Friday night was the first game ever played at the new Temple Sports Complex, and it didn’t take long for a high pressure situation.
With less than seven minutes left, after a Drexel foul in the box, junior forward Gabriella McKeown earned a penalty kick, and the chance to even up the score for the Owls. Junior goalkeeper Christina Ogunsami made the save, cementing a 2-1 win for the Dragons.
The loss is Temple’s first in a home opener since 2013, and first in a season opener since 2010.
More than 600 people packed the stands on the breezy summer night, but coach Seamus O’Connor would not attribute the loss to nerves surrounding the magnitude of the event.
“We played great,” O’Connor said. “We played absolutely fantastic. Except, we just didn’t finish our chances.”
A more pivotal role in the loss could be attributed to Temple’s roster turnover. The Owls are only returning four starters, and have 13 newcomers as a whole, 11 of which are freshman.
“We’re extremely young,” O’Connor said. “It’s just up to us as the coaches, because the pieces are there.”
Drexel opened up the scoring 15 minutes, 55 seconds into the contest. Dragons’ sophomore midfielder Vanessa Kara streaked down the left side and centered a ball to sophomore forward Shaelyn McCarty, who used her 5-foot-10-inch frame to head it into the net from in close.
Sophomore goalkeeper Jordan Nash came up with a number of quality saves after allowing the first goal, including a stop on a partial breakaway by Kara.
The Owls had their own chances in the first half, including a 9-3 advantage in corner kicks, but could not convert any of them. The Dragons had a distinct height advantage in front of the net, but senior midfielder Elaine Byerley said the troubles went beyond height.
“We had a lot of good services into the box, Elana [Falcone] did a great job with that,” Byerley said. “I think that we just got out challenged.”
Late in the half, Drexel was granted a corner kick of its own. Nash made another quality save, but the rebound popped out to Madison Dunn, who kicked it home and put the Dragons up 2-0 in the 42nd minute.
Temple reset itself at halftime, and came out in the second half with a more concerted effort to drive the play and develop scoring chances.
The Owls took two corner kicks in the second half, a stark difference from the first half. This time, in their limited opportunities, they made it count. McKeown launched the ball over the box, where Byerley settled it down, and sent it to the front of the net. The ball pinballed around until sophomore Sarah McGlinn drove it home to cut the lead in half in the 59th minute.
Drexel produced some scoring opportunities in the second half, even with Temple applying most of the pressure. Nash warmed to the task by stopping all six shots on goal, something O’Connor has gotten used to in her short career.
“She’s very mature for a sophomore,” the fourth-year head coach said. “She can get over giving up goals very quickly, which is important.”
The whole team will need to bounce back quickly with a short break between games. Sunday the Owls will travel to face Delaware State University.
Nick Haas can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Haas88