Louisville Downs Cincinnati in Final Tune-up 2-0
On a beautiful almost fall-like evening, Louisville women's soccer welcomed the Cincinnati Bearcats to Dr. Mark and Cindy Lynn Stadium to reopen the field for the 2022 season. The crowd was lively with the weather nearly perfect, which made it feel more like a regular season match than the first home exhibition. Admission was free (and will be all season), which certainly helps bring the fans out. What will also help bring the fans out is winning games, which Louisville did last night.
Let's go ahead and get into the lineup and the formation, because it wasn't exactly what I expected. For the first time since maybe the departure of Niemh Nelson, the Cards have returned to a traditional 4-4-2 look. It has worked well for Louisville over the years, but the personnel just hasn't been there to continue it recently. At least for last night, it appears to be back on the menu. Hopefully the team can continue to solidify that shape, as it is a very flexible formation given the talent in certain positions. Recently the Cards have employed a 5-3-2 and have gone so far as to make that a 5-4-1 in extremely defensive games. I'm not a fan of parking the bus when the game hasn't even started, so hopefully the removal of overtime--which effectively removes the opportunity to "steal" a win--will help Louisville play more traditionally and consistently regardless of opponent.
A few players moved around given the formation change, including Maisie Whitsett. If you'll recall the conversation last week, I suspected we'd see the super senior alongside her classmate in the middle of the defensive line. No, says KFD, as she has moved back to her original position at the front of the formation, taking one of the forward roles. In her place next to Sarah Hernandez was freshman Karsyn Cherry. Cherry played well in the position and, while she gave up a run or two due to mistakes, was part of the line that held Cincinnati to just one shot in the game while playing all 90 minutes. She also picked up Louisville's second goal on a corner kick set piece. In the outside full back positions we saw the expected in Ravin Alexander and the slightly unexpected in Anouk Denton. Denton is listed as a defender, so it's not completely out of nowhere (Alexander is a forward), but we expected to see her as more of a defensive midfielder. However, since there is no true DM role in a 4-4-2, she took the fullback spot. As we saw last night, Alexander and Denton have free rein on outside runs if they're there, so her offensive opportunities aren't completely lost.
Three other newcomers started for the Cards: Lizzie Sexton, Patricia Ward, and Erynn Floyd. Sexton was quiet, playing all 90 minutes in one of the central midfield positions, but she did finish with a shot on frame. Both center midfielders played all 90 minutes actually, with Savina Zamborini stepping into that role as well. They had identical stat lines with one shot, on frame, and no fouls. Patricia Ward started in one of the wing positions opposite Morgan Bentley and gave Louisville good opportunities around the outside. I expected to see a bit more long passes to the corners with the speed Louisville had on the wings with Ward, Bentley, and freshman Emerson Jennings subbing on, but perhaps that will come.
Erynn Floyd got the start in goal, though it is tough to say whether that was a position won or a coin flip given the way the game played out. Neither Floyd nor Alyssa Zalac (who played the entirety of the second half) were credited with a save as Cincinnati's only shot was off frame. Both played the fifth defender position well enough, providing outlets for the defense when necessary and claiming balls that they needed to. Zalac was put in a couple of more disadvantageous positions with some of the back passes, but nothing was too threatening. I'll be interested to see that positional battle play out. One quirk of the goalkeeping was noticeable with Floyd's goal kicks. When she lined the ball up, Louisville played it almost as a set piece, bunching the entire field into a zone to receive the ball. I didn't love it, as it could have easily opened the Cards up to a break, but it worked out fine. I didn't notice it so much in the second half, but Zalac took many fewer goal kicks.
Now that I've spent the entirety of the recap talking about the players, how about a quick look at the game? It was a fairly comfortable win for the Cards, though perhaps one in which they would have liked to have scored more goals. Credit goes to the Bearcats goalkeeper, Anna Rexford, who finished the night with seven saves. Though she gave up two goals, Rexford made more than one stop that elicited a "nice save" mumble from me, and the Cards could easily have scored two or three more without those efforts. The save figures also fail to capture broken up crosses and corners, of which Rexford had plenty. Given the foul that nearly brought out the trainer early in the first half, it was an impressive performance.
As I mentioned earlier, Louisville scored two goals, one by Whitsett and one by Cherry, and they were never truly threatened. The goals came across the halves, as Louisville's offensive production was fairly evenly split, and Cincinnati wasn't able to pressure the Cards effectively while the game was tied. Louisville finished with 11 shots and nine corner kicks while Cincinnati had just one apiece. The midfield play for Louisville was quite strong, as Louisville held 62% of the overall possession.
An exhibition is not gospel, but this one had a lot of encouraging points. I wasn't sure quite what to expect when I entered the gates last night, but I was pretty happy with what I saw on the field, and quite happy with the result. Sure, there are things to clean up, but an exhibition against a local rival is a great place to have those errors magnified, and Louisville was able to put together a complete game. While I'll unfortunately miss the regular season opener next Thursday, I'll be excited to see how the Cards perform against UIC.
Paulie and Jared caught up with Coach KFD after the match and she was quite pleased with the result and the performance. You can hear her full interview below and subscribe to the Cardinal Couple YouTube channel to get interviews like this as soon as they're posted.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast
Unplanned! We all wore black and represented our roles
except for Paulie who stood as the true neutral as always.
Cardinal Couple YouTube: Link
Anchor (podcast host): Link
Apple Podcasts: Link
Google Podcasts: Link
Overcast (free account required): Link
Pocket Casts (free account and app required): Link
Until next time, Go Cards!
All photos in today's article by Jared Anderson.