There's still a lot of growing left to come from the United Township girls soccer team, but so far, the Panthers have put together a strong defense of their conference title.
With a 2-0 win over Alleman on Tuesday at the Panther Pitch, UT joined Quincy atop the Western Big Six. But there's still a lot to improve on before the two teams meet in May.
"There’s a lot of work to do but at the end of the day, we’ve come out with a 2-0 win and we’re 2-0 in conference and I suppose that’s all that matters at the end of the day," head coach Phil Weaver said. "Hopefully that builds a little more confidence but the communication has to step up, the work rate has to step up and the quality has to improve."
Weaver's criticisms weren't unwarranted. United Township played well defensively and in the middle third, but had trouble creating opportunities for its forwards, which has been an issue early for the Panthers (3-4, 2-0).
After two early Alleman chances were ruled offsides, the Panthers finally struck, as an attempted Alleman clear-out landed right on the foot of Bryanna Copas, and Copas put the ball into the net in the 36th minute.
"We got lucky with the first goal," Copas said. "It just bounced off and I got lucky to get a foot on it ... getting that first goal was a lot more encouraging. We were much more pumped up and ready to go and keep fighting through the second half and come out with a good win."
The sluggish start had Weaver delivering a message to his team at halftime.
"We’re not at our best, we’re not playing with the sense of urgency and commitment and discipline we try to bring into our practice sessions but we’re still winning," he said. "What’s going to happen if we start putting some things together here and if there is some fluidity to our attack, some momentum to our build-up that leads to more creative play in the last third of the field?"
Though the Panther attack still lacked some of that creativity in the second half, UT found a way to get the ball into the net again. Gabby Pauwels headed in a free kick from Sandra Camarillo in the 78th minute to give UT a 2-0 lead.
Alleman (4-4, 1-1) countered with its best look of the night but the strong shot went off the crossbar, then UT keeper Hannah Mirimanian somehow kept the ball from crossing the line in a flurry of bodies and confusion.
"The whole game, Alleman kept pushing, kept trying to get their chances, never stopped pressuring," Mirimanian said. "In the end there, when it was super close and they got those two or three shots off I just had to get a touch, had to get a body part in front of anything and get them off balance until my defense could clear the ball out of the box."
Outside of those closing minutes, Alleman had minutes where they put some sustained pressure but couldn't get the attack to finish, and were outshot 10-4 in the match.
"Probably a fair result based on the way we played and the way they played," Alleman head coach Randy Bollman. "They’ve just got to learn they can play with these teams. They showed it, not the whole game, for sure but a good 15, 20, 30 minutes in there they held their own. It’s just getting over that hump of saying we’re good enough to play here."