Watch out! It's an article by Case, and it's not a Saturday. That's the surprising part. The unsurprising part is that this article is going to be about soccer. With no games last night to recap, I figured I would take today to look at the women's soccer team at the midpoint of the season. There are only 7 of 17 regular season games remaining, so I'm a bit late, but a bit late is better than not at all. Let's get right into it.
Louisville sits at 9-1 on the season and at 3-0 in conference. Already, they have matched both win totals from last season. This is impressive. The Cards lost their defensive captain in Inger Katrine-Bjerke and their offensive leader in Alison Price. So many players have stepped into their places seamlessly that it would be like listing the entire starting lineup to do so. That is what has made this Louisville team good so far this year: teamwork. You cannot point at the additional development of any individual player as the cause for this season's success. Everyone from last season (and the freshman) has stepped up in a major way.
This shows in the stats sheets as well as the overall style of play. Louisville does their best when they string together possession and make the extra pass to open up scoring opportunities. So far this season, Louisville has scored 26 goals. 22 of those goals have been assisted. The Cards are moving the ball well, finding their spots on crosses, and not playing hero ball. For reference, the Cards scored only 27 goals all of last year. The 2017 statistics page is unavailable, so I can't find the exact assist numbers, but to only be behind the goal total by one with seven games remaining is impressive in and of itself. Of course, the 13 goals scored against Wright State and Eastern Kentucky help that number tremendously, but the ability to put up that kind of scoring volume speaks to itself.
With 7 games to go, Louisville sits at 9 points in conference. They finished last season with 11, 2 points out of a tie for 8th place with Boston College. I say this because there are only 8 teams that make the ACC tournament. Louisville finished 10th in the ACC last year, missing the ACC tournament because of it, and ultimately missing the NCAA tournament due to lack of noteworthy performances down the stretch. The Cards will have plenty of opportunities to show their mettle and prove they are worthy of a tournament bid. TopDrawerSoccer has taken notice, ranking the Cards 25th this week after listing them as "also considered" last week. They also named Brooklynn Rivers the player of the week for last week, as Jared pointed out yesterday. Finding yourself in the rankings is positive, staying there is key.
I mentioned how everyone has stepped up so far this season, but just saying so doesn't quite do it justice. Over the course of this year, 15 different players have seen their name called for the start. Of the 15, 9 players have started all 10 games. 12 players have seen action in every game, and 7 players have logged more than 800 minutes. Leading in minutes are Sarah Hernandez, a freshman (!!!!) centerback, with 912 and Niamh Nelson, the ever dependable left back, with 911. As best I can tell, those two have been on the field for every minute of every game, and I'm not sure where the discrepancy comes from in their total. Callie McKinney joins the two defenders in the 900 club, and they are the only three players with more minutes than goalkeeper, Gabrielle Kouzelos. The other three over 800 are the other two defenders, Gabrielle Vincent and Arianna Ferraro, and the other central midfielder, Nadege L'Esperance. These players have been putting their soul into this team so far and have not dropped off from a fitness standpoint. What appears to be a lack of depth in the defense may be something to watch, but the dependability of the four back-liners has been astounding.
Offense has been a bit more of a revolving door. No player I would classify as "offensive" has logged more than an hour per game average, including former freshman phenom, Emina Ekic. Ekic has still had a solid season, finding herself in fourth on the team with 6 points, but her shot percentage is way down, and she's not producing at the rate we may have expected. Fortunately, Coach Karen Ferguson-Dayes has recognized that Ekic may not be infallible and has been willing to substitute her, showing a propensity to put what is best for the team on the field at any given moment. I think, in the past, Coach KFD has been more focused on having the most talented players on the field at all times, even when those players are not having their best nights.
Brooklynn Rivers has been as dominant as we could expect, but she has been surprisingly matched by a freshman, Maisie Whitsett. The two are tied atop the team with 18 points, but Rivers has been arguably the MVP, with 4 game winning goals (out of 7) to Whitsett's 3 (out of 8). While Louisville has won 9 games, only 8 of them have been credited with game winning goals, and Rivers and Whitsett account for 7 of those. The two aren't usually on the field at the same time, but I'd be interested to see what a formation change that allows the two of them to play together at the top might bring. Then again, they say "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." It doesn't appear to be "broke" so far.
Pacing the team-based offense I mentioned earlier has been Allison Whitfield, who leads the team with 5 assists. Whitfield has been playing in a much wider role than in the past and has been flourishing. She has enough speed and physicality to get around edge defenders, and Coach KFD trusts her to play on both sides of the field. She's creative with the ball and has exceptional placement with her crosses. Whitfield has been key in breaking down defenses, whether she's creating the final scoring chance or not, and that will need to continue for this team to see additional success late in the season.
Louisville has 7 conference games remaining before the conference tournament. One win will surpass their total for both overall and conference play last season and beat their points total from last season. Adding a couple of additional results to that next win should secure a spot into the conference tournament for the Cards. Unfortunately, the schedule is no pushover from here on out. Of seven games remaining, four come against teams ranked ahead of Louisville in this week's TDS poll. Louisville is lucky to avoid Boston College and Florida State this season, or the number of ranked teams would only increase.
The big one-two punch comes in the next two games for Louisville. Saturday, the Cards will be in Chapel Hill to take on the fifth ranked Tar Heels. After that, they'll get less than a week to recover before taking on the third ranked Cavaliers of Virginia in Lynn Stadium. If the Cards can get out of those two games with at least one result, I'll be both shocked and ecstatic. My sights are set on the game following Virginia, against a lowly Miami squad at home on October 7th. The team will be coming off of a fairly short turnaround following the Virginia game, and confidence may be low. As I said, I'd be thrilled with a result from one of the next two matches, but I don't expect one. Miami will be an opportunity for Louisville to turn things around and get their confidence back. They absolutely cannot afford to come out with low confidence, play down to their opponent, and leave points on the table in a home match against a lower opponent.
After Miami, Louisville heads to North Carolina again for three straight road games against Wake Forest, Duke, and NC State (the latter two of which are currently ranked). This will be a brutal road trip, but the Cards should come out of it with points. Wake is a middling team, and the Cards should be able to hold up against the Blue Devils and Wolfpack. Finally, the Cards return home for senior night against Virginia Tech on October 25th. VT is another middling team in conference, and that will be the final opportunity to pick up points heading into the tournament. Hopefully, Louisville will be jockeying for seeding and not inclusion for the ACC tournament, but we never know how the rest of this season will turn out.
I'm looking forward to the rest of this season. I think that this Cardinal team is legit, and they have the talent and fortitude to make noise in the ACC regular season, ACC tournament, and potentially even the NCAA tournament. Let me know what you think about the Cards thus far and their potential for the rest of the year in the comments below.
Until next time, Go Cards!