It was Senior Night for the Miami Hurricanes as they hosted the Virginia Cavaliers on Thursday. ‘Twas a strange choice, choosing UVA for the family celebrations when they had hosted a much weaker Boston College team over the weekend. Wouldn’t you much rather celebrate your seniors against a foe you’re much more likely to defeat (which Miami did) than against the 8th ranked Cavaliers? Or, perhaps the rationale was that the emotion of the night would buttress the team and provide a needed spark for the battle against the perennially stronger Virginia.
If the latter was the thinking of head coach Sarah Barnes, the plan worked to a T. Miami has finished in the bottom three of the ACC for at least the last six years; they are quite simply not in Virginia’s class. But on this night, they played Virginia hard and actually had as many good shots as the ‘Hoos.
Miami came out determined to defend deep, presumably looking to catch Virginia on the counter. The Hurricanes were patient and for the most part, they picked their spots well, with their first good chance coming just four minutes into the game. Miami’s Chloe O’Neil, from outside the box, struck a nice shot that Virginia keeper Cayla White parried over the bar. They would have four or five more possessions that could have been dangerous, but the gulf in class between Miami and UVA was apparent on their final ball, which many times was atrocious.
Virginia scored the only goal of the night twelve minutes in. Lia Godfrey, who was probably the player of the match, drove the ball into the box and crossed to Haley Hopkins, who bobbled the ball before pushing it back out to Godfrey. Godfrey brought the ball out, pushed to Samar Guidry who crossed it to Hopkins. Hopkins pushed the ball back out to a waiting Alexa Spaanstra who struck the ball wonderfully on the half volley.
It would prove decisive.
For the remainder of the half, Miami was content to stay back, and as I said, they countered well but they had nothing to show for it.
The second half was a different story. I’m betting Sarah Barnes reminded her troops that the next 45 minutes were the last minutes of the season, the last minutes of her seniors’ careers. (Miami is going to neither the ACC tournament nor the NCAA tournament.) The next 45 minutes were for all the marbles, as it were. Virginia had a great chance one minute in – Hopkins blazed a long range shot inches high – but for the first 15 minutes, the game was Miami’s.
They brought a high line and pressed Virginia deep, and to be frank, we didn’t look good and we struggled to get the ball out of our own half. Miami got a corner seven minutes in, and it kind of felt like a goal was imminent. Plus, we suck at defending corners. Gabriella Rusek hit a lovely, looping corner just out of White’s reach and Hopkins had a great clearance, heading the ball all the way out of the box.
Sports fans of a certain age may remember Gregg Easterbrook’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, but he often wrote of “hidden plays” to secure the outcome of a game. Hopkins’ clearance was one such hidden play.
It would take another 10 minutes before Virginia climbed back into the driver’s seat, slowed the game down, and started running the ‘Canes. And, not coincidentally, it happened as Virginia head coach Steve Swanson brought Jill Flammia in for Godfrey, and then secondly moved Claire Constant up to center mid, taking Alexis Theoret out of the game.
Godfrey is a wonderful player who has a great motor and is always going to drive the ball on goal, but she may not be the best midfielder to have when you are trying to hold the ball and take some air out of the game. Flammia might be better suited for this task. And it’s not like the offense is going to suffer when Jill is on the pitch for because plays a great through ball. (I would’ve loved to see her paired with Rebecca Jarrett because I have never felt we played enough balls through the channel for Jarrett to run onto.) Flammia had an exquisite deep pass to Hopkins late in the game. Flammia is going to be a star, and at this moment, I think she fit Virginia’s need better than Godfrey.
Theoret for her part, was largely anonymous this first 15 minutes of the second half. I don’t know if it is causation or correlation, but some of Virginia’s worst soccer this month has occurred when she’s been this anonymous. I wasn’t watching closely enough to determine if she was not showing for her teammates or if they were simply bypassing her, but we’ve lost control of midfield multiple times this season when she’s not touching the ball. Constant was much more effective as Virginia wrestled control back of the game.
In any event, Virginia secured the win. With the win, coupled with Duke’s tie with Notre Dame, Virginia claims the fourth spot in the ACC standings and gets to host Duke this Sunday evening at Klöckner. Had Duke won, Virginia would have had to travel to Durham. A hearty shout-out to Notre Dame’s Korbin Albert for the equalizer. The winner of Virginia vs Duke will advance to play UNC, the ACC’s regular season champion. For the record, Virginia beat both teams.
Injury Notes: Sarah Clark started again today ahead of Laney Rouse. When Rouse did play, she looked tentative, and a bit slow, actually. We’re going to need her speed.
Kudos to the ‘Canes: Miami honored their seniors by painting their numbers on the field. I think it’s a great touch.