ORONO – The University of Maine women’s soccer team had scored only five goals in its previous six games entering Thursday’s America East game against Albany.
Those difficulties in the attacking third were magnified in Sunday’s costly overtime loss to Hartford.
Junior striker Laura Harper wasted little time jumpstarting the attack Thursday, scoring the first of her two first-half goals just 2:15 into the game to lead the Black Bears to an impressive 2-0 triumph at Alumni Field.
Maine improved to 11-2-1 overall, 3-2 in league play. Albany fell to 5-10-1 and 2-4.
Sophomore goalie Jasmine Phillips made three saves on eight shots en route to her eighth shutout of the season.
Maine sophomore midfielder Kim Stephenson from Hampden, whose left-footed cross resulted in Harper’s second goal, said the Bears addressed their attacking play in practice.
“We worked on what to do once we got into the final third,” said Stephenson. “In the last game, our crosses were going to the ‘keeper. Today, we had a lot more urgency in the box. We were really aggressive … all over the field.”
Harper said they stressed penetrating the defense, taking on defenders off the dribble and “being a little more greedy in the box.”
Harper fought through a defender for her first goal after Marie-Andree Canuel sent the ball into the penalty area.
“We worked on taking our first touch to goal and finishing and that was what I was able to do. The goalie [Ashley Nuessle] came out and I just tried to slide it under her,” said Harper, who tucked a 15-yarder between the diving Nuessle’s left arm and the near side post.
Nuessle said, “I came out a little late and she had a good touch on it.”
It was Harper’s team-leading seventh goal of the season and her fourth game-winner.
“That gave us a lot of momentum,” said Stephenson, who found Harper’s head with her cross from the end line with 7:57 left in the half.
“Natalie [Berry] played a great ball to me on a give-and-go and that left me wide-open,” said Stephenson, who focused on keeping her cross away from Nuessle.
“It was a great ball by Kim. I was unmarked and I just tried to get my head on the ball,” said Harper, whose glancing header beat the onrushing Nuessle.
“I came out to try to get something on it but she got her head on it before I could get to it,” said Nuessle, who made four saves on 13 first-half shots.
In between the Maine goals, Albany’s Rachel Boles had her 28-yard chip glance off the crossbar.
Harper had back-to-back chances to complete a hat trick in the second half but freshman goalie Maria Liguori (11 shots, two saves) quickly came off her line to smother Harper’s clean break-in off a Marie-Michele Bouchard pass and then fullback Meghan Garrity got her foot on Harper’s rebound.
“Maine came out, hustled to every ball and they were very physical. They took our team by surprise,” said Albany first-year coach Mary Frances-Monroe, whose team played better in the second half.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
University of Maine junior striker Laura Harper dribbles around Albany’s Ahkita Madyun during the second half of Thursday’s America East soccer game at Alumni Field in Orono. Harper scored twice as Maine won 2-0.