It was a dark and stormy night…
For the fourth time in this abbreviated season, Virginia played in heavy rain. Only this time the temp was 42 degrees. I don’t care how tough you are, 42 is cold and it’s insane when one is soaked clear through.
Boston College 1
Perhaps my favorite quote from the world of sport comes from Manchester United’s Roy Keane. As an Arsenal fan, it is hard to admit that I admired him, but a fire burned through him on the pitch that was legendary. Man Utd had just dispatched some bottom table team with an important Champions League game coming up. A journalist was interviewing Keane post-game and he said something along the lines of wasn’t it nice to have had a tune up game ahead of the upcoming clash. And Keane glared at the journo and spat through gritted teeth, “They’re all hard!”
Keane’s point, of course, is that you have to play all the games, and teams that look past supposedly weaker teams frequently get victimized. And this game against Boston College was just such a game for the Cavaliers. The Eagles had nothing to play for and their only win on the season was against a similarly hapless Syracuse team. The weather was frightful, and yet here were 40 women playing because the game demands it.
In a typical soccer game, the first five minutes can be kind of patchy – both teams are trying to figure each other out and everyone is just trying to get a touch or two on the ball – but just about the entire first half was patchy. Did I mention the near-freezing rain? Lots of missed passes — while those that connected were often to the back foot – and heavy touches. Virginia had two-thirds of the possession in the first half, but the counting stats – 5 shots and only 1 on goal – reflected the struggles on the pitch. I only took two pages of notes for the entire first half, and a third of that was the starting lineups for both teams.
Coach Steve Swanson, in an interview earlier in the day with the announcers, mentioned that his team had “left meat on the bone” all season in terms of failing to convert chances as they had in previous years. In the first half, leaving meat on the bone would have been an improvement.
The second half was a brighter affair. The Cavaliers recorded 7 shots and the Eagles had doubled their first half shot total, all in the first 15 minutes. It looks like corners are going to continue to be a bugaboo for Virginia, and BC had a dangerous one of those as well. But on the second BC corner of the half, magic happened. Emma Dawson and Anna Sumpter combined to clear the corner to waiting Alexa Spaanstra. She collected the ball, sped downfield and was overtaken by the speedier Rebecca Jarrett. For the second game in a row, Spaanstra split the defense and found the streaking Jarrett. Jarrett’s first touch on the ball was heavy and she pushed the ball wide of the six yard box. I thought we’d blown the counter but Jarrett squeezed the ball past BC’s keeper, Allie Augur, on the near post. Jarrett’s speed ought to prevent teams from smelling Virginia blood and selling out on corners.
Virginia kept up the pressure and four minutes later had increased their lead to 2 – 0 after Claire Constant buried a save from a Diana Ordonez shot. Now TV pundits often claim that the most dangerous lead to protect is the 2 – 0 lead. Perhaps it is just to keep eyeballs on the screen, perhaps it is that the winning team loses a bit of focus. Whatever the reason, Virginia failed to kill off the game. BC played its most effective ball of the game over the last 15 minutes, maybe taking advantage of the second team that Swanson had subbed on by that point. The pressure mounted and Virginia finally cracked, unsurprisingly off a corner, when BC’s Emily Knous hit a divine half-volley following a weak clearance. There would be two more BC corners in the last 7 minutes as Virginia, to be frank, looked a bit frantic. After the BC goal, Swanson rushed several starters back into the game and the Cavaliers were able to hold on for the win.
The final verdict? An ugly game, punctuated by a moment of brilliance for each team. Class won out in the end, but it was a gut check for both teams, and I would think Roy Keane would have approved of the fight displayed by both teams.
Injury Update: Alexa Spaanstra seems to be back at 100%, as witnessed by the Spaanstra/Jarrett Express. It was good to see the return of Cam Lexow who has been out for at least four games. And given the injury hex that has plagued the Cavaliers, on this rainy night, it was great to see that no one picked up an obvious knock. On the other hand, it was troubling that Taryn Torres did not play because she was clearly not match-fit versus Florida State. Maybe Swanson held her out as a precaution, given the appalling weather. Lacy McCormack was also noticeably absent.
I could list all the players that have missed time, whether due to injury or coronavirus protocols, but it’s easier to list the players who have been available to Coach Swanson all season: Lizzie Sieracki, Sarah Clark, Rebecca Jarrett and Lia Godfrey. That is a troublingly short list and I have no doubt that this has been the most challenging year of Swanson’s tenure on Grounds. He started his 9th different lineup of the season.
Next Up: At Syracuse, a team that Boston College beat handily, in the concluding game of the ACC regular season. This is the final tuneup before the conference tournament. Virginia currently sits fourth, a half game behind Clemson and a half game ahead of Notre Dame.