COLLEGE ROUNDUP

   

MICHIGAN STATE 0 BYU 2 – September 19, 2008

An entertaining match that taught the schedule makers at Michigan State a very valuable lesson: packing your non-conference schedule with cupcakes doesn’t do your team any favors.  They were 8-0 when they came into BYU match, but they were obviously not battle tested and they looked disheartened and defeated when BYU scored their second goal.  The Spartans are a good team, but they’re still scheduling like they’re not.  Undefeated through 8 games is fun, no question.  But if they’re a bubble team at the end of the year, it would have been better for them to go 6-3, or even 5-4, with a tougher non-conference schedule than to have gone 8-1 against mediocre sides.  I hope this game against BYU taught them some lessons and they handle it better the next time they find themselves down in a game. There really is a lot to like about this side and they play a very entertaining style. 

MICHIGAN STATE

What went right?  A lot in the first half.  BYU did dominate possession, but when the Spartans had the ball, they were able to connect some passes.  Their midfield, mostly Lauren Sinacola, has a really nice sense of the game.  The decisions when and where to spread the ball were very well timed. They mixed up their attack enough to keep BYU on their heels when they made it deep in the offensive end. They have some great personalities on offense who complement each other well.  Very entertaining side.

What went wrong?  Starting in a 3-4-3 was not a good idea.  BYU dominated possession to start the game and the vast majority of play was in the Spartan end.  Unless you’re UNC, the 3-4-3 is a bad idea if you’re playing a team with comparable talent.  To their credit, Michigan State very quickly recognized the problem and switched to a 4-4-2, held the ball much better and was able to mount some fairly dangerous attacks.  Unfortunately, the tone had been set, BYU had already had 2 goals called back (both good calls, the ball was out and Feller was offside) and established themselves as the more aggressive side.  I don’t think this Michigan State team had any idea what to do when they got down. Heck, I don’t think they even had any idea what to do when the other team was able to dominate possession.  But I covered that already.  So many reasons to schedule more than one tough game in the non-conference part of the schedule.  Hopefully, they have a very successful conference season so they make the NCAAs – it would be great for this program to make the postseason.

Player to watch:  Oh look at me picking a distributor once again – I do have my favorites.  Lauren Sinacola, MF – She was all over the field and all over the ball in the first half.  She made great decisions distributing the ball to her teammates, went wide, put some balls through the middle, went over the top a time or two.  Michigan State was at its best when the ball went through Sinacola.  That was part of the problem in the second half, Sinacola wasn’t getting enough touches.  She also takes good set pieces.  She takes all of their corners and put some great balls to the back post.  Their big forward is a freshman – I’m betting she and Sinacola start consistently hooking up on corners before too much longer.  I enjoyed watching her last year, and she just looks even more confident on the ball this year. 

BYU

What went right?  Katie Larkin was back.  No, she didn’t have an especially effective outing, but this whole team just looked more like the confident, poised, calm team I saw earlier in the season than the team I saw against Idaho State when she was out.  They dominated possession, they relentlessly attacked from all three lines (the wing defenders were often deep in the offensive end) and they just carried themselves like a team that expected to win. 

What went wrong?  They were a little impatient on offense at times.  Some fantastic shots from distance.  The first goal scored from about 30 yards out as did one of the goals that was called back.  I guess because that first one went in, they kept on taking those distance shots.  Janis does take a great shot from distance.  But once the excitement from that first score died down, they really needed to stop taking those and start working the ball forward to Christensen, Anderson and Larkin.  Speaking of Anderson, I don’t think she had the ball enough in this one.  Kakadelas is responsible for who gets the ball when and the ball wasn’t going wide enough.  Part of it was that Anderson wasn’t getting herself wide often enough, but judging from that Georgia game early in the season, wide is where Anderson is extremely effective and there should be more of an effort to use her to spread the field a bit. 

Player to watch:  Well, I was going to do Willis and Janis and talk about the thunder foot both appear to have.  Some really great long distance strikes (good strikes, just don’t use them so often) from them both.  But then, then a defender cleared the ball and a freshman named Jenny Marshall ran onto the ball and scored the best goal I’ve seen this year.  Ball over the top, and Marshall runs up the field with the ball at her feet, she blows by the entire defense, literally, blows by them and is at least 5-7 yards ahead of them, draws the keeper out, keeps on running, places the ball by the keeper and it gently rolls into the back of the net. Speed combined with the poise to hold off on the shot until the keeper was committed and then she managed to just place the ball in the goal.  Often a player is so amped up at that point she boots it over the goal, wide of the goal or doesn’t wait until she has that step on the keeper and hits it right to her – not this freshman, this goal was perfection.  Well done.  I think BYU’s front line is going to be OK when Larkin graduates. 

 

PENN STATE 0 JAMES MADISON 1 – September 18, 2008

A great effort by James Madison in a game that saw Penn State get out hustled and out muscled all night long. 

PENN STATE

What went right?  I like the way the defenders defend.  They are very organized, do well with the double team and have enough speed to make up for mistakes and handle very fast and aggressive forwards.  This team also moves the ball well through the midfield.  And that’s all I’ve got – this will not go down in history as one of Penn State’s better outings. 

What went wrong?  This team was not ready to play.  There was a complete lack of urgency and energy from the start.  Passes were casual and short (it’s what led to the turnover that led to the corner that scored the goal), no one was making their runs so through balls resulted in turnovers, flanks and wings weren’t making their runs, well, they made them, but only way too late probably so they wouldn’t get yelled at.  It was just a terrible effort.  I’ve been a Penn State women’s soccer fan for years and this is probably the first time I’ve seen them and just been thoroughly disappointed by the effort.  The commentators kept talking about how a weakness of Penn State is that they have no enforcer. But honestly, before they worry about that, they’ve got to get the players they have to stop shying away from contact, to run after the ball when they turn it over, to go on off ball runs and to go in hard for 50-50 balls. Flinching, ducking and avoiding the tackle was the norm in this outing – just unacceptable.  This JMU team is tough and relentless for a full 90.  PSU not showing much interest in matching that competitive intensity?  Unacceptable.

My other complaint that applies to the whole team: there’s no touch on the ball.  Do any of these kids know how to deliver a pass? how to change pace? how to put even a little bit of bend on the ball?  As you can tell, I’m about 2, going on 3, weeks behind in my college soccer viewing and I’ve managed to stay away from all scores, so I have no clue how Penn State is doing right now, but I do know I’ve got either 2 or 3 more of their games sitting on my DVR as I type this and I sure hope that what I see when I watch those games is a better effort than what I saw in this one.  Maybe they were just playing down to what they perceived to be an inferior opponent, but this performance all the way down the line was disappointing at best. 

Player to watch:  I really don’t have anyone for any good reasons. I guess since I have to pick someone, I’ll talk about Alyssa Naeher, GK. I think it would be great if someone taught her how to kick.  For someone who is so brilliant in the nets (and she is, she really is – not in this game so much, but I remember being wowed by her last season), her kicking game is absolutely atrocious.  If she’s going to have a career past the U-20 level, she’s got to improve those kicks or not take them . . . ever.  Goal kicks were barely making it 2/3 of the way to the midfield stripe.  She is a heck of a keeper though – someone needs to help her with this – she could have a great future if someone does.

JAMES MADISON

What went right?  I LOVE this team.  I love the heart, I love that they played all out for a full 90 minutes, I love the tough “blue collar” mentality that they carry through all three lines.  This team plays with a chip on its shoulder and it works for them.  They play tough defense, they read passing lanes well and broke up most Penn State attacks before they got too dangerous.  Their offensive players have a tremendous amount of speed and can get behind defenses.  And they take great corners.  The goal was scored on a fantastic strike to the far post.  Terri Maykoski ran onto it and headed it home.  She put it high, right over Naeher’s head.  Just a great all around effort, they put the pressure on Penn State and had the Nittany Lions on their heels all night long.  Fun team to watch.

What went wrong?  One more pass in the offensive third.  That’s what they need.  I think they just lack a little sophistication in front of goal.  Playing in the CAA, they probably don’t need it a lot, but here, if they’d just taken one more pass and gotten in a little closer, they could have run away with this one.  Or at least made Naeher work a little harder.  They really did dominate all but the last 10-15 minutes.

Player to watch:  Cate Tisinger, F – I believe wicked fast is the best way to put it.  It’s not just speed, it’s explosive bursts.  I think she’s a track sprinter if I was hearing the commentators correctly, and she managed to get behind the defense consistently.  She was around the ball a lot as well.  Her teammates know how to serve balls through to her.  It’s that last touch in the offensive third.  If they’d put her in closer to goal, I think she’d be a scoring machine.  She was a little impatient and pulled the trigger from bad angles at times, and I’d like to see her use that speed to earn more corners for her team.  But she has a heck of a lot of raw talent.  I hope JMU is on TV again, I’d like to see how her game develops.

 

DUKE 4 OHIO STATE 2 – September 14, 2008

A sloppy, wind swept 90 minutes where neither team could quite get it into their heads that putting the ball in the air against the wind is a really really bad idea. 

DUKE

What went right?  They managed to only let one goal in while they were going against the wind.  And conversely, they made the most of their time with the wind at their backs.  Yes, the wind was that strong and it completely defined most of what occurred in the game.  Their offensive personality players all played well the second half as well.  Because of the wind, possession looked a bit more sloppy than I imagine it usually does with this team, but by the second half they adjusted.  They either got right in front of goal and made sharp hard passes within a few yards of the box or they took some chances and peppered some balls in and let the wind put the pace on them.  They scored goals doing both.  One was a great run in by Quinn to about a yard or two off the post and then she just put a quick ball into Gummersall who was perfectly positioned in front of goal.  The keeper never had a chance.  The third goal was just Redmond taking a chance.  Ball was miscleared and she shot it back toward goal.  I think the ball had a bit more pace on it than the keeper was expecting and it slipped right under her.  Those are the big 3 for Duke apparently and they all showed how versatile they are on offense and that they can score in a number of ways. 

What went wrong?  Turnovers and misclears by the two central defenders in the first half.  I know there was wind, but at one point in the first half, it almost seemed like a joke.  I don’t think #4 touched the ball in that half without turning it over, at times in a very dangerous fashion.  At one point, you could just see the wheels spinning in her head, I’m sure she was aware at how dangerous some of the balls she’d been giving up were, so she just held it way too long and along comes Paige Maxwell and she got completely upended . . . which of course, turned the ball over again.  The other central defender was having her own troubles – got megged, she also passed to Ohio State at times and had some trouble clearing the ball.  And this note goes to the entire team, stop popping the ball in the air when you’re trapping and stop putting the ball in the air in a strong wind.  I found myself yelling at this group “use your heads.”  After about 15 minutes of struggling against the wind, they should have stopped putting the ball up, but they just didn’t.  They definitely adjusted to having the wind at their backs in the second half better than they did attacking into the wind in the first.

Player to watch:  It would be easy to pick one of the big three, but honestly, they were all invisible and doing knuckleheaded things in the first half so I just can’t do it.  Instead, I’m going with Christie McDonald, D – she played well for the full 90.  She is a solid defender and outstanding when she gets forward into the attack.  She was keeping the ball on the ground in the wind, and that alone makes her the smartest player on the field in this one.  She did a good job passing on the ground through the midfield, and she did a good job taking defenders on 1 v. 1 herself.  She had one of the best scoring chances in the first half on a corner that her run forward created.  She’s got good size, good speed and she’s not afraid of contact.  Just a very nice player who had a very nice game. 

OHIO STATE

What went right?  They played a good first half defensively.  The Ohio State defense adjusted to the wind most quickly.  Duke spent most of the first half popping the ball in the air through the midfield, Ohio State was brining it down.  My understanding is that Duke’s not a team that usually puts the ball up, so I have to assume that they just weren’t adjusting to going against the wind well.  OSU managed to dispossess Duke and completely disrupt their attack during this time.  I also liked that they played until the end.  When they went down 4-1 they could have just packed it in and called it a day, but the last 10-15 minutes were all Ohio State.  I was wondering where that play had been the whole game.  That was the best stretch for the Ohio State attack and most of the last 10-15 minutes of the game was spent in the Duke end of the field.  Nice way to finish.  OSU isn’t a great team, but I think they’re better than their record. 

What went wrong?  There wasn’t enough urgency to the attack in the first half.  That was when they had the wind at their back.  The Duke central defenders stumbled right out of the gate in some hugely significant ways and they simply didn’t pounce on the turnovers right in front of goal when they had a clear path to the net.  Duke’s the better team, so I’m not sure how many opportunities OSU thought they were going to get.  Maybe they just didn’t realize how much worse the conditions would be in the second half, but the lack of urgency just smacked of a lack of leadership out there.  They’re a young team, I know that, but someone except the goalkeeper has got to start barking at those kids and get them to pounce on every opportunity.

And, I have to single her out because she looked so angry and upset the entire second half, but the goalkeeper just kept on taking huge punt and goal kick after huge punt and goal kick right into the wind.  She wouldn’t stop, they all went out of bounds or came spinning back toward the OSU end.  I have never seen someone so stubbornly continue to do something that was so obviously not working in my life.  It was nuts and Lori Walker should have stopped it.  I know OSU is a fairly direct team, but come on, you can’t beat mother nature, it’s foolish to try.

Player to watch:  I don’t really have one.  I didn’t think any player really distinguished herself in a positive way.  I like the potential I see in Paige Maxwell, but it’s more in her size and ability in the air than what I saw in her all around game.  I didn’t notice that she was especially speedy, but the commentators assured us she was, so it’s something to watch for if OSU has another televised game this year.

 

IDAHO STATE 0 BYU 2 – September 13, 2008

A hard fought effort from Idaho State, but it’s tough when playing a team that is simply more talented.  BYU looks like a different team when Katie Larkin is out, and were fortunate that they were playing an overmatched opponent in this one.

IDAHO STATE

What went right?  You know, they’re a really nice team.  They can string passes together, during the first half hour of the game they actually made some nice runs into the BYU half of the field, their defense is nicely organized.  They look like a well coached group that knows how to play.  Strategically, they packed the defensive end, but during the first half hour of the game, they were able to turn around on attacks and get 4-5 players forward.  I think that exhausted them a bit, packing 10 players in the defensive end and then sprinting up the field for the attack, but for the first half hour, they were managing.

What went wrong?  They were overmatched.  BYU just has better athletes than they do.  Tactically, however, I think this team can hold their own.

Player to watch:  Bailey Williams, GK – She was solid.  She didn’t handle the balls that scored very well, both scores were deflections she should have smothered, but there was plenty coming her way that she was able to handle.  She’s very confident, to the point that it was making me crazy.  She plays way off her line, like on top of the box off her line – not the goalkeeper box, the box box.  It is nerve wracking to see her 30 yards from her goal, but she didn’t get burned on that.  I was waiting for someone to chip her but she didn’t give them the opportunity . . . I’d still tone that down a bit though.  The real reason why I picked her for my player to watch, though, was that she got absolutely creamed in the closing seconds of the game, but she made the save, and shook it off and trotted off the field.  Very tough kid, played the game to the final whistle.  I’ve got to respect that. 

And just one mention for the entire team.  It’s easy for an overmatched team to cave at some point in a game like this.  They didn’t.  They played hard, they played poised, and they hung in for all 90 minutes.  Good outing for them all.

BYU

What went right?  Recruiting – better players generally mean better results.  They maintained nice possession through the midfield and were able to dispossess Idaho State players, but this wasn’t the dominating possession game that I saw against Georgia. 

What went wrong?  Katie Larkin didn’t play and Kassidy Christensen didn’t play in the second half.  This team looked lost.  They’ve got some nice offensive talent but they just looked out of sorts without one of their stars on the pitch.  I also don’t like Lauren Anderson playing one of the two forwards in a 2 front.  One of her great strengths at this early stage in her career is pinpoint accurate crosses in from the flank and I don’t think she was playing wide enough in this game to send even one of those balls in.  Anderson has got to get wide, BYU has plenty of players who can finish.  They don’t have any others who can deliver a ball in from out wide as well as Anderson can. 

Player to watch:  Kassidy Christensen – she didn’t score either of the goals, but her effort created the second.  She was taking on the defense 1 v. 1, she smacked one that the goalkeeper managed to stop and then the ball was scored on the rebound.  Great effort on that play and for the entire game.  She was constantly taking on the defense, she was passing well to her teammates and she had two near misses where she just needed to cut the angle on her shot.  She has played well every game I’ve seen and when Larkin graduates, she will emerge as a huge star. 

 

KENTUCKY 0 WEST VIRGINIA 1 - September 11, 2008

An uneventful . . . one might even say dull . . . one might even argue mind numbingly boring outing.  The good team (West Virginia) isn’t especially good at anything and the not as good team (Kentucky) isn’t bad enough to be interesting.  This was just a plodding outing by both teams where the team that actually managed to get in the other team’s end is comprised of forwards who can only take the obvious straight ahead shot . . . even in situations where 90% of the goal is completely uncovered and said forward has loads of time to take the shot.  Someone needs to send the tape of this game to UConn and Notre Dame, at least the audio.  The commentators were talking like West Virginia is the class of the Big East.  I’d like to send a plea to UConn and Notre Dame – make sure that isn’t so.  It really doesn’t speak well to the level of play in the Big East this year if that winds up the case.  Again, West Virginia is a perfectly nice and solid team, but after watching Florida-Florida State earlier in the day, I feel pretty good about saying they’re not a top team and I’d hope both Notre Dame and UConn can show us a little bit more.

KENTUCKY

What went right?  I liked the effort they showed after West Virginia scored.  Before the score I was thinking that it was nice of Kentucky to come down and help West Virginia practice.  West Virginia had been winding it’s way through the Kentucky defense and encountering no impediments.  Then they scored their goal and Kentucky woke up.  They started tackling and they started going in hard for 50-50 balls.  It was a nice gut check moment for them and they passed with flying colors.

What went wrong?  There’s just not a lot to this team.  There’s no combination play, there are no midfielders or forwards who play an especially dynamic style, the midfield wasn’t stopping any attacks on the ground – they won some balls in the air, but don’t seem to read the passing lanes well (in either direction, they didn’t intercept a lot of balls and they didn’t complete a lot of passes), the defense wasn’t bad but I’m not sure whether that was them or whether that was the fact that everything off the foot of West Virginia attackers was very impatient and predictable.  Every time the commentators mentioned that this team won the SEC in 2006, I was stunned.  I guess the players who led that team have graduated . . . and if they haven’t, they need to pull out some tapes and get back to whatever it was they were doing in 2006, because I’m guessing this wasn’t it.  Again, they’re not bad . . . they’re just not very good.

Player to watch:  I guess I can go with Giuleana Lopez, F – I think this is her first year back from an ACL injury and she showed some spurts of nice play.  She made some nice runs forward, she was very active and she seemed to be around the ball an awful lot.  I think if she had some better service in this game she could have gotten a few chances for herself. 

WEST VIRGINIA

What went right?  Passing through the midfield.  They were able to maintain possession and knock the ball around a bit.  The definitely dominated possession through the middle third of the field and got the ball to the attacking third.  I also liked the wing play a lot.  Greer Barnes spent so much time in the offensive third it took me a few minutes to figure out she was actually a defender.  I liked the work rate of the forwards even if they aren’t very tactically sophisticated – there was one shot where 90% of the goal was empty, the keeper was committed, the forward had time, but instead of shooting far post, she hit it straight ahead which was straight to the keeper.  They do have to figure out how not to just hit the ball straight ahead every time they touch it and they do have to work together a whole lot more, but the work rate and effort are already there.

What went wrong?  The attacking third.  They need to take the extra pass or passes, they need to stop knocking it over the goal and thinking that’s a good shot, they need to stop knocking it right to the keeper when the rest of the goal is open.  The commentators were falling all over themselves praising Mischler, and I too loved the workrate, but I don’t think she took one good shot the entire game.  This is Big East soccer and this is supposed to be one of the better teams – it’s not enough for the forwards to just get there and take a shot, they’ve got to be able to take a good shot, a smart shot and understand when a pass might be a better idea.  Maybe they just relied on Banks too much to know what to do last year and they’re still trying to find their way, but unless they figure it out, this isn’t a team that realistically has a chance to make noise in the NCAA tournament this year.

Player to watch:  Greer Barnes, D – I’ve already mentioned it.  She is an extremely aggressive wing defender.  She gets forward wonderfully and is one of the few players on the team who makes good decisions in the offensive third.  She also manages to get back defensively and made some really nice tough plays.  Good hard tackler too – I always respect that in a defender. 
 

FLORIDA 1 FLORIDA STATE 0 - September 7, 2008

This game is a perfect example of a very basic tenet of soccer that you usually don’t find in other sports:  sometimes the best team, the team that completely, thoroughly and by anyone’s standards dominates the other side, simply doesn’t win the game.  Florida State was brilliant, but, unfortunately for them, so was Katie Fraine. That’s just the way it happens in soccer sometimes.

FLORIDA

What went right?  Goalkeeping.  Sometimes it’s just that simple.  The game could very easily have been a 5-1 victory by Florida State.  That’s how many brilliant saves Katie Fraine made (she made a few more, those five probably would have scored on the keepers I’ve seen so far this season though).  And of course, Florida looked more like it’s typical self in this one than in the Nebraska game.  They scored an opportunistic goal, then they packed their defensive end and didn’t worry about too much else.  It worked, it has worked for years. While it was not as aesthetically pleasing as what we saw from Florida State, it yielded the better result. 

What went wrong?  All that great and patient play that the Gators displayed in the offensive end against Nebraska was just gone.  This team appears to lose its offensive poise a little bit against a tougher opponent.  They weren’t getting numbers forward. They were taking a lot of shots from distance instead of making a pass in the offensive third.  A whole lot of the shots they were taking were from the middle third of the field.  Even the goal was created by a questionable long range shot.  Ashlee Elliott took a long range shot, it deflected off a defender and then Annis blasted a shot in.  Opportunistic goal, but it was created by an ill advised shot.  I can’t remember more than one or two nice built up plays by Florida all game long.  This team has simply got to maintain its poise and patience against tougher teams if they want to have a chance this year.  I know they’re young, but they’ve shown that they can do it, now I want to see it against a ranked team.

Player to watch:  Katie Fraine, GK – WOW!  I remember her freshman year and thinking she was an adventure.  Well, if this one is any indication, it is an adventure no more.  She is the most confident, sure handed, sure footed goalkeeper I’ve seen this year and it’s not even close.  She made a remarkable reflex save at close range, then she made a great save with the tippy toe of her foot on a fantastic shot from Amanda Dacosta, then Talonen was running right at her and she cut off the angle, Talonen made a great pass in and a strong shot was made and Fraine managed to save that too.  And that was just the first half.  Later she tipped a couple over the goal and basically just took command of her box like she was channeling Briana Scurry.  Like Scurry, I think her defense is a little afraid of her.  It seems to work for them and it certainly puts Ms. Fraine on my radar.

FLORIDA STATE

What went right?  So much that you really hurt for them when the final whistle blew.  This is a great team, obviously one of the best in the country.  The talent level is very high, they play a very attractive possession based game and they have very dynamic players playing this style so it never seems slow or plodding, they absolutely swarm on offense, and they have a very solid backline.  They had so many chances, but were just faced with an outstanding goalkeeper and, on that last Jessica Price shot, just some really bad luck (she hit it maybe an inch wide – everyone did everything right on that play, aim was a fraction off).

What went wrong?  I don’t have much here.  Even the defender deflection that led to the goal was a good play.  It was a good play for her to stop Elliott’s shot, it just landed in a bad spot when it ricocheted off and Annis made a great play.  They didn’t score on any of the many many corners they earned, but they took most of them well.  Fraine is just completely in control of that box on set pieces so there was no chance to catch the Florida defense in a mistake.  Some of the youth was evident at times.  But that same youth that might not read a play perfectly 4 games into their college careers, was also absolutely brilliant at times.  Tiffany McCarty is a prime example of this.  A little bit of miscommunication at times where she didn’t make her back post run, but at the same time, I can’t even begin to express how impressed I was with her play.  So, I guess my search for what went wrong is just this: they just ran into some bad luck in this one, bad luck facilitated by a great game in goal for the other team.

Player to watch:  Amanda DaCosta, MF – I like the midfielders who make the team run.  On this team, it is Amanda DaCosta.  She does a great job distributing the ball, she switches fields and makes sure the ball gets wide.  She delivers great through balls in the middle of the field as well.  Add to that the fact that she’s a tremendous offensive player who can create chances for herself and you have an attacking midfielder who can dictate the pace of the game and who elevates the game of everyone around her.  Definitely a player on my radar. 

 

ARIZONA 0 BYU 1 – September 1, 2008

A very strong defensive outing for both teams which should have resulted in a 1-1 tie.  I hear you Coach Tobias, London King was onside and the explanation “her head was offiside” has to be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard (and just point of fact, it wasn’t, she got behind that defense, face and all, fair and square). 

BYU

What went right?  This is a very strong possession based team.  When the team holds the ball, the team does well.  They knock the ball around in the midfield and on their own end tremendously well.  In addition, since Shelton got criticized a bit in my BYU-Georgia write up, I have to mention that she looked much better in this one.  She just looked more confident, her decision making was far less sketchy and she didn’t look afraid to take a kick.  She worked much better with her defense too.  I was a little disappointed she only played one half. 

What went wrong?  Combination play by the forwards.  This was such a strength in the Georgia game and it was so absent for almost all of this one.  Instead of taking that extra touch in the offensive third, players were shooting into coverage and they were shooting way off target. All of this off target shooting was done primarily because they were taking shots from too far out instead of making an extra pass.  Those beautiful crosses by Anderson?  They were scarce.  Yes, they certainly did score on one, but that score really highlighted everything that they’d failed to do the rest of the game.  A 50-50 ball was won in the midfield, Larkin was set loose with the ball, she sent it out wide to Anderson who sent in one of her brilliant, picture perfect crosses right to Christensen’s head and, making up for a huge muff earlier in the game (she missed a header into an empty net – just got way too far under the ball) she headed it home.  All three forwards were involved in the play, all three forwards played to their strengths and when they play that fast, and pass that accurately, I don’t know who can stop them.  They played the entire Georgia game like that, and only a handful of plays in this one.  The forwards need to stay calm and play patient – when they stay calm and play together, this team is dangerous.

Player to watch:  Kelsea Kakadelas, MF – This is a possession based team, this is the player who drives them.  BYU looks much better on possessions were Kakadelas has a touch.  She’s very poised on the ball, a very accurate passer and is very cognizant of getting the ball to the forwards and out wide.  She generally makes good decisions on when to do what.  The touch between the forwards was failing in this game, the link between the forwards and the midfield was fine.  She also has some size and wins a lot of balls, both in the air and on the ground.  This was a very physical game and she gave as good as she got.  Definitely a player I’m anxious to see again.

ARIZONA

What went right? Defense.  I was very impressed with this unit.  They’ve got some speed, they make very good decisions, and they have very solid defensive skills.  They turn the ball instead of just knocking it out, they’re poised and make productive clearances instead of panicky ones, the wings are very aggressive offensively, to the point that they seemed like midfielders.  Yet they managed to get back to make plays on a fairly speedy BYU frontline.  They also work as well with their goalkeeper as any team I’ve seen this season.  From the sound of it, Arizona lost all of its goalkeepers to injury last year.  I imagine those defenders are happy to have McIntyre back.  McIntyre was also very strong.  She commanded her box, she commanded her defense and made good decisions more often than not.  That added with the fact that she’s got rock solid skills, makes the defense Arizona’s soundest unit. 

What went wrong?  The forward line disappeared.  London King was introduced as the player to watch in the pregame and minus the goal she scored but didn’t count (she was NOT offside), she was invisible most of the game.  Arizona was getting the ball through the midfield but no one was doing much of anything in the attacking third.  They’d make that first pass and then the attack would just die.  Either a turnover, ball over the endline or sideline, or just otherwise peter out.  It wasn’t even bad shots, because there weren’t many shots.  Not sure what happened.  This team has a nice foundation though – there was a lot to like about them.  They just have to keep that concerted effort and organization they have on defense moving forward all the way up to the front line.

Player to watch:  Brianna Caceras, D.  She really didn’t do anything that spectacular, she was just everywhere.  She was making great plays on defense, she was making nice passes through the midfield, she was winning balls and making a lot of takeaways with her feet.  She made very constructive clearances out of the back which helped Arizona advance the ball quickly.  She managed to turn the ball rather than putting it out over the endline so that BYU didn’t get many corners (not until very late in the game).  I really didn’t see enough to know whether she’s a really good player or just a really fit one.  But I did see enough to want to see more.

 

NEBRASKA 1 FLORIDA 6 – August 31, 2008

The triumph of skilled possession based soccer over direct, midfieldless play.  That’s what anyone who wants the level of play in US collegiate soccer to continue to progress is anxious to see. 

FLORIDA

What went right? Possession, possession, possession.  Florida was able to hold the ball and march right through the midfield . . . Florida was able to hold the ball and spread it out wide . . . Florida was able to hold the ball and feed the forwards who were then able to pull the keeper out and score many many goals.  I don’t recall ever seeing a Florida team look this skilled, aggressive and poised on offense.  The entire team was comfortable on the ball, the entire team was winning balls and maintaining possession and the entire team simply looked great on the offensive end.  Almost as impressive as the ability to hold the ball, were the crosses.  The Gators had a game plan in the offensive third.  Florida teams of the past have at times stacked their defense, clogged up the midfield and then completely forgotten that it’s generally necessary to score a goal or two a game.  This game was different.  The combination play was fantastic and the balls coming in from the flanks were spot on. 

What went wrong?  Back passes to the keeper.  They are really careless with those passes and far too often defenders were using them as crutches.  The defenders need to take the ball up the wing or, even easier, just get it to Ameera Abdullah, and stop putting those slow rolling balls in front of their own goal mouth.  If Nebraska had some faster players, there were three potential goals that Florida defenders served up on a platter.  By the second half, the microphones picked up the Nebraska coach screaming “GO GO GO!” when a Florida defender passed back. The goalkeeper had some very close encounters with Nebraska forwards on those plays. 

Player to watch: Ameera Abdullah, MF – The conduit.  The attacking midfielder through whom the offense was run.  Kerns and Napolitano had most of the goals, but Florida was at its best and most organized on possessions where Abdullah had a touch on the ball.  She’s got great field vision, is a very accurate passer, is comfortable with the ball at her feet and can take on defenses, wins balls in the midfield, has a tremendous workrate and made some fantastic plays on defense.  She elevates the play of everyone else out there.  Exactly the kind of player I would want playing in my team’s midfield. 

NEBRASKA

What went right?  Well, it didn’t really go right, and it’s going to sound odd considering the score, but I kind of liked the poise of the defenders.  They held their shape very well, especially early in the game, and despite the barrage of goals, they didn’t panic (the first 2 goals were scored on the keeper – keeper wasn’t bad, but she’s young and made some really bad decisions regarding coming off her line). The problem is that Nebraska doesn’t play a midfield (4-2-4) so Florida just marched right up the field completely unchecked and had numbers on Nebraska every time they were in the Nebraska third of the field.  The defenders know how to play though – lack of athleticism and lack of a midfield just killed this group in this game.

What went wrong?  I don’t know how, in 2008, anyone thinks they can play without a midfield and compete with even a mediocre Division I team.  They also don’t have the athletes to challenge most major conference programs.  Florida had better athletes at almost every position and they were able to outrun Nebraska players to loose balls all game long.  Additionally, Nebraska players looked neither skilled nor comfortable on the ball offensively.  Game plan from the 90s, uncomfortable with the ball at their feet and a lack of athleticism – it’s going to be a long year for Nebraska.

Player to watch:  It’s not a player, it’s the coach.  For how long is Nebraska going to play without a midfield?  4-2-4 – I was sitting watching this game alone in my living room and when I saw their lineup and formation, I said to the empty room “you have got to be kidding.”  I’ve said it often over the years, women’s collegiate soccer is about 10-15 years behind women’s collegiate basketball in its development.  About 5-7 years ago, a lot of the women who laid the foundation of women’s college basketball started to be replaced.  The ones who didn’t change their strategies and incorporate new techniques that jibed with the increasing sophistication and improvement of the young athletes playing the game.  I’m wondering if we’re not about 5-7 years away from seeing that start to happen in women’s soccer.  No question, John Walker has done fantastic things at Nebraska and is one of the coaches who, about a decade ago, set the standard.  But the stubborn refusal to recruit more athletic players, more skilled players, and to actually devise a game plan more sophisticated than “kick it to the forwards,” is holding this program in limbo . . . and women’s soccer is at a place right now that if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving back.  I’ll be interested in seeing, over the next couple of years, if Walker continues to do it all the same way he’s done it for the last 14 years, or if he recognizes that his sport is changing and improving, and whether he decides to help that process advance.

 

GEORGIA 1 BYU 4 – August 29, 2008

This game was a fast paced match that was thoroughly dominated by BYU.  BYU had the run of play, controlled the midfield, was the far more skilled team on the ball, and was able to strip the ball from Georgia players on all lines at all times. 

BYU

What went right? Just about everything.  The midfield played a strong game and held possession.  Kakadelas dominated the center of the field.  Anderson expertly peppered the ball around to the three forwards and had a key role in creating two of the goals.  The defense was able to strip Georgia players with ease.  Child’s play, is what was going through my mind.  Georgia looked very uncomfortable on the ball the entire match and the BYU defenders took advantage.  The forwards, the forwards worked incredibly well together.  They made their off the ball runs, took on defenders and the goalkeeper, passed well and were able to hold possession.  Fellows was opportunistic, Christensen looks like she’s ready for her close up and Katie Larkin is a bona fide star.  By any measure, BYU had the run of play in this one and made it look really easy.  It’s easy to get excited about this team.

What went wrong?  The only thing tempering my excitement is the goalkeeping situation. Either Aleena Shelton has to get a whole lot better real fast or BYU has got to turn to their other keeper (her name escapes me – I do know as of this game, BYU was still undecided re its #1 keeper), or this team isn’t going to go as far as it should considering the talent and skill level of the field players.  Kicks weren’t even making it half the way to the midfield stripe at times, decision making was about what you’d expect from an inexperienced collegian, range was not good, she looks small and against a team that has even marginally technical/skilled players who will take on a keeper, I think she’s going to struggle at this stage of her career.  I realize its early in her career and she just got thrown in there, but I won’t be surprised if goalkeeping is the Achilles heel of this team all year long.

Player to watch: Katie Larkin, F – Patrick Baker actually said it best – she’s better than advertised.  At first blush she looks like a pretty standard #1 collegiate forward.  A very very good one, but a lot like the type of forward most top 25 teams have.  As the game wears on though, you notice a quality that sets her apart.  She has a phenomenal workrate.  She is all over the field, she is on both sides, forward, back, always around the ball and she never tires or drags.  She plays with her head up, sees the field wonderfully and combines well with her line mates.  She’s very strong with the ball at her feet.  Her first goal and Christensen’s first goal were both created by her taking on the goalkeeper 1 v. 1.  Not a bit of fear or tentativeness in her.  The type of player who elevates her teammates.  And she’s just a lot of fun to watch.    

GEORGIA

What went right?  Very little.  There was one really great strength though. It will get this Georgia team wins and give them a record that is probably far superior to what their game in the run of play would indicate.  And that’s corner kicks.  Georgia’s goal was scored on a corner and it was one of the most beautiful, picture perfect corners I have ever seen.  A fantastic ball blasted up high in the box toward the far post, the player who was stationed there volleyed it back in front of the goal mouth and Carrie Patterson was standing there waiting and she scored.  Perfect execution.  The next corner Georgia got was just as pretty but the BYU defense wasn’t foolish enough to leave anyone completely uncovered in the goal mouth a second time.  All Georgia’s got to do is pressure the other team’s defense enough to get them to put the ball over the endline a time or two and they’ll be in every game they play.  That’s a powerful weapon to have. 

What went wrong?  Everything else.  This is not a skilled team, this is not a team that maintains possession well, this is simply not a team that looks comfortable on the ball.  BYU consistently stripped players on all lines all night long.  Georgia couldn’t string passes together.  They had about 15 minutes near the end of the first half where they at least managed to stay in the BYU end, but even that was individual effort that resulted in being stripped or interceptions when they tried to pass.  Just a disappointing performance.

Goalkeeping is also a huge issue.  I realize they swear by Michelle Betos, but I watched this Georgia team last year and I watched them today and I had the exact same reaction both times – this young woman plays her heart out, you can’t criticize the effort . . . but there’s no way I can take Georgia seriously as a contender even in their own conference with her in goal.  She simply doesn’t have the athletic ability to be the goalkeeper for a team that seems to think it’s of Top 20 caliber (last year the field players looked like a top 20 team – unless this game is an aberration, there’s no way in the world they’re top 20 – maybe it was just the altitude . . . we’ll see).  I love the effort, I love the attitude, but I’m surprised Baker decided to go into the season with her in goal again.

Player to watch: There wasn’t one.  The commentator repeatedly telling me how wonderful Carrie Patterson was didn’t make it so.  Her goal was opportunistic and she was positioned well, but there’s absolutely no comparison between her and what I saw from Larkin.  Her team struggled, she disappeared.  Larkin on the other hand, set the tone.  It was noticeable when she came out.  Her team was completely different when she was on the field and when she wasn’t.  Patterson had no such impact on her team.  She was invisible.  If the pregame commentary identifies a player as one on the Hermann Watch list I expect to see more than I saw from her in this game.