A week after Virginia’s game with North Carolina was canceled due to an abundance of injuries and unspecified coronavirus concerns, the Cavaliers hosted Louisville at Klockner. Welcomed back to the fold were Alexa Spaanstra, Ashlynn Serepca, and Diana Ordonez. But in this two-step-forward one-step-back season, Virginia was without defender Claire Constant and keeper Laurel Ivory. Would Steve Swanson’s seventh different starting lineup be up to the task?
Well, the easy storyline would be that UVa was carried by Spaanstra, who would score both goals for the Cavaliers. Both teams came in on plenty of rest: Virginia with 10 days and Louisville with 11 days. And Louisville, a team that has never beaten UVa, came into the game with sitting third in the ACC standings and with a 3 – 1 record that might have seemed overly gaudy to the casual fan. In this case, I admit to having been a casual fan, and I was concerned about a suddenly stronger foe in Louisville, especially after seeing our starting lineup without Constant and Ivory. I don’t think anyone should have worried, though, as all three Cardinals victories came over the very bottom of the ACC – Miami, Syracuse and Boston College – teams that have combined for nary a win to with 13 total losses.
Louisville was simply no match for Virginia. The Cardinals did open brightly enough and controlled the run of play for the first five minutes. That was about as long as it took for Virginia to find freshman Lia Godfrey and feed her the ball. Godfrey has come out of the gate this season on fire: she is an exceptional dribbler, is actually a fine on-ball defender, moves into space well, and may be faster with the ball at her feet than Rebecca Jarrett. She has a great shot from long range, and if not for one fortuitous Louisville block, she would probably would have added her name to the score sheet. Although I very much want to see how Florida State defends her, for the rest of the ACC, the word is out: give her a huge cushion and try to stiffen up at the edge of the penalty box. I fail to see how giving Godfrey more space is advantageous to the defense because she will ruthlessly take what you give her.
Virginia pressed the attack for the next 20 minutes as the Cavs were simply faster to the ball all across the pitch. Godfrey had a steal upon which she drove for a now-patented shot; Rebecca Jarrett took an audacious shot from wide right, and there were a couple of profligate moments in front of the goal. But in the 24th minute, Alyssa Gorzak found a wide open Spaanstra who was coolly able to convert from top of the box. Ten minutes later Serepca drove into the box from the right side, was tugged in the box (she sold it well) and the PK was awarded. Spaanstra took the penalty and hit it perfectly – Manuel Neuer couldn’t have saved it – but I still cringed. Four inches higher and Spaanstra’s shot would have been clanging off the crossbar.
2 – 0 and the game was effectively over at that point. Louisville would actually get a shot in the last five minutes of the first half, but at the half, I wrote in my notes, “Does it matter that Emina Ekich is even in the game?” Ekich is Louisville’s best player but she was completely shut down by Sarah Clark and Anna Sumpter. Over the past two seasons, Louisville is 10 – 0 when she scores or records an assist, and now 2-7-1 when she doesn’t.
The second half was more of the same. Virginia overwhelmed Louisville and looked like they’d applied the icing on the cake when HoosPlace Fave™ Sarah Clark had another wonderful cross which found the head of Ordonez for the third goal. The linesman signaled that Ordonez was offsides, but the cross was just another piece of evidence that Swanson found a real gem when he lured Clark back to the East Coast. I’m still waiting to see Clark perform against top-flight competition, and the Cavs’ next game is Sunday against the visiting Florida State Seminoles. We should have a better idea of just what we have in Clark after FSU comes to Charlottesville.
But we should have a better idea of how good the entire defense is against FSU. With our two starting central defenders out – Talia Staude (3 games) and Claire Constant (1 game) – Lizzie Sieracki and Lacey McCormack looked quite comfortable filling in for them. McCormack plays like the midfielder she really is and Sieracki has adds deep distribution to the Virginia arsenal. This is a resilient defense. Ivory has now missed three games, starter Samar Guidry missed two, and now Laney Rouse has missed her second. Only one goal has been scored against the Cavaliers from open play. Three came from penalties and one from a free kick. All goals count, of course, but this is team is proving difficult to score against. But as I’ve said, the biggest test of the season awaits on Sunday. It should be a doozy.
Streaming notes: I am looking forward to viewing FSU on ESPN2 because, to be frank, the streaming quality from the ACC Network the past couple of weeks has been crap. It was so bad I was getting flashbacks from the horrible days of soccer viewing from the turn of the century when one had to rely on bittorrent or Asian streams. The streaming was worse for Virginia’s two goals. And the replays. And even the halftime highlights replays. The buffering was like this scene from the movie Amelie. And I was the guy sobbing in the chair.