Virginia started out brightly vs North Carolina, keeping the Tar Heels on the back heel for the first 30 minutes of the half and winning the possession battle 58% to 42% for the half. UNC coach Anson Dorrance’s halftime talk might very well have been to simply post those numbers and allowing that stat to motivate his players, because it was a different game in the second half.
North Carolina 2
For the first time all season, Virginia coach Steve Swanson played the same lineup on consecutive games. For the record, injuries and the pandemic forced Swanson to play 11 different lineups this year and the lack of unit cohesion may have contributed to the defeat against the Tar Heels.
The fireworks started early, very early, as Lia Godfrey struck a wonderful looping shot in the game’s opening half minute and she, and Alexa Spaanstra had fine chances in a flurry 10 minutes later. UNC had a pair of nice shoots from within the Virginia penalty box in the first 5 minutes as well.
Left back Samar Guidry had a wonderful 1st half, running the Tar Heels almost at will. Guidry is an interesting player. She is a wonderful dribbler and has fine pace, but she doesn’t know what to do when she actually has won the 1 v 1 v 1 v 1 battle and moved into space. She stops, the ball stops, and momentum is lost. It might be lack of confidence, or she may just not have a nose for the goal (she is a defender, after all,) but seeing if she can put it all together over the next three years is going to be a nice journey.
In the 28th minute Dorrance made his patented line change swapping out all six midfielders and forwards at once. The college rules obviously allow such a practice and good coaches adapt to the environment to give their teams the edge. Dorrance continues to develop US Women’s National Team players at a steady clip, so he’s not hindering his players’ growth. But it is not adult soccer. And it rankles me when it works, and it did on this night.
Five minutes left in the first half, Aleigh Gambone, one of those second shifters for UNC, got the ball outside the box, lost the ball after hitting the ball straight to Claire Constant, and it was a matter that she just wanted the ball more, as she gathered the ricochet and split Constant and Sarah Clark. Both Clark and Constant were a step slow and Clark brought down Gambone for a penalty. UNC keeper Claudia Dickey took the penalty with authority and UVa, despite matching UNC’s physicality and speed all game long, went into the locker room down 1 – 0.
The second half belonged to UNC. The Cavaliers couldn’t maintain possession and just 10 minutes in I wrote in my notebook that we needed a London Perrantes on the pitch. After recording no corners in the first half, Carolina had three in the first 10 minutes. As might be expected, they were harrowing affairs for the Cavs and UNC should have scored on one of them.
This was an extremely physical game and we didn’t have an answer, really, to the Tar Heel pace and strength. They pushed Virginia all over the pitch. UNC ended up being called for 16 fouls and they received 3 yellow cards. Those are simply astronomical numbers for the women’s game where the refs call games as if these women were genteel schoolgirls. Rebecca Jarrett, the only Cavalier to play in all 12 games this fall and the most impactful player on the season, was matched up against UNC’s Emily Fox. Three seasons ago I wrote that Fox was the best player in the ACC, and though she’s had injury woes of her own the past two seasons, she is every bit as fast as Jarrett and she’s much stronger. She bullied Jarrett off the ball all game long.
One of the side effects of playing during the pandemic in front of empty stands is that we can hear the coaches on the sidelines. All season long Steve Swanson has been pretty quiet on the sidelines – soccer is a player’s game after all – but on this night he was much more vocal as the team was seemingly incapable of pressing as a team and as time was expiring on the season.
Now, these women don’t give up. The never do, and they struggled to claw themselves back into the game, but chasing a result is risky. As UVa got stretched, the Tar Heels started looking for the longer ball and not surprisingly, Virginia got caught on the counter. A much-rested Isabel Cox easily out-maneuvered Talia Staude chasing down a long ball and fired home for the icing goal. 2 – 0 and it would be the Tar Heels who would advance to the final vs Florida State.
For the Cavaliers, it was a second straight loss to UNC and now that Maryland has departed the ACC, I hate losing to the Tar Heels more than any other team. That UNC is ACC and women’s soccer royalty makes it worse. Their record in the ACC Tournament: an eye-popping 71 – 6 – 5.
I have never played or coached at this level, and all I do is watch the games, and it is frankly arrogance on the part the internet nabobs who criticize coaches and players alike. Over the past three years I have sought to be resolutely positive, a task made easy by the quality of the coach and his program and the attitude and drive of the players. But I am in a prescriptive mood, so here is what I would like to see going forward:
Lia Godfrey: Last spring Cam Lexow added a flip-toss to her arsenal. Someone on this team has to learn how to take free kicks. 10 minutes left in the game, we’re down 2 – 0 and in desperate need of a goal, and UNC was called for foul 25 yards away from the goal. Diana Ordonez and Taryn Torres stood at the ball. I was praying that Torres would take the free kick, and she did. Only she skied it over the crossbar. It wasn’t close. We need someone who can at the very least put the ball on frame. Or drive it between the defensive line and the keeper. I think that Lia Godfrey could be that person.
Diana Ordonez: Spend the spring with men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach, Mike Curtis. Ordonez’s natural inclination is to set up to receive the ball with her back to the goal. She’s not nearly strong enough to be able to do so, even against weaker ACC center backs. Curtis is a legendary S&C coach and it would be time well spent.
Steve Swanson: We are the third team in the ACC’s Big Three and we lack the strength and physicality of both Florida State and UNC. Both teams play attractive, possession soccer, but that is after the strength battle has been won. We went toe-toe with FSU with 8 players unavailable while Florida State started the same lineup all 10 games. We had our chances with UNC on this day. But there was a (slight) feeling of inevitability in the final scorelines of both. Swanson wants technically skilled and tactically flexible players and we play lovely soccer. But this year’s freshmen are illustrative of the strength divide: six of nine newcomers are 5’5” or smaller. Sure, Leo Messi is 5’7” and Diego Maradona was 5’4”, but soccer is a physical game and we need to get stronger.
Five Cavaliers placed on the ACC all-season teams. These teams are chosen by the coaches, but please remember the coaches are idiots. On the first two teams, you know, with 20 field players, the coaches could only bring themselves to select five defenders. Every team in the league plays with at least four in the back, but apparently most of those 56 starters suck. At least the coaches picked a keeper for each team.
Lia Godfrey is the Freshman of the Year and as such she’s on the All–Freshman team. Godfrey was also chosen for the All-ACC Second team.
Samar Guidry joins Godfrey on the All-Freshman team.
Rebecca Jarrett highlights the All-ACC Second team and she is joined by Diana Ordonez.
Alexa Spaanstra is Virginia’s lone representative on the All-ACC first team.
Both Ordonez and Spaanstra were selected for the All-Tournament team, which may be a dubious honor since ACC coaches distinguished themselves by selecting two goalkeepers for that 11-player team.