BANGOR, Maine — Beth McGill set up Leah Blayney’s first-half goal and Blayney returned the favor in the second half.
The result was a 2-0 Women’s Premier League win for the dynamic pair’s Soccer Plus Reds (Conn.) over the Maine Tide in the Tide’s home opener Saturday at Boucher Field.
Soccer Plus overcame an exceptional nine-save performance by Tide goalkeeper Michelle Rich to up its record to 2-0. The Tide fell to 0-3.
The Reds used their superior athleticism and speed to exploit the flanks and serve dangerous crosses into the penalty area.
“We found space out wide and we took advantage of it,” said Australian Blayney, the second-leading scorer for NCAA tournament team Central Connecticut State last fall.
Blayney scored just 4:50 into the game after Beth Floyd’s precise pass sprung the unmarked McGill down the right flank. McGill sent a low cross to the edge of the goal area where the unattended Blayney converted by side-footing the ball past the helpless Rich.
“I took it a little wide so I could drop it back into the 6-[yard box] for her,” said McGill, a former North Central Conference Player of the Year at Nebraska-Omaha.
“Beth literally put it right in front of me. All I had to do was make sure I placed it,” said Blayney, who had eight of the Reds’ 15 first-half shots at goal.
Rich made seven first-half saves, including a couple of gems, and the Reds squandered a few glorious chances by missing the net as they did in the second half, also.
The Tide had seven first-half shots. Jessica Curl’s chip sailed just wide of the far post and her speedy University of Mary (N.D.) teammate Amy Tanaka missed high with a powerful, 20-yard strike off a Megan Clement pass.
Even though the Reds had a sizeable edge in possession throughout, the Tide played much better in the second half and nearly tied it early when an unmarked Curl had an open header in the penalty area off a Tanaka corner but missed high.
McGill made it 2-0 at the 62:34 mark after an Amanda Genova pass sent Blayney free down the right flank. Blayney put a firm, low cross across the penalty area to the oncoming McGill.
“I just needed to get a touch on the ball to get it in. I hit it off my laces while I was sliding at the same time with another girl,” said McGill, who compiles and edits Major League Soccer highlights for ESPN.
Curl hooked a 24-yard free kick off the crossbar with one minute left in regulation.
“We’re improving and that’s all that matters at this point,” said Rich, who faced 24 shots. “We played a ton better than we did two weekends ago.”
“We strung together a lot more passes and communicated a lot more,” agreed stellar Tide back Caitlyn Butterfield. “A couple of mistakes in the back cost us. [Blayney and McGill] were very fast.”
Caity Casey made five saves on 18 shots for the Reds and backs Clio Tregear and Karise Hilt organized and anchored a solid defensive effort.
Tide coach Carmen Masalin was encouraged by her team’s improvement, particularly in the second half, but said “[a lack of] fitness is an issue. Michelle [Rich] was amazing.”