Following a week in which Virginia surrendered a goal in the first 45 seconds (FSU) and then goals in the 2nd and 88th minutes (Syracuse) it was all hands on deck. To do my part, I grabbed my lucky stadium cup from first year. I drank from it during many a win in Ralph Sampson’s final year, as well as for the Don Majkowski/Jim Dombrowski offense that took the Virginia Cavaliers to their first ever bowl game (and win). It didn’t help. Virginia allowed Virginia Tech to equalize with 39 seconds remaining.
In the six years now that I have been able to watch every game for these women, this is the worst skid that I’ve seen. And all things considered, losing to Florida State even after the ‘Hoos out-played them, and then drawing twice in the ever-rugged ACC, is not awful. How many teams in the country would love to be able to say that this constituted the worst three-game slide in six years? Just about all of them. But there is something off about this team and I’m not sure if head coach Steve Swanson knows what strings to pull.
More goals are conceded (at least at the professional level) in the first five minutes, and the last five minutes, of each half. I think that is because one team is markedly less focused than the other, attention wanes, and mistakes are made. This Virginia team, in the month of October, is losing the plot.
Virginia huffed and puffed around the field for most of the first half and they struggled a bit with Tech’s physicality. The Hokies would earn a pair of yellow cards on the night (and could easily have picked up a third) and even on plays where they didn’t foul, the tackles were hard and the Cavs were slow to pick themselves off the deck afterwards.
The starting midfield of Lia Godfrey, Alexis Theoret and Emma Dawson failed to control the middle of field. For the third game in a row, it probably took 15 – 18 minutes for Theoret to get more than just a couple of touches. There seems to be an emerging consensus on how to defend Godfrey. She’s a wonderful dribbler, but she’s holding onto the ball too long. If the defense keeps pressure on her from behind, but has the pace to not allow Godfrey to separate, she’s less likely now to give it up and the defensive line can step up at the edge of the penalty box to snuff out her run.
I’m also not sure that the team has learned how to play with Haley Hopkins, who moves much wider across the pitch than her immediate predecessors, instead of Meg McCool and Diana Ordonez. Hopkins is also much better about coming back to receive the ball and she’s stronger in the middle of the pitch than McCook and Ordonez. Which would seem to be a strength, wouldn’t it? Having a more mobile central striker with good finishing skills? But I suspect Haley’s involvement in the buildup is as a result of the midfield struggling to assert its usual dominance.
Virginia Tech drew first blood with about 15 minutes left in the first half. Tech’s Natalie Mitchell, almost by force of will, won a corner kick. If you have paid attention the past month, you know where this is going. Emmalee Carter drove in a beautiful corner that Virginia keeper Kayla White could only palm away, directly to a wiiiide open Taylor Price, who headed the ba;; home. Seriously, there’s a ring of six Cavaliers around her and no one able to make the play.
That is now the third goal given up from a corner in UVA’s last five games. The team is digging a big hole by giving up a goal like that every other game.
And the deficit could have been much worse. With two minutes remaining in the first half, Allie George slipped behind the Virginia line and had the entire goal in front of her, and she skied the shot. The Wahoo players knew how lucky they were as they trudged off the field: it should have been a goal.
Swanson must have given another miracle talk at the half because it only took Virginia four minutes to equalize. Alexa Spaanstra, just inside the half, slipped a lovely ball to Jill Flammia (who again started the second half). The Tech keeper inexplicably came out of the box to try and make a play – while it was a great pass and Flammia had great movement on the run, there was defensive support – and Flammia slipped past her and slotted home on an empty goal.
On the ensuing kickoff, Spaanstra forced a bad back pass that Hopkins pounced on and turned in for the goal. In 13 seconds, Virginia had taken the lead and the wind had been knocked out of the Hokies fans.
Tech’s play suffered as well. Over the next four minutes, once out of desperation (maybe) and once out of frustration (definitely), Tech picked up a couple of yellow cards. The Hokies were fouling stupidly and recklessly and just 10 minutes after the Hopkins goal, they fouled again. Theoret hit a lovely free kick direct to Hopkins who scored her second of the game. With 30 minutes left, it was 3 – 1 and Virginia was cruising.
But this was a rivalry game and, where the Hokies should have just slunk off, they didn’t. Against the run of play, with 10 minutes remaining, Tech forced three bad touches in a row from the Virginia defense, and Tori Powell and Emma Pelkowski combined to slip the ball to Taylor Bryan who fired it past Kayla White. It was 3 – 2 and suddenly we had a ball game. The fans came back to life and, to give them credit, it didn’t seem like many had taken the opportunity to leave. This is what makes college games so great: the students cared and they provided the soundtrack for the comeback.
Momentum is a strange thing. Like gravity, we all know it when we see it, but it is so very hard to quantify. Obviously, a second goal was going to lift the Hokies’ spirits, but Virginia surprisingly crumpled. With five minutes left, Hopkins tried to burn time by taking the ball to the corner. It was too early and she was all alone. While I definitely approve of the strategy, I think it works better with two players as there are more legs for the ball to ping pong off of, and for the offense to maintain possession. Needless to say, Hopkins’ foray just turned into a relatively quick turnover. Two minutes later, Godfrey tried the same thing on the opposite side with the same result: another quick turnover.
Farther back up the field, when Virginia got the ball in their defensive third, they’d just boot the ball away. The ‘Hoos were in siege mentality and, for this season, it was inevitable that they would crack. If this were basketball, the coach would have long called a timeout (or two) to get the team to regroup, to slow the adrenaline surge of the opponents. But soccer allows for no such timeouts, it’s why it’s such a great game: the players have to figure it. On their own. In real time. With no help.
With 39 freakin’ seconds left in the game, Taylor Brian ran across the goal as the ball was fed to her. Samar Guidry was with her step by step, but Brian made a great low shot that White was able to get her hands on, but couldn’t stop. If I’m being uncharitable, it was a shot that White should have saved. But the goal is huge. It’s 8 yards wide and 8 feet high. It was a great run and a great shot. Hats off to Taylor Brian.
Virginia still sits sixth in the ACC table, but both Clemson and Wake Forest have a game in hand and, as a reminder, only the top 6 teams make the ACC tournament. Virginia hosts Wake next week, so they can do some damage but, then, I said that about this game. If this were a pro team, I would be expecting a “players only” meeting about now. The team captains are Rebecca Jarrett and Emma Dawson. The ball is in your court, ladies.
Next Up: The Cavaliers get a full week off before hosting Wake Forest at Klöckner next Thursday at 7:00pm. The game will be on the ACC Network.