For the second straight game vs Louisville, a composed and disciplined team on the ball, McCool scored the game winner, this time sending us to the semi-final round of the ACC Tournament vs a Florida State team that upset Duke 1 – 0.
Virginia had good news for the fans as the team took the field, central midfielder Montana Sutton was back in the lineup, apparently showing no ill effects from the knock she took on Thursday that necessitated her sitting out the second half. I’ve been watching Sutton all season and she’s a whiz at sliding side to side in the middle of the field, screening against through balls to the opposition forwards. It’s like she has eyes in the back of her head, but because she is always in the right position to deny the entry pass, those passes are sent diagonally and defenders Phoebe McClernon and Zoe Morse snuff them out. This also allows wide defenders Lizzy Sieracki (now starting for the still-on-crutches Courtney Peterson) and the Brianna Westrup/Hana Kerner hybrid to push farther up and defend the entire middle third of the pitch. What Sutton is effectively doing is playing as a holding midfielder in the famed Makelele role. Normally when a team plays with a defensive midfielder to shield the back four defenders, a forward is sacrificed, yet because Sutton is so versatile we can still employ our three-striker formation. We are going to miss Sutton next year.
Despite the good news about Sutton, the game did not start too well for the Cavaliers as in the 9th minute, Louisville won a corner. We defended the corner pretty well, but the second ball was sent in from the same angle to the same gaggle of players, and surprise, surprise, we surrendered yet another goal from a wide cross. If you are counting at home, we’ve allowed only 11 goals all year, yet four have been from corners, or in this case, the same as a corner. This weakness is our most glaring team flaw.
There are three obvious ways to change the dynamic that makes us suck so. The first is to get get taller girls, or more aggressive girls, who might be better in the air. But that’s a year or two away at best. The second way would be to change from a man-man marking scheme to a zone defense, but that brings its own set of potential drawbacks and it’s too late to make the change at this point in the season. The third would be to instruct keeper Laurel Ivory to be come off her line and challenge for the ball. I gather this would not be in within the realm of her comfort zone, but we need to do something. The team is not simply not good enough in the air defending a corner, and Ivory’s not good enough to make the split-second goal line save.
This goal, though, was only one of four shots that the Cardinals would muster on the day as the overwhelming pressure of the Cavalier press came to bear. Six minutes later, Becca Jarrett, racing down the right, beat her defender in the box and passed the ball to Alexa Spaanstra who had acres of space and eons of time at about the penalty spot. Spaanstra has a poise that belies her youth and sitting in the stands, I literally counted 1-Mississippi as Spaanstra took full advantage of her space to line up a rifle shot into the side netting.
Three minutes later, from a free kick on the left side, Zoe Morse had a cross land at her feet at the six-yard box which she inexplicably skied over the crossbar. I’m sure she’ll remember the visual of the ball sailing up and away for a long time. I haven’t mentioned our free kicks, but it is obvious that Coach Swanson work extensively on set pieces because each game there’s a new wrinkle and it means the defenders are on the back foot, all the time. If only the practice was paying off at defending them….
HoosPlace Fave Sam Rosette got in the game at the 38th minute – it didn’t look like Loreto Sargeant even dressed for the game, so something must have been ailing her. These were the first minutes that Rosette has played in a game that mattered, and she made the most of it.
The pressure kept coming in the second half. It’s what these women do. Nine minutes in and we had another free kick from a wide position and Sutton found Westrup on the back corner for our second goal.
Except that for the second straight week we were screwed by a linesman, this time the call was offsides. I was standing right even with the offsides line across the field from the linesman. One nice thing about calling a game at this level is that the linesman really doesn’t have to look at the ball to see when it was played. No, he can look along the line and hear the sound of the boot on the ball. Westrup wasn’t offsides and we should have been up 2 – 1.
But lest the fans get too uppity, three minutes later, this time from the opposite side of the field, Sutton tried the same thing and Westrup clearly was offsides. Calling a soccer game is hard, even if that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier for the fan or the player to accept a blown call.
But no matter, the goal was always going to come, and come it did in the 80th minute when McCool latched onto Spaanstra’s pass and directed it into the goal. Since putting on her cast, McCool has become a one-man wrecking ball up front, pressuring the entire back line and she’s scoring as well: four goals in five games. Hard to believe that one month ago I speculated that she was the most obvious starter to replace to give the team an immediate upgrade. I retract that thought. In fact, on the first play of the game, Louisville kicked off and smacked the ball straight into McCool’s face. Didn’t phase her one bit. I think she should wear a cast next season as well.
In the 85th minute, with the lead in hand, Coach Swanson pulled a forward in favor of a fifth defender and to my surprise the fifth defender was Lizzy Sieracki. In previous games, the fifth defender had been Brianna Westrup, but today it was Sieracki, which has to be an enormous boost to her confidence. And she’s earned it. While she’s not as good with the ball as Courtney Peterson, (because who is, anyway?) I think she’s becoming a better defender. I still want Peterson back in her starting role, but I’m not worried about the supposed drop off any more.
(Mis)Adventures in Media
There were a couple of great strikes from Wahoos today in our ACC Quarterfinal match with Louisville. Meghan McCool hit her second game-winner over Louisville this season and fifth game-winner of the year. #GoHoos #AlliN pic.twitter.com/U73z9OX2sY— Virginia Women's Soccer (@UVAWomenSoccer) October 29, 2018
It's always a case of two-steps-forward one-step-back with the Virginia Athletic Department. Here they've finally released a video highlight showing an oponent's goal (which every highlight should do). This is the two step forward part of the equation. But they've only posted the video on Twitter, and not, as per usual, on the VirginiaSportsTV.com site or on youtube. This is the one-step-back. Why would anyone want to minimize the availability or limit the reach of this package? I just don't get it. If the Athletic Department wanted to sabotage the women's sports, this is one way I would go about doing it. Sigh.
Next Up: Florida State upset Duke so we will get a chance to atone for last week’s loss to the Seminoles. Game time is 5:00 on Friday as the ACC tournament moves to Cary, North Carolina.
Mailbag: If you've read this far... My NCAA tournament prview is going to take the form of a mailbag. I had a couple of nice conversations with fellow fans at Klockner on Sunday and they had specific questions. So, if you would like to submit your questions, you can do hit me up via twitter: twitter.com/HoosPlace or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.