Syracuse keeper Lysianne Proulx came into the game leading the nation in saves/game, which is a dubious honor. It’s kind of like your safety leading the team in tackles: it means your defense isn’t very good. Despite three top-notch saves from Proulx, UVa blitzed Syracuse for 5 goals, but there are troubling signs as the Cavaliers head into next week’s ACC Tournament.
Much like Boston College, Syracuse entered this game playing purely for pride and for the Seniors (last year’s Senior Night for the Orange, also versus Virginia, was rained out.) It was another sub-50 degree day for the game, as for the second game in a row, Virginia departed one day ahead of snow.
Frigid days usually lead to sluggish starts, but maybe Virginia was better acclimated to the cold because they jumped all over Syracuse and it took but 20 seconds to Rebecca Jarrett to drive half the length of the field and fire a shot. We had three other fine chances in the first 6 minutes before Lizzie Sieracki unlocked the Orange defense 13 minutes in with a great ball in the channel between the center backs and the wide defender. Jarrett raced onto the ball, waltzed into the penalty box and slipped a pass through to Alexa Spaanstra who had only to tap the ball into an open net. Three minutes later, Anna Sumpter jumped on a ball that failed to find the targeted Diana Ordonez and the score was 2 – 0.
This lead only stood for two minutes – see the BC game report about 2 – 0 leads – when Syracuse was awarded a free kick wide of the penalty box. We had Syracuse’s Jenna Tivnan covered, but she was the one who rose up, won the ball, and headed it home. It was a fine goal, and I’m sure it felt great, but Virginia is still much better than ‘Cuse, and we dominated the next twenty minutes and were rewarded by Diana Ordonez’ goal which made the score 3 – 1.
But Syracuse knew this was the last game of the year for them, certainly the last meaningful game regardless of what happens in the spring. The Orange will not be playing in the ACC tournament and the NCAAs are just a pipe dream. And it was the aforementioned Senior Night. They continued to attack and won a pair of corners. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but on a nicely taken corner, Virginia was victimized again. This time Talia Staude and Samar Guidry were not flatfooted, but they missed the ball anyway and it fell to Shannon Aviza, who scored to make the game 3 – 2.
It’s official: we suck at corners and I’m trying to forget just how many we’ve conceded, but it is probably 4 or 5 in just 10 games. I’m certainly not the first to state this, but winning the aerial battle on a corner – starting flatfooted, jockeying in what is basically a mosh pit in front of the goal — is about attitude. Some players want the ball and will literally move opponents out of their way. Some players are content to just kind of jump up and hope the ball hits them in the head. We lack a player who Will. Not. Be. Denied. Sieracki, who is maybe the closest to an aerial force was out of the game at this point, and our tallest player was guarding the near post. And when opponents sniff out a weakness, it will only give them greater energy for this most dangerous situation. We’re not going to beat a UNC or Florida State if we grant them a goal off a corner.
Virginia was the more energetic team in the second half and Jarrett quickly extended the lead within 7 minutes with a very nicely placed shot from distance. After a rare case of the Syracuse keeper handling the ball after an intentional pass back (she slipped), Lia Godfrey put the ball into the roof of the net to make it 5 – 2. Ordonez and Sumpter both had nice chances denied by Proulx, and on the day, she would match her season average of 9 saves/game.
The games seemed to be heading to an end when Virginia was called for a penalty with 10 seconds left. It would be a fairly irrelevant goal, after all, and backup keeper Michaela Moran actually was smiling prior to the take, but this was the fourth penalty conceded in, again, just 10 games. This team is leaking goals and we’re now at the stage where we are conceding to poor teams. In eight games, Syracuse had scored but twice, and here they scored 3 in one game. I doubt that this game was the tune-up that Coach Steve Swanson was hoping for.
Player Notes: For the second game since starting vs Florida State, Taryn Torres was a no-show. She is one of the few players that can handle the physicality of UNC and FSU in the center of the pitch and I had hoped that she could have used the games versus Boston College and Syracuse to get match fit. I would not expect to see her for the ACC tournament.
Lizzie Sieracki started for the second straight game at right back, ahead of Sarah Clark. She played about 25 minutes in the first half and then did not play at all in the second. There were a couple of moments when she was walking gingerly before she was pulled, but it didn’t seem major. Hopefully she was kept out in an abundance of caution, because more than ever, we need her. Her pass to Jarrett leading to the first goal is what I want to see more of. Jarret possesses elite speed and the pass Sieracki made to her was the football equivalent of the post route. Too often this team gets the ball to Jarrett as if she’s just run a button-hook. We don’t capitalize enough on Jarrett’s speed.
And lastly, Kayla White started in goal. For the fourth time this season. This can’t just be rotation. Keepers need reps and on a team as good as Virginia, the keeper usually doesn’t get many chances to impact the game. Laurel Ivory has been a starter since just about her first games at Virginia and this year, her senior season, she’s started just 60% of the games. While Ivory hasn’t played like there have been any after effects of the Brianna Pinto mugging, she did take a big hit late in the Boston College game. Again, this may be an abundance of caution on Swanson’s part. But having to possibly ration your star keeper’s minutes heading into the ACC tournament though, that’s another worrying sign.
Next Up: The ACC tournament. With these last two wins, and coupled with FSU knocking off Clemson, Virginia secured the 3rd seed and is facing #6 Louisville next Tuesday, 10 November. A potential semi-final matchup with UNC looms.