Photo courtesy of our friend Julie "JC" Sullivan
cards do it again... not in a good way
Not even halfway through the season fans have begun to question the women's soccer team. Sitting at 5-2 the Cards have suffered a couple of ugly losses and barely snuck by on a pair of their wins.
Each season the women's soccer team has high hopes and expectations with another strong recruiting class from talented players all around the world. The team will start off with a great record and occasionally sneaks into the Top-25. Once the midseason hits and conference play everything that's going right for the Cards stops, and they fall off the side of the cliff.
In 2016 Louisville was 7-2-2 and ranked before finishing 0-5-2 to close out the season. The 2015 squad sat at 7-5-1 including an upset of #1 North Carolina before closing out the end of the season 1-3-1. 2014 started bad from the get-go and Louisville finished under .500.
Louisville's first loss this season came against a tough Marquette team at Lynn Stadium. The Cards were even with the Golden Eagles for much of the match, but let a controversial call get the best of them. From that point out the mental aspect of the game was no longer there for the ladies in red and white. The second loss was bad beginning with kickoff. Teammates were arguing with each other after Purdue took a 2-0 lead in the first half. The speedy Boilermakers held onto a 3-0 lead before UofL scored a pair of goals in the final minutes of the game.
The big plus on the season so far is the 3-1 win at Kentucky to give the Cards their first win over the Cats in seven years. Despite the downpour and muddy pitch the Cards pulled through and brought home the W.
ACC play starts over the weekend and Louisville is expected to finish in the bottom half of the conference standings again.
There are a few issues that need to be addressed in order to keep this season from falling apart like in past seasons:
1. Defensive Game Plan- Louisville's stout defense is known for playing high. The back line of defenders is often seen hanging around midfield over even on the far side. The midfielders and forwards spend a lot of time in the box. With the players up so high it pulls the goalkeeper way up too so she can captain the team. This game plan is great for an offensive mindset, but hurts against breakaways or speedy offenses, such as Purdue. The Boilermakers had a handful of one-on-ones against keeper Kouzelos.
2. Aggressiveness of Forwards- As a forward in soccer your mindset should always be about finding ways to score, especially on a fast break. Often times the forwards will slow up as they approach to the box to wait on assistance from a teammate instead of going strong to the goal. The midfield of Alison Price and Emina Ekic for Louisville have proven to be more aggressive. Ekic leads the team in goals with four.
3. Mental Focus- Both losses have been due to a lack of mental focus. The loss against Marquette came because the team could never get past the handball call that led to a penalty kick. The loss against Purdue saw more time spent arguing among one another instead of focusing on the game and how to win.
Although many signs point to the season close to crashing and burning there have been some bright sides to the season that show promise going forward:
1. Scorers- Eight different Cardinals have scored a goal with Ekic leading the way with four. Of those eight, four are new faces to the team with three being freshmen. Two of them are sophomores. With the amount of younger classmen scoring goals it shows potential for high scoring offenses in future years.
2. Health- For the most part the team has stayed healthy. Shelby Cohen is out for the season, but that's the only major injury to a roster of 24 players. Niamh Nelson is still recovering from a lower leg and foot injury but will be ready to play in a couple of weeks. Having a healthy lineup provides consistency with starters, as well as plenty of relief from the bench.
3. Strong Centerbacks- Despite the defensive struggles this year Louisville has two strong centerbacks in Gabi Vincent and Inger Katrine Bjerke. The pair have been a staple for the defense for ongoing three years. Their consistency has aided Louisville goalkeepers in numerous games and kept the Cards in tight games, giving them a chance to win.
Currently sitting at 5-2 my prediction of 6-2 before conference play looks to be pretty accurate, but the ACC portion of my women's soccer preview could be a tad bit off.