged shoves.
The second was much of the same with the UB offense trying and coming so tantalizingly close to scoring goals, but unable to find the net. Niagara, however, were able to strike, slipped a shot just above Laura Dougall's hand to take the lead 1-0 with just seven minutes remaining. Fortunately, in literally UB's last gasp, freshman Rebecca Bramble picked an excellent time to net her first career goal with less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation to send the match into overtime.
Each team earned a corner kick and Celina Carrero took a pair of shots in the extra frames, but neither side could score over 20 minutes and the match ended in a 1-1 tie.
The good news is that in a stretch of three days UB has topped Syracuse and tied Niagara, and used a deep bench today - Bramble (36), N'Dea Johnson (10), Ashley Evans (10), and Meghan Simmons (18) all saw some good minutes to help the team rest - in advance on Binghamton on Friday, which will be the Bulls' third game in six days.
It's cheap, but it's also good news that Buffalo didn't lose. For all the mystique and aura surrounding last year's team, they didn't find their real groove til near the end of the nonconference schedule, and played several games into OT against MAC opponents. It feels different because looking back, we know how 2014 ends, and UB so rarely needed to come from behind that year.
The bad news, though, is that UB does need to come from behind more often this year. Bramble's first career goal, a massively clutch effort from a true freshman, is worthy of celebration, and it's good to see yet another Bull score. Diversity in the offense will be critical as the season wears on. But Bramble's goal was so necessary because UB couldn't finish over the first 89 minutes despite really owning the play and the offensive advantage.
Niagara took 20 shots, but only put four of them on frame. UB, on the other hand, took 18 and forced the Purple Eagles' keeper to make nine saves. A half dozen more near misses were off just by the turn of the screw, whether in an offside call, a decision made a split second too late, or a shot that just missed the net. I'm not concerned about the offense, because it generates shots and chances. The Bulls can move the ball, and they can get the ball on net.
Right now, though, they can't finish, and you start to appreciate Katie Roberts' 2014 season more and more. Everyone would be perfectly fine with winning a bunch of 1-0 or 2-1 games, but without a finisher and by not converting your chances, you magnify each and every mistake on the back line, no matter how strong that group and Laura Dougall are.
Kassidy Kidd and Carissima Cutrona are going to score, and they'll be fine. They should both keep shooting. Julia Benati doesn't shoot enough for the curling shot she has. Celina Carrero is so dangerous and hasn't quite been able to both stay onside and work in space yet this year. She should keep making runs. I'll need to watch the replay of this one and will pay extra attention to it against Binghamton, but I suspect that the central midfielders and fullbacks aren't joining the attack quite as much as they did last year yet.
UPDATE: Burke is much less happy, and much stronger in his take than I am:
It was around this time last year where Roberts started her tear and the Buffalo offense found its bite. UB doesn't have a buffer game in between the Power Five juggernaut and the MAC schedule like they did last year, but there's still plenty of season left, and the Bulls really aren't far away from completing that last five percent and making the most of every game.
UB hosts Binghamton on Friday at 7:00 PM. The Bearcats, like Buffalo, have a win, a tie, and a loss against Niagara, Canisius, and St. Bonaventure, but like tonight, it'll come down to UB converting their chances. We'll have more in a preview later this week.