Still relatively young and inexperienced, the McDonogh girls soccer team is learning on the go as the season progresses.
The No. 1 Eagles are still finding ways to win.
Their latest lesson came Wednesday at No. 8 Mercy, when they saw their comfortable three-goal advantage suddenly whittled to one with 20 minutes left.
The Eagles regrouped, controlling possession for the rest of the game to leave with a satisfying 3-2 win over the Magic in Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference play.
McDonogh, which got a one-goal, two-assist performance from sophomore forward Sabba Haghgoo, improved to 7-1 overall and 2-0 in league play. The Magic fell to 5-4-1 and 0-2 in the league.
After missing last year because of COVID-19 restrictions and bringing back only three starters from the 2019 team that won a third straight conference title, the Eagles are managing to pick up where they left off.
Closing out the final 20 minutes on the road against a talented opponent is a positive sign.
“At the beginning of the year with our experience level, if I had said we were going to be in a game away from home against one of the best teams in the conference and we were up 3-0 and they scored two goals and we had 20 minutes left, I don’t know if I would have said we would have won the game,” McDonogh coach Harry Canellakis said. “So for me, it’s on us we let them back in the game, but, at the same time, I’m very happy with the way we managed it at the end. We were smart at the end.”
Senior midfielder Kelsey Smith, one of the Eagles’ returning starters, has been the team’s catalyst and leader throughout the early season. She set the tone again Wednesday with the opening goal with 12:26 to play in the first half.
Haghgoo played a ball in to Smith from the left corner, and after sidestepping a defender, Smith found the far post with a shot from 12 yards.
“We wanted to get a goal right off the bat because that always brings the energy up and sets the tone for the game, so I just really wanted to help our team out and get the bar as high as we could to start off,” Smith said.
Three minutes later, Haghgoo again won the left side and placed a shot that was turned away before freshman McKenzie Brown scored on the rebound.
Haghgoo added to the lead 10 minutes into the second half, collecting a long entry ball from Lexi Terry before improving her angle with a couple touches and a strong finish in close.
Playing well but struggling to finish off scoring chances — a problem for the Magic this season — the home team was impressive in staying persistent despite the large deficit. Junior midfielder Sydney Feiler, strong throughout the game, cut the lead to 3-1 with a goal off an assist from Carly Hax with 27:21 to play.
After senior forward Alex Jankowski was taken down in the penalty area, junior Asia Minor successfully scored the penalty kick, trimming McDonogh’s lead to 3-2 with 20 minutes left.
The Eagles didn’t budge.
“It was a little rough because we’re a new team and still trying to come together and learn how we can be a better team, but we were able to hold them off,” said Haghgoo, who had some valuable possession time at the corner flag to close out the win.
Entering the season with 10 starters back from last year’s condensed season and high expectations, the Magic are still looking for that confidence-boosting win. Coach Doug Pryor hopes the positive moments created in the second half can provide a starting point.
“We’re close, this definitely give us something to build on,” he said. “They know they can play with the McDonoghs and [Archbishop] Spaldings, it’s just that ‘walking on the field now we know we’re going to win instead of them’ mentality a little bit. When you’re playing against a juggernaut, it takes special stuff to beat them. We’ve kind of been like this all year -- we’re getting plenty of opportunities to score and it’s just a matter of that class in the final third to finish things off.”
Mercy tries to bounce back on Saturday when it hosts Maryvale Prep at 7 p.m. The teams return to league play Wednesday, with the Eagles traveling to St. Paul’s and the Magic visiting Notre Dame Prep at 4 p.m.
Goals: McD – Smith, Brown, Haghgoo; Me – Feiler, Minor
Assists: McD – Haghgoo; Me -- Hax
Saves: McD – Lowney 6; Me – Ellis 2, Umbarger 1
Half: McD, 2-0