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Soccer Poet

The Splits

So Friday night was interesting.  The Dawgs had a bit of a knock-down, drag-out with the Kentucky Wildcats.  In the end the best we could manage was a 1-1 draw.  You know, as the game was being played I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the way we were performing.  Not that we were awful… just thought we looked a little lackluster.  But now having had the chance to watch the video, as it turns out, we were actually pretty darn good.  As a matter of fact, in terms of moving the ball and playing with urgency, it may have been our best performance of the year.  I was as surprised as anyone, but when you see it on the big screen, there’s evidence that we can do some pretty good stuff.

What the video doesn’t adequately capture is the mood of the game and that’s what made this one different.  It was far and away our most physical game of the year and Kentucky was far and away the chippiest opponent we’ve faced.  They’ve got a couple of players that like to stir the pot and that gave Friday’s game its edge.

We were pretty proud of putting together consecutive shutouts to open SEC play, including a 110-minute whitewash of Arkansas.  Well Kentucky didn’t take long to stomp out that small fire as they opened the scoring in the 11thminute.  Okay, giving up any goal is going to irritate me, but my degrees of irritation are directly proportional to certain external factors.  To begin with, I can’t stand giving up the game’s first goal.  The job of our defense is to give our team a chance to win.  When the opponent scores first all we’ve given our attackers is a hole to climb out of.  Also, I get particularly agitated by goals that are generated from a pass that splits a pair of defenders and that’s what gave the Wildcats the early lead.  It wasn’t the most cosmetic attack, but in the end Chewy got caught one step too wide and the ball pinballed its way into the seam between her and Torri.  We have a book of defending here at Georgia.  Literally.  It’s called How We Defend and at the top of our list of commandments is that We Don’t Get Split.  Never.  Not Ever.  Well, now you know why.  The most dangerous pass in soccer is one that splits a pair of defenders and of the nine goals we’ve conceded, 3 of them (Duke, Santa Clara and Kentucky) have been the result of a ball that splits us.  To be fair, one of our forwards was more to blame for the Santa Clara split, but it bears mentioning because it ended up in our net anyway.  Bad things happen when you get split.  That’s just how it is.

Despite dropping the early goal we continued to press UK and in the 39thminute Alexa Newfield equalized.  Locandro held the ball back to goal at the top of the Wildcat 18 and laid a soft and inviting pass back directly into Newfield’s stride.  From 25 yards Newfield smacked a low, blistering tracer rocket that sped into the Kentucky goal and we went to the half level at 1-1.

There’s a bit of a pattern emerging in our games.  We keep the ball very well in the first half and we use 18 players or so to do it.  But it’s not until that second half rolls around that you really notice the effects.  It’s sorta like a soccer grenade.  In the second stanza the opponent doesn’t have quite the legs or the spirit to chase with the same vigor as when the game began.  We keep doing the same things, but at times it just gets a lot easier.  The opponent’s pressure decreases, the size of passing lanes increase, and we normally have rested legs running our races.  The second half of the UK match was a pretty good example.  The second half started and we were just plain good.  We were pinging the ball around with impunity and creating a lot of chances.  We had a glorious chance to take the lead in the first few minutes but Eddy’s shot from six yards was deflected by the keeper onto the bar and out of play. It was a heckuva save by the keeper, but man would I like to have a do-over on that one.

The majority of the second half looked pretty good for the Dawgs.  We didn’t give up possession cheaply and we occasionally opened up their defense to create a decent chance.  It’s just that lately we haven’t been too clinical about finishing those suckers.

Kentucky’s attack sprung to life in the final ten minutes and they had two good chances, the better of which was turned off the line by Torri Allen.  Torri is a freshman whose improvement since the first day of camp has been astonishing.  Last night I’d reckon she was one of our two best players.

Every Tuesday or Wednesday night I meet with the defenders and we go over some video clips of our weekend matches.  No player has endured more ‘teaching moments’ than Torri.  The toughest clips for her to watch were from our weekend in California.  In each of the two games there was one moment where the opponent’s attack had advanced beyond Torri, meaning that they had the ball between Torri and our goal.  In both those instances Torri suffered from a not uncommon ailment among young defenders – instead of sprinting back into the play she became a fixated spectator coasting back toward our goal area.  So I pointed those moments out and told her that jogging was unacceptable.  And to hammer home the point we took her out of the starting line-up for the Charleston match.  The reason I tell you that is to tell you this…

In the first half against Kentucky there was an almost identical situation.  Torri was caught out about 40 yards in front of our goal as the ball got played into a UK attacker in a higher position.  The attacker combined a teammate in behind our defense and the kid was going to have a great look at goal.  Except this time Torri didn’t spectate.  This time she immediately turned and sprinted and a few seconds later she dismantled a UK breakaway opportunity inside our 18.  It was amazing to see how quickly Torri ran her down.  Torri has explosive pace but without the work rate reflex it wouldn’t have mattered.  With the work rate, well, let’s just say in that moment it mattered a lot.

So anyway, we dodged a late bullet and headed to overtime knotted at 0-0.  OT couldn’t produce a winner and in the end we settled for a frustrating 1-1 tie.  Two consecutive draws means we desperately need to take three points in tomorrow’s match against Vandy.  Florida and South Carolina are inching away from us and we need a win to keep pace.  Such is life in the SEC.