For many, it's a soccer rite of passage to binge-watch old YouTube videos of soccer stars. For some, the search is for Eric Cantona during his Manchester United tenure, while others may feed their nostalgia for Roberto Carlos with Brazil or Thierry Henry on Arsenal.
For Niagara University women's players Laura Ortiz and Eva Bachmann, the inspirations to emerge from an early-season slump were former Real Madrid teammates Luis Figo and Ronaldo, two "Galacticos" who won La Liga together in 2003.
A two-minute span in Niagara's 3-0 win over Quinnipiac in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference action was proof that the duo had paid keen attention to the highlight clips, especially how the Spanish stars fed off of each other.
Just shy of the 20-minute mark, Ortiz (No. 10) corralled a pass with her back to goal, juggled three or four times to lure defenders, then laid the ball back softly to Bachmann, who struck a right-footed curler inside the left post.
Shortly thereafter, Bachmann (No. 19) received the ball in the midfield and startled the Bobcats' defense by playing a through-ball over Ortiz's shoulder between the two center backs. The well-weighted pass allowed Ortiz to sprint in alone on goal - Ronaldo-esque - and she adeptly volleyed the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper's reach for a 2-0 lead the Purple Eagles wouldn't relinquish.
"It's a funny thing," explained Ortiz, who was born in Madrid, Spain, about her give-and-take with Bachmann. "We were watching videos of our favorite players - they played on the same team - to look how they score. We were trying to do the same thing, and it worked."
Bachmann, a junior from Switzerland who actually has Figo's name in her Twitter handle, missed the final two matches before conference play and hasn't had the chance to mesh with her fellow attackers - at least until the trouncing of Quinnipiac. If the two linchpins of the Purple Eagle attack can stay on the field together, Niagara could surprise a few MAAC foes.
"Those two, when they're on the same page, they're special players," NU head coach Peter Veltri said.
The emphatic win over the Bobcats came in sharp contrast to some of Niagara's previous results - a resounding 4-1 loss to Big 4 rival St. Bonaventure and 3-1 to Manhattan to open MAAC play. For Ortiz, a shift in mentality hastened the change.
"I think we changed our mind - we were losing every game, and we said, 'We have to stop this and we have to start enjoying the game,'" the senior forward said. "Then we started playing as we know - and then look what happened."
Ortiz and Bachmann will try to sustain the magic at their visit to Canisius College at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 for the Battle of the Bridge, the annual rivalry match that pits all sports shared by the two schools against each other for bragging rights.
NIAGARA WOMEN'S SOCCER - Early-season primer
2015 record: 8-8-2 overall, 6-4 in MAAC, lost in first round of playoffs to Rider
2016 record so far: 2-5-1 overall, 1-1 in MAAC
RPI: 312 out of 334 (Sept. 27)
MAAC Preseason Poll: Picked to finish tied for sixth
Head coach: Peter Veltri, 18th season
Who's gone: The graduations of jitterbug fan-favorite Hayley Besaw, leading scorer Haillie Price and starting goalkeeper Claire Feiertag took three key players from the starting lineup.
Who's new: Center back Breanne Guevara (No. 4) is a major add, while pesky freshman Hailey Bicknell (No. 3) wreaks havoc on the wing. Goalkeeper Shania van Nuland (No. 33), who earned MAAC defensive player of the week honors for blanking Michigan State on Aug. 19, is currently injured but gives Veltri another strong option in goal.
Top players: Ortiz and Bachmann boast heaps of technical ability and are the chief threats to score, but red-shirt senior Kori Thorne works tirelessly in the midfield and Guevara has the frame and aggression to disrupt opposing forays forward. Whether it's van Nuland or Shangyne Samuels (No. 30) in goal, both give Veltri's squad a fighting chance.
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Breakout player: Tunisian sophomore Assia Sidhoum (No. 8) hasn't quite broken out yet, but she's put together several bright moments on the ball. Her contributions and presence a little deeper in the midfield create space for Bachmann and Ortiz to run free up front with fewer defensive responsibilities.
A deeper sleeper is Newfane graduate Sophie Connor (No. 18), who brings a different element up front coming off the bench. She has yet to notch a point this season, but don't be surprised if she ends up with a couple goals.
Unheralded contributor(s): Outside back Amanda Gallo (No. 15, from Lancaster) has a fairly thankless job - she doesn't get forward a lot and spends much of her time hassling opposing forwards on the wing. Junior midfielder Kelsey Lafferty (No. 21) does well as the Purple Eagles' set piece taker in the middle and defensive thirds.
BN Soccer likes: You can tell that the freshman Bicknell is a little rough around the edges technically, but she's a bundle of energy, extremely physical in fighting for loose balls and offers a similar level of competitiveness to Besaw. Those are the kind of players you want on your team.
Why Niagara might struggle...: Well, a 2-5-1 record and an RPI in the bottom 25 probably constitutes struggling already, but the spate of injuries (Emily Phillips (No. 11), Tuesday Jordan (No. 12), van Nuland, previously Bachmann) is hampering the team from fostering much chemistry.
"We've probably had a different starting lineup in every game so far this year," Veltri admitted. "Practice is key, and trying to get new people adapted as quick as possible. This year, it's been difficult at times - every game it's somebody new [in the lineup]."
Big matches: The biggest is the Battle of the Bridge, at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 at Canisius, but the following match, at 1 p.m. Oct. 1 on Monteagle Ridge against RPI Top-100 Rider, will be another stiff test.
Email Ben Tsujimoto, who's definitely seen his share of old-school Cantona (he's nuts) highlight reels, at email@example.com