This familiar Chinese aphorism is actually a curse, and it came to mind as Penn State made the game interesting late, but the Cavs held on for their 8th straight win in their first "real" test of the season, travelling to Happy Valley to take on the #8 Nittany Lions.
The first half may have been the best soccer Virginia has played all season. Penn State is a quality team and yet we ran them all half, never allowing them into the game. At the end of the half, UVa had a 13 – 2 advantage in shots. Although we were missing freshman Diana Ordonez, Meg McCool, for the second straight game in her absence, scored to give Virginia the early lead. The goal was hardly a thing of beauty, but once again Becca Jarrett got to the end line for the cross. McCool is pretty much unmovable inside the six yard box, so all the hapless Lion defender could do is wrestle her to the ground. McCool was the fastest to get up and she had a relatively easy toe poke for the score.
One of the features of the Virginia offense is the extreme wide positioning of our wingers and Jarrett has been steadily improving this positioning as well as her first touch as a winger. Alexa Spaanstra can seemingly get to the end line any time she wants, so the Virginia attack is increasingly built on ground-ball crosses into the box. Fortunately we’ve got a pair of fox-in-the-box poachers in McCool and Ordonez who will be able to force two and three defenders into the six yard box, all of which will open more space at the oh-so-crucial penalty spot.
Once the goal was in hand, the Cavs simply ran the Lions. The ref called for a water break at about the 26 minute mark. I’m not a huge fan of the water break, especially given the (un)limited substitution available in the NCAA game. It effectively turns the game into 4 quarters rather than two halves, and the Lions came out of the water break like a team comes out at half time following a Gipperesque speech from the coach. For about seven minutes they got into the game and managed some possession, but following a long buildup leading to a Courtney Petersen cross, the team switched to pure possession mode and drained all the air out of the game.
The second half started slowly. We’d run the Lions. They were tired. But we were fatigued, too. With the loss of Ordonez (she was walking very gingerly during warmups) and Claire Constant (seen in a boot and on crutches), we’ve lost a lot of the depth that has so characterized Steve Swanson teams. Taryn Torres and Alexa Spaanstra are logging too many minutes, Meg McCool played most of the game, and the back four of Petersen, Talia Staude, Zoe Morse and McClernon played the entire game.
The second half was more of a dogfight than any we’ve been in thus far, which is as it should be: Penn State is the best team we’ve played. But as the fatigue increased across the pitch, so did the fouls and the game became a chippy affair. Spaanstra was literally horsecollared. It was completely deliberate and could easily have been a straight red card. Only no card was given, which was a travesty. It was almost as if Pheobe McClernon took that oversight personally and she took out a couple of Lions, and then when penalized for the tackles, jawed more with the ref than we typically see in the women’s game.
UVa still controlled the bulk of the second half, and while the women didn’t carve out any great chances, they continued to create several half-chances. I was impressed with the Penn State keeper, Katharine Asman, who as a red-shirt freshman should man the sticks for the Lions for next three years. Penn State has their own freshman sensation, Ally Schlegal, who had scored in four straight games, and supposedly the Lions had reigning ACC Player of the Year, Sam Coffey. I say supposedly because the Boston College transfer was completely anonymous. At the 70 minute mark, I wrote in my notebook, “Is Coffey even playing?”
The game got scrappier until the 83rd minute when Courtney Petersen did a barrell roll on a Penn State player in the box. Inexplicably, and inexcusably, the ref waved play on. It was as clear a penalty as I’ve seen. A minute later though, the Lions got a makeup call a couple yards out of the box as Zoe Morse was called for a shove as she went up for a header. As I’ve said, I wondered where Sam Coffey had disappeared to, but she took the free kick with aplomb, playing a perfect low ball into the six yard box where Ally Schlegal made it five goals in five straight matches.
Game on! And the 50 or so travelling Virginia fans were indeed experiencing interesting times.
For all of 26 seconds. Anna Sumpter played a low cross into the six yard box, there was a bit of a scrum, and Sydney Zandi knocked in the winning goal.
2 minutes later, Sam Coffey, possibly energized by her perfect free kick, took an even lovelier corner that found a Lion on the back post. From the stands, it looked like the ball snuck into the net, but to no avail and the Cavaliers escaped with the win. From a game that they had simply dominated for long stretches of time. Soccer, as any sport, for that matter, is a funny game.
With this win, and losses to both UNC and Stanford, UVa should climb to #2 when the polls are released on Tuesday.
Edit: Boy, was I wrong. UVa's #1!