I’ve been covering Virginia sports for seven years now and my one dictum is that I don’t do previews. Because I suck at predictions. 17-year old me loudly proclaimed that Curtis Hunter was going to be the next Michael Jordan. Nay, he would be even better than Jordan. Clearly, I was, umm, misguided. But I learned from my personal humiliation, and carrying that forward, I’ve resolved I typically won’t do previews for Streaking The Lawn.
But… If I had written a preview for the Virginia women’s soccer team, it would have started out something like this:
The Virginia Cavaliers have to be on the short list of teams that can realistically harbor hopes of winning the national championship. Returning a trio of COVID super seniors – Alexa Spaanstra, Rebecca Jarrett and Claire Constant – and folding in the 9th best recruiting class in the country, the Cavaliers are loaded.
Well, it was a disastrous week for a team that I thought should contend for the national title. After giving up a 45th second goal (it still hurts to write that) and unable to find an equalizer despite dominating play versus Florida State, the Cavs hoped to rebound against the moribund Syracuse Orange on Sunday. Syracuse, before the game, sat at the bottom of the ACC table with just one win (against fellow bottom-dweller, Miami.) If there was a graphic representation of where the two programs sit, it is this:
The Syracuse schedule ends after the last game of the regular season (October 27th vs NC State.) Virginia’s schedule reflects the presumption that they will go to the ACC tournament and then, subsequently, the NCAA championship.
Against Syracuse, Virginia made it all the way to the second minute before conceding another early goal. Trying, and failing, to play the ball out of the back (this was going to be a theme on the day) the ball fell to Pauline Machtens who sent a looping cross to the center of the Virginia box. Laney Rouse tried to clear the ball, but it shanked off her left foot and rolled into the goal.
Unlike the Florida State game, Virginia did not come roaring back. Two minutes later, they got their first corner, but tried a short corner. You would think a possession-oriented team like Virginia would be better at short corners, but the ‘Hoos are shockingly poor at them. On this corner, the fourth pass was a long pass back to Samar Guidry at the half way line. That was a squandered opportunity. UVA wouldn’t fare much better on what should have been a pair of dangerous free kicks. In the second half Lia Godfrey would misfire on two free kicks. The first, from 25 yards out, she sent 8 – 10’ above the goal. The second, maybe from 35 yards, she sent knee-high into the defensive line.
Virginia seemed sluggish for much of the first half. It was clear that head coach Steve Swanson, after the FSU loss, had instructed his charges to move the ball quicker, especially when changing the point of attack. Central defenders Talia Staude and Lacy McCormack both brought the ball out of the back at pace, and Guidry and Rouse were both quicker getting the ball off their feet. But it didn’t help.
17 minutes into the half, Godfrey led a great fast break, but she outran her coverage and ended up 1 v 3 at the top of the box and had to turn back. Two minutes later, on another fast break, Godfrey held the ball too long and when she finally made the pass over the top to Haley Hopkins, Hopkins was offside. Everybody was out of sync.
So, it was little surprise to me that Virginia’s equalizer would come from a solo effort, and even less surprising that it came from Maggie Cagle. It was textbook Cagle. She got the ball out past the right corner of the box, drove at the goal, but toward her left, split two defenders (and left a third in the dust) and fired the ball into the far left corner. Cagle took it upon herself to score in this instance. She had teammates in the box, but this was all on her. Cagle may not be as good a dribbler as Godfrey or as quick as Spaanstra, but she is much more direct and she’s putting more pressure on the back line than Lia or Alexa.
24' | UVA 1, SU 1— Virginia Women's Soccer (@UVAWomenSoccer) October 9, 2022
Maggie Cagle ties it up!
The freshman gets herself past a defender and drills the shot across the face of the goal in past the back post.#GoHoos ⚔️ | #ALLIN⚽️ pic.twitter.com/6RrDAZRrDZ
Over the next ten minutes, Swanson brought in Chloe Japic and Jill Flammia, and then Maya Carter, and the second unit did provide a bit of a spark. Japic sent in a great cross, Carter scored on a breakaway (she was offsides) and she put a lovely shot on goal. With three minutes left in the half, a Sarah Clark corner found Staude, whose header beat the keeper but was cleared off the line.
So the half ended with the score tied, but Virginia was in control of the game. Virginia is just better than Syracuse and the bench had provided the spark.
Coming out in the second half, Flammia again replaced Emma Dawson as the starting right midfielder and as I was pondering whether Flammia had succeeded in displacing Dawson from the starting unit, she finished a great counter that had begun with Guidry on the left. Guidry drove the ball to the right where Cagle went baseline and crossed it to Flammia, who made no mistake.
2 – 1 to the good guys and it looked like Virginia was going to break the game open. Guidry found Hopkins for a gorgeous header (good save by the keeper) and then Spaanstra found Carter (an even better save from the keeper.) Cagle was putting on a show with a pair of strong drives and nice shots.
And when Cagle came out, she was replaced by Meredith McDermott who made this run:
That is a great run. McDermott clearly wanted the ball and she blew by three defenders. I’m going to use it for video sessions with my middle school team. But she whiffed. And Virginia blew a chance to put this game to bed.
This is the third time in six games that Virginia has had a clear 1 v 1 with the keeper, out in front of the defense by a step or two, with time on the ball, and yet failed to bury the ball in the back of the net. And UVA has now dropped four points as a result.
But at the other end of the field, Virginia was laboring to play the ball out of the back as Syracuse refused to go away. With 12 minutes left, Swanson had seen enough, and rather than let the second team finish the game, as he no doubt would have preferred, Swanson brought back his starters.
With two minutes left, keeper Kayla White played a poor ball out to McCormack, who I don’t think was expecting it. McCormack made a poor adjustment, and Pauline Machtens forced the turnover. She drove to goal and shot, which White parried away, but right to the on-rushing Koby Commandant (what an awesome name) who fired home the equalizer.
A goal surrendered in the first two minutes. And then in the last two minutes. Virginia now sits sixth in the ACC and the stirring comeback against UNC and the win at Duke are suddenly fading in the rear view mirror. Fortunately, Virginia plays two of the three teams sitting immediately behind them in the standings – Virginia Tech and Wake Forest – so Virginia clearly has the ability to create their own space for themselves. But Virginia has yet to string together three strong performances in a row against quality opponents this season. There are four games left and it’s going to be a dog fight for the Cavs to clinch a spot in the ACC tournament.
Next Up: Virginia travels to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech on Thursday, 13 October. Game time is 8:00pm and the game is on the ACC Network.