Missouri wins behind a pair of late Alessi goals

Junior Bella Alessi scored her first two career goals to give Missouri a 2-1 victory over Cincinnati to help the team improve to 3-0 on the season.
Junior midfielders Cassidy Nurnberger and Bella Alessi embrace as the team storms the field around them following Thursday's 2-1 win over Cincinnati. Alessi scored both Missouri goals during the late-night victory following a near three-hour lightning delay. Andrew Moore

Despite the threat of severe weather, all seemed normal at Audrey J. Walton Stadium as fans of Missouri (3-0-0, 0-0-0 SEC) and Cincinnati (1-2-0, 0-0-0 AAC) wandered through the stands and the teams went through their pregame warm-up routines on the field. Just before kickoff, the game was delayed due to lightning that forced fans and both teams to seek shelter in nearby buildings. At 8:30 p.m., over an hour after the scheduled 7 p.m. start time, both teams returned to the field for the 10 minute warm-up period they were allotted before the rescheduled kickoff. As the teams were going through their routines, another flash of lightning sent them back to cover, delaying the start for a second time. When the game started at 9:30 p.m., much of the crowd had left, allowing a brooding quietness to fall over the stadium. The game got off to a frenetic start with both teams looking sloppy in possession. Cincinnati appeared to settle down first and developed a rhythm to take a lead into halftime.
Missouri would comeback to win over Cincinnati, with both of its goals coming within the final 16 minutes of regulation to give the Tigers a 2-1 victory. The Tigers came out flat in the first half following the lengthy weather delay, and their somewhat sluggish start to the game dug them into a hole when Cincinnati finally broke through with a goal in the 34th minute. Freshman Han Tang, a member of the Chinese Youth National Team, scored the goal for Cincinnati after receiving a free kick from sophomore Ying Zhan, also a previous member of the Chinese National Team at the youth level, just outside of the box.

Tang had plenty of time and space to set herself up with no Missouri defender closing out on her and was able to fire a shot past redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Peyton Bauman.

The goal marked the low point in what was a poor half from Missouri, which struggled to connect passes and was often forced to clear its lines to relieve pressure.

“We were just panicking and I think we just went away from our strengths,” coach Bryan Blitz said. “[Cincinnati] had a good plan … but when we’re at home we can’t get outcompeted.”

Missouri’s comeback goals came from an unusual source in junior midfielder Bella Alessi, who had never previously scored for the Tigers. The game was a physical contest that saw Missouri outplayed for long stretches, but Alessi and her teammates tried to maintain a positive mindset.

“It’s always hard going down especially in the first half,… but I think a 1-0 lead is very dangerous,” Alessi said. “We were really positive just trying to get into the locker room and be like ‘Okay what can we do next? How can we go from here?’”

Heading into halftime, Missouri had yet to register a shot on goal with sophomore forward Julissa Cisneros and senior forward Sarah Luebbert struggling to get on the ball and create space against a big and physical Cincinnati backline. As a result, Blitz made a switch at half to move from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-3-3.

The shift in formation allowed Missouri to get back on the front foot. The Tigers dominated play for much of the second half, connecting passes and playing a much cleaner style of soccer. Still, Missouri failed to register a shot on target until the 75th minute of the match despite its constant pressure on the Bearcats’ goal.

With just over 15 minutes left in the match, Missouri broke through with the equalizer as Alessi managed to get across her defender at the near post to poke home a low cross from Luebbert for the first goal of her career.

Alessi would then get the winner in the 86th minute on a nearly identical play, this time with redshirt sophomore Zoe Cross providing the cross. Alessi’s initial attempt was saved by Cincinnati goalkeeper redshirt junior Madison Less, but she followed up on her first shot to tap home the rebound and give Missouri the lead.

“I think it’s been a long time coming,” Alessi said about her first two goals for the program. “I’m someone that believes there’s a time for everything, so I got my opportunity and got the finish.”

The win was the second consecutive time Missouri has come back from a one-goal deficit after it rallied to beat Ohio State 3-1 on Sunday with three unanswered goals. The Tigers improved to 3-0-0 on the season with five more non-conference games at home before they begin SEC play away to Ole Miss.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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