After 189 offensively-empty minutes spent at Finnesey Field this weekend, the Saint Joseph’s women’s soccer team’s problems have become quite obvious. Overall the Hawks are a solid team, but their undoing is a stagnant offense that doesn’t look ready to withstand the rigors of Atlantic 10 play.
Their system amounts essentially to a 4-3-3 highlighted by one center forward and two wing forwards leading the attack. The offense largely relies on balls played into the central striker and runs made by the wing forwards and overlapping midfielders off that possession. It’s a system borne out of necessity by a lack of space for midfielders to attack the center of the pitch and a lack of quality service from wide players.
But the ability to succeed with this system requires, well, a lot more running. The Hawks are often caught flat-footed and unable to latch onto passes played through. There are a lot of people waiting around for something to happen instead of actively making something happen. When those unexpected opportunities do arise, a St. Joe’s player is usually a step slow to the ball.
The Hawks are a side that has some very good talent. Jen Pfeiffer, ’12, is a proven goal scorer, as is Maggie Lupinski, ’12. Lupinski, Lauren Sawyer, ’11, and Sandra Mackey, ’12, the wing forwards logging the most time, are strong with the ball in their feet, provided they get the opportunities. The midfield trio of Danielle DeBernardo, ’10, Steph Lawall, ’12, and Carly Salter, ’11, show creativity and play-making ability.
The defense has been stellar, as their current 219-minute shutout streak attests. The central defense partnership of Sarah O’Malley, ’10, and Kayleigh Summers, ’12, has been excellent, and the back four that also includes Kaitlyn Grimes, ’11, and Brooke Price, ’11, was on the field for all 200 minutes last weekend with the exception of the 12-minute break Price got against Syracuse.
Christine Neal, ’13, has been a star so far, holding three clean sheets already. But the dependence on an 18-year-old goalkeeper is not a recipe that is going to yield consistent success. The defense is solid, but far from infallible, and reliance on it may prove to be a problem eventually.
Offensively, there’s something missing in the whole equation, though, that accounts for the 285 minutes of futility Lupinski ended with her strike against Syracuse (and a beauty it was). Her goal, along with the increase in the level of attack before and after it, shows that St. Joe’s are capable of producing offensive outbursts.
Prior to the goal, the team’s best chance came in the 78th minute when Grimes, in a rare foray upfield, fed Sawyer on the left wing. Sawyer then let go a tantalizing ball across the face of goal that Pfeiffer was just a step short of at the near post and was corralled by the goalie before getting to Lupinski at the far post. But their ability to spread the field and run at the holes in the defense was promising.
A minute later, basically the same situation arose on the other side of the pitch with Lupinski. She elected to take it to the inside and unleash a shot that found the back of the net, but again she benefitted from a stretched defense thanks to a quick change in the point of attack through Lauren Sutcliffe, ’10, and runs by others creating space.
The same story was true in the 82nd, when Lupinski let go of another cross that Sawyer met squarely, stinging the hands of the ’Cuse keeper before Sutcliffe put the rebound over the bar.
The St. Joe’s offense could use to take a lesson from its own defense. The movement by O’Malley and Summers to aggressively cut off moves before they become problems is a big part of their success. A similarly proactive approach by the Hawks’ attack that takes the game to the opposing backline would be wise to adopt.
The bottom line is that this year’s St. Joe’s squad has the potential to put up big offensive numbers. Whether or not they have the wherewithal to work and do it consistently may be a completely different issue.
-Matthew De George ’10