Syracuse came to Klockner on Thursday to take on our 6th ranked women, and they parked the bus. Did it work?
Syracuse is pretty dire this year. We were always going to win the game, and the big question wasn't even how much we were going to win by, but rather how the team would respond to losing left back Courtney Peterson. In the modern game, width in your attack is frequently provided by the outside defenders and Peterson is one of the best in the country. In fact, two years ago, she left the University to play for the US women's Under - 20 national team in the U20 Women's World Cup. Losing her was always going to be a real blow.
And that's about all we know about Peterson's injury. The athletic department has released no information about her injury and the announcers for the game only mentioned that she was out and there was a vague intimation that she may be able to return for the NCAA tournament. That, I guess, is good news because I was pretty sure she'd broken her ankle.
I've mentioned several times just how deep Coach Swanson's bench is and how he plays a 19-20 player rotation, giving significant minutes to those who don't start. We should be able to withstand an injury like this. But, this depth means that we're staying healthy in the first place. Syracuse, by way of comparison, has lost 6 starters. 6! And two of their remaining starters were playing with a face mask and an arm cast. This remarkable depth is one reason so many players are light on their feet and able, usually, to avoid the kind of tackles that brought Peterson down.
Lizzy Sieracki got the starting nod (I didn't know if Hana Kerner was going to get the start on the left) and she deputized well. It was just Syracuse, but she attacked full throttle and played hard. Her final product was not as incisive as Peterson's, but then, who's is? One skill that Sieracki brings to the table is a deep throw-in. When Lizzie's in the game we have a nice balance: we can go deep on throws and short on corners; we're able to mix it up.
Syracuse came into the game determined not to let the score balloon they way it did in our game versus Pitt. In soccer parlance, they parked the bus. Did they ever. Parking the bus means employing 10 players (usually) as defenders with a lone striker that you will try to spring for a fast-break counter attack. Except the Syracuse packed all 11 players into defense, usually all 11 were at most 30 yards from the goal. This is an age old adaptation weaker teams make when faced with an overwhelming attacker. Just about every team in Spain plays it against Barcelona, Arsenal have been stymied over the years again and again, and just this summer at the World Cup, Iran stymied Spain for most of the game by parking the bus. Some see it as cynical soccer, I view it as a necessary equalizer when the talent disparity is too large. Most teams that employ the bus strategy see some hope in nicking a single goal and maybe getting a result. Syracuse had no such illusions: they thought the game was lost and they wanted to keep the score respectable.
And they did, for the most part. Our only goal of the first half came off a deep ball to Megan McCool, who was set up in the six yard box, posting up like a center in basketball. She got the ball and shielded the ball from her defender who could only poke the ball away. Right to Alexa Spaanstra who for all intents and purposes an open goal to score on.
That was it for the first half. We had a 12 - 0 shots advantage and a 7 - 0 corner advantage and Syracuse had to be pretty happy with the scoreline. The Orange wanted to remain compact and be composed, and they were.
For the first 20 minutes of the second half, Coach Swanson abandoned his 4-3-3 formation by moving defender Brianna Westrup up to the center forward position with McCool, essentially giving us a 4 - 2 - 4 formation. Westrup is good in the air and would give us another target. But Syracuse held firm. It wasn't until the 70th minute that Syracuse cracked as Spaanstra notched her second goal on the day, and then the floodgates opened. 9 minutes later Syracuse got called for an unfortunate handball in the box and Ayan Adu calmly collected her third goal of the season. If you are scoring at home, we've had three penalties and Swanson has used three different players to take them.
At this point, my wife walked into the room, looked at the score, looked at the time remaining, and knowing that Swanson had emptied the bench, asked me who was most likely to become the fifteenth different player to score for us this season. I replied that it had to be Sam Rosette and 30 seconds later she scored her first goal of her Virginia career. I've seen her play four times now and I have to say, Rosette is too good for garbage time minutes. We're lucky to have her.
Next Up: Florida State at home on Sunday. This date has been marked on my calendar all season as the game to come see. Florida State started out the season as the second ranked team in the country and in their last out-of-conference game, they hammered UCLA 4 - 1. Since then, they have faltered a bit, even if there's no shame losing to Boston College and North Carolina.
We've had a nice lull, what with pulling Pitt and Syracuse in consecutive games. Hopefully this game ramps up the pressure a bit. I'm going to be especially interested in the play of Betsy Brandon and Alissa Gorzak. Brandon, as near as I can tell, has started just about every game Virginia's played over her four years. Except for the last five. Coach Swanson has to get Rebecca Jarrett more playing time and it is Brandon who seems to be the loser. As for Gorzak, she started from day one as a freshman and started all six games last year before she was felled by an injury. She might have expected to regain her starting spot this year, but Spaanstra has blocked that avenue. It was just Pitt, and it was just Syracuse, but these past two games it seems like Gorzak and Brandon have embraced their off-the-bench roles and become the leaders of the second unit. It's not as good for them -- starting is better -- but we're better off with a more cohesive second unit. It has to have been horribly depressing for both of them to lose their spots but I'm hoping that their growth and emergence as second teamers continues.