The ACC Women’s Soccer Tournament opened with the last three teams to win the ACC regular season title – Florida State, North Carolina and Duke – all holding serve to advance to the semi-finals. Would Virginia be able to join them?
The answer was a resounding yes. A hat-trick for Diana Ordonez, four goals overall, and a fifth goal disallowed by what must be the worst offsides call in the country:
The simple storyline would focus on Ordonez: she scored only the fifth hat-trick in ACC tournament history, and it was her goal that was stolen by the linesman. But the real story is that Louisville brought the knife to the proverbial gun fight. The Cardinals are trying out a new formation this year, the 5 – 4 – 1. The formation is can be deployed for cynical, park-the-bus, pack-em-in defensive soccer employed by teams the world over when they are outclassed and outmatched by their opponent. Louisville, to their credit, are trying to use the formation to play attacking soccer, playing an advanced back line (called the high line in soccer lingo) and with the fifth defender freeing the wing backs to attack the length of the pitch.
That’s the theory. You have to have to be able to possess the ball, so as to allow the wing backs time to advance, or you have to have ball winners in midfield who can slow the opposing attack, to allow those wing backs time to retreat. At the bare minimum, you need your wing backs to have raw speed, especially when they have to defend against Virginia wingers Alexa Spaanstra and Rebecca Jarrett. It’s safe to say that Louisville don’t have the horses to play this way and their defense was continually carved up on the night.
The game saw the return of central midfielder Taryn Torres after a two-game mini-hiatus. The Louisville back line was so porous and there was so much space behind the defensive line that UVa largely abandoned its possession game and “went long” most of the game. That possession usually begins with a Torres touch and it didn’t happen much. Torres is clearly still not match fit and she was pushed off the ball as much in the first half as she is typically in the entire season. OK, that last sentence was hyperbole, but the fact is that Torres is still a shell of her former self, and how much progress she makes over the next 3 – 5 days will go a long way to determining just how successful a tournament this is for the Cavaliers.
The player who has upped her the most in recent games is red-shirt senior Lizzy Sieracki. I had presumed at the start of the season that she would inherit Courtney Petersen’s spot at left back, but she lost it to freshman Samar Guidry. But Talia Staude was felled for three games and Sieracki deputized for her in the center. When Staude returned, Sieracki slid right, displacing Sarah Clark. Now I like Clark, but Sieracki is in the best form of her collegiate career and she is the player most responsible for unlocking “Jet” Jarrett’s true potential. Sieracki had half a dozen quality passes behind the Louisville line that freed Jarret and Spaanstra to just run right at the goal.
The good news coming from Spaanstra is that she is fully match fit; the bad news is that her touch seems to have deserted her. 12 minutes into the game, Spaanstra (on the left) got onto a pretty pass from Jarrett behind the defenders with a direct angle onto goal. The ball was coming from her right and she hit the ball with the outside of her right foot, and still, somehow, the ball careened toward the corner flag. On the first goal Spaanstra was sprung behind the defense, again with a straight line towards goal. She never even took a shot as the ball got away from her and she had to push the ball wide left just to avoid the keeper. But then Spaanstra did what all good players do when they fuck up: she just kept playing. She recovered the ball at the end line and fed the ball into Ordonez who scored simply because she had momentum and the Louisville player did not. But a bit of a blown play and a bundled shot attempt? Still a goal. And still the lead.
And it would be a lead that UVa would not relinquish, even as Louisville — stop me if you’ve heard this before — gave up yet another set piece goal.
Next Up: North Carolina in the semis on Friday the 13th in UNC’s back yard. Brianna Pinto, who scored the winning goal for the Tar Heels vs Virginia Tech, has much to answer for. We’ll see if the Cavaliers are up to the task.