An Early Prediction of the Starting Lineup
As we're in the heart of the 2019 Women's World Cup and the first game of Louisville's season is only 56 days away, I figured today would be a good day to take an early look at how the Louisville lineup may shake out this year. Jared touched on it a bit with his Wednesday article about returners, but Karen Ferguson-Dayes squad is in a good shape as far as holes to fill go. Without further ado, let's go group by group through my anticipated starters for the upcoming season.
This one is pretty simple. Gabby Kouzelos is going to get the start in goal. The junior started every game for the Cards last season and gave up only 20 goals in 19 games. If you eliminate the 5 goal game against North Carolina, Kouzelos' sparkling 0.83 Goals Against Average in the other 18 games is plenty to look forward to. Of course, the defense will have an effect on defensive and goalscoring statistics, but Kouzelos will be strong between the pipes. Senior Lana Batson will figure to be the primary backup, as the only other minutes-earning keeper last season.
Defense is the only position group looking to fill a starting position with last season's graduation of Gaby Vincent. Kennadi Carbin graduated as well, but was medically ineligible for the majority of the season. Carbin's contributions will be missed, but not like Vincent's. Louisville's 2018 roster listed only six defenders and the four starters--Vincent, Niamh Nelson, Arianna Ferraro, and Sarah Hernandez--were all top six in minutes on the team. Nelson and Hernandez each played greater than 1,710 minutes, the number of available minutes if each game in the season went only regulation length. The four started every game and played almost every minute, barring injury.
With Vincent's departure, and no freshmen yet on the roster, the 2019 roster shows only three defenders: Nelson, Ferraro, and Bailey Florek. However, Sarah Hernandez is listed as a midfielder, and I find it hard to believe that the player that led the team in minutes last season, playing every one of her 1,722 minutes at center back, would be changing position. Florek is a senior, and did not log a single minute last season. Her contributions to the team to this point have been limited, but she could be available to provide assistance to the defense, depending on who else can take over.
My guess would be that a freshman fills the second center back spot. Maisie Whitsett played in the position during some spring games, but that is unlikely to stick, as you don't want one of your top goal scorers playing the position on the field that earns the fewest opportunities to score. Niamh Nelson will likely play left back, with the unnamed freshman beside her at left center. Arianna Ferraro will be at right back with Hernandez picking up the fourth defensive spot. Coach Ferguson-Dayes may flip the two centerbacks, but my guess is that Hernandez will be beside Ferraro due to Ferraro's penchant for advancing in attack. Hernandez will provide a more experienced defensive presence in case she is left alone on that side.
The real fear will be next season for the defense. Without very many defenders on the roster, the two wingbacks being seniors is cause for a bit of concern. Fortunately, midfielders can be turned into wingbacks a lot more easily than they can be turned into centerbacks, but I am not looking forward to losing Ferraro and Nelson.
As you might have guessed, without very many defenders, the team is flush with midfielders and forwards. Louisville played two common formations last season, a 4-5-1 and a 4-4-2. I've already named four defenders, because I don't see a reason for the team to change that part of the lineup, but the next part is a bit confusing. There are a lot of different ways Louisville can line up, even within those two formations. I'm going to go ahead and name this a 4-4-2 because of the way I see a particular player being utilized, but there could be a different philosophy on the Louisville sideline.
I'm not having to take a lot of chances with this lineup, as the ten players I'm naming (remember, I don't have freshman on the roster) were all over 1,000 minutes. That said, there will be some players knocking on the door for playing time, and it would be foolish for them not to get it. Fortunately, in collegiate soccer, substitution rules are a bit more relaxed than at the professional level, so we will see plenty of rotation.
Two players that will be guaranteed to start in the midfield are Callie McKinney and Emina Ekic. Ekic will play the primary attacking midfield role, what many in professional soccer call the "number 10". Any attacks that go through a typical build up process will go through Ekic. She was Co-Freshman of the Year in the ACC in 2017 and was named to the All-ACC first team in 2018. McKinney earned the third most minutes on the team last season playing in the defensive midfield role. Might she be an under the radar candidate for moving to the centerback position? I guess we'll see.
Since we're going with a four player midfield, the other two players will be our "wings". Senior Allison Whitfield will play one of these wing positions as she has for her entire career. Whitfield has struggled a bit with injuries, but her contributions on the field can't be understated. She tied for the team lead in assists last season with seven while starting only 13 games. If Whitfield can stay healthy, her chemistry with the rest of the offense will pay dividends this season. On the other side, Nadege L'Esperance will round out the midfield. L'Esperance is not a natural wing, but she was a key part of the midfield last season and I can't imagine her not seeing the field in every game.
Louisville's offense will be one to watch next season. The two players that will be deployed as the goal scorers for the Cards next year combined for 17 goals and 9 assists in 2018. Maisie Whitsett and Brooklynn Rivers are scoring forces. With the combination of speed and height, both can make the most of opportunities, whether running onto long balls or attacking crosses in front of goal. Whitsett is the wildcard in this lineup, as she is listed as a midfielder on the roster. She may be deployed as the second wing in a five player midfield, pushing L'Esperance into the center where she thrives as a link between the defense and the attack. If either Whitsett or Rivers have improved their endurance and defensive ability, they could very easily move to that second wing position.
The player that hasn't been listed in this lineup, but will be fighting to get on the field is Delaney Snyder. Snyder had the most minutes on the team outside of the starters last year with 3 goals and an assist. She can play as a direct forward, or in the same position midfield position as Ekic. I imagine that Snyder will be the super sub next season, playing in whichever position is available.
In case you can't tell, I'm pretty excited for this next year at Lynn Stadium. Barring the question mark (a pretty big one) at centerback, Louisville's roster is constructed almost entirely of the same pieces that was quite successful last season. I'm anticipating a big year for the Cards, and I hope you'll join me at a few matches to root them on.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour
Paulie is out this week, but we're trucking on for the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour. I'll be joined by Jeff and Jared at the very least, with a chance for an appearance by the one and only Daryl Foust. Join us as we get into the real summer break, and I bring an obscenely difficult quiz to the show. I apologize in advance. Tune in to WCHQ at 11AM as we bring the joy and excitement of Louisville women's athletics. The Cardinal Couple Radio Hour is available at 100.9 FM, the WHCQ App, wchqfm.com, or on Facebook Live.
Until next time, Go Cards!