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Friday, September 1, 2023

Cards Score First Home Goal; Fall 2-1 -- FRIDAY CARDINAL COUPLE

Illinois Outlasts Women's Soccer

For about 80 minutes, it looked as though Louisville was on for another repeat of the prior three home games of the season. The Cards were threatening on goal, they outshot their opponents, and they were staring down their fourth shutout (not in the good way) of their five-game old season. Savina Zamborini, who has taken 11 of Louisville's shots (tied for second with Ravin Alexander, behind Addie Chester with 13) this season, finally found the breakthrough for the Cards at home. Ironically, the goal was the type of shot that goes in when a team seemingly can't be stopped, not when they seemingly can't buy a goal with all of Ft. Knox's gold. 

Unfortunately for Louisville, Zamborini's late second half miracle was not enough to pull the game level. Louisville trailed 2-0 at the time, and, although they continued the pressure for the remaining seven minutes and change remaining, they couldn't find an equalizer. 

The Cards fell behind in this one relatively early. Illinois took the lead in the 11th minute of the game with good combination play to take advantage of a Louisville defense that was caught slightly out of position. (Side note: this goal was the result of the type of plays Louisville tries to run and just misfires on so frequently. With more time together, they're sure to start connecting, but they're running out of time for that to matter faster than we expected.) One of the negatives of playing a wide four in the back with the wingbacks extending forward is that it's very easy for them to find themselves overextended. Such was the case on the game's opening goal, as a winning run by the Illinois left wing forced Louisville into a recovery formation. 

This is more or less what the defensive shape looks like by design.

Once we get here, we have a problem. 

Swinging your defenders across the field only works if the back line moves as if it's connected, and it also only works if you can maintain at least an even matchup on numbers. The defense doesn't need to be at an advantage to stop goals, but it can't be at a disadvantage. As it was, Karsyn Cherry stepped farther out to defend the ball, replacing the beaten wingback, and Autumn Weeks slid over to replace her. Louisville effectively went from a 4-back formation with Cherry and Weeks as right and left center backs to a 3-back formation with Cherry on the outside. I'm getting very in the weeds on how and why this worked for Illinois but it's important because it's informative for Louisville's offensive and defensive performance (and communication). 

This is our solution. Simple enough.

Louisville, unfortunately, had a minor breakdown after that. Remember how I said that the team needs to maintain at least neutrality on numbers? That isn't just players in the defensive third. If a defender is out in space and not marking someone, they may as well not be there (more on defenders who may as well not be there later...). Anyway, the Cards found themselves with a hole in their recovery formation. The opposite wingback didn't close in quite quickly enough, and one of the center defensive mids wasn't able to (or thought the left back would) cover the third attacker. 

Oh no it's a problem again.

As a result, Illinois makes two passes (it's the second pass that gets you), and has an open player on the back side. You may often hear players or coaches or fans yelling "backside". It frequently refers to a player to the right of the player in yellow, completely hidden from the defense because they all have their backs turned. In this case, the highlighted player is not quite on the back side of the goalkeeper (Floyd is definitely aware of her), but without a defender able to make a play (remember Cherry and Weeks are accounted for with their marks), she's on the back side enough. Floyd, as anyone would expect, has to react to the ball right in front of her when it's centered, or else that player will just have an easier shot, and she has no help once the second pass finds the open player in the box. 1-0 Illinois.

Like I said, this is informative to how Louisville is communicating as a team up and down the field. We've seen them unable to make this play work, despite having the set up and even a numbers advantage to do so. Either the second pass isn't made, or it is made and the recipient isn't there, or the first pass is never made, or there are four people where one should be. Pick your poison and Louisville has found it under the kitchen sink this season. Defensively, there's no excuse for the unmarked player at that spot at that stage in the game. Even on a counter attack, Louisville had numbers back and that rotation should be automatic. If you get beat because of a surprise winger on the complete opposite side of the field, so be it, but you can't be late to the center of the box. 

Enough on that. I won't draw any more pretty pictures. The Cards continued to receive and withstand pressure, with Floyd picking up two saves in a five-minute span midway through the half. After that, Louisville took some control of their own. From the 26th minute on, Louisville took seven shots to Illinois' zero for the remainder of the half. Their best chance came when Betsy Huckaby got a hold of a rebound about 14 yards out. The stats don't show it, but it pretty much should have been a goal. A slight deflection gave the ball just enough lift to find the crossbar and clatter out of danger. 

The second half opened with hearts in mouths on both ends. Both teams forced a save in the first three minutes, with the ball spending seemingly just as much time on either end early. Louisville was the team to find the advantage though, and they seemed to capitalize on it when Hayley Howard sent a ball across the face of goal after some chaos on a corner kick. The Illini saved the ball off the line with a combined effort of two defenders, but not without a fair amount of shouting and arm raising by Cardinals on and off the pitch. As Howards shot floated toward the line, the first Illinois defender (keeper was out of position: corner chaos, it happens) threw her knee up to block the ball down so she could boot it away. She was a touch slow, though, and the ball instead clipped off her thigh, keeping its momentum toward the goal line and going up instead of down. Conveniently, another part of the defender's body got in the way, knocking it down so it could be cleared away by the second defender.

Yes, I'm talking about her hand. As the center referee signaled that he would go to VAR, a replay appeared to show that Louisville would be taking a penalty, and the only question would be whether Illinois would be finish the game down a player (intentional handball and DOGSO [Denial of an Obvious Goal-Scoring Opportunity] are both yellow card offenses and two yellows make a red). Instead, after multiple TV replays verified that everyone correctly saw what happened the first time, the referee determined that it was not a handball, no penalty or card was awarded, and the ball was out of play for a throw-in. There are a number of justifications a referee may have for not awarding a handball. I've already done my deep dive today, so I will spare you the details. In my (and Casey Whitfield and Jeff Greer and other viewers) opinion, the referee got it flat wrong.

Either way, Louisville still trailed 1-0, and the game went on. Such is life for Louisville soccer so far this season. The issue came when Louisville completely lost focus as a result of the situation. Illinois grabbed the momentum by the horns and took off. Meanwhile, the Cards tilted like a pinball machine. Three minutes after the VAR opportunity, Illinois doubled their advantage when Lucy Roberts decided for Erynn Floyd that Floyd should come out for a contested ball in the box. I may have some bias here, but that's... um... not Roberts' call. Instead of contesting the attack and forcing an awkward shot, a misplay, or a retreat, Roberts elected to peel off the ball to screen the attacker when it was still beyond the penalty marker and out to the side of center. That's a fine decision when you're chasing a ball that is sent forward and trying to outrun an offensive player. You and the keeper agree, the keeper starts coming out, and you screen off the attacker to keep your goalie clean. 

What you shouldn't do, though, is jockey for position with an attacker into the box, see your keeper making no play on the ball, and choose to peel off and screen for a keeper pickup. Keepers are good sprinters for the most part. It's usually all we do so we get good at it. From the position they were in, though, Roberts set herself up for a Herculean effort in screening an attacker for as long as she would need to without fouling and giving up a free penalty. As you might expect from the number of words I'm giving this, she was unsuccessful. The attacker got free, beat Floyd to the ball, and slotted it home. 

A minute and a half later Floyd had to make a leaping save to flip the ball over the bar to prevent Illinois from extending their lead to three. Two more saves were split by an Autumn Weeks yellow card that was lucky not to be a red and Louisville was up against the ropes. They bounced back. In the 76th, Louisville worked forward and earned a corner. A couple of minutes later, a ball fell to an open Emma Kate Schroll about 10 yards out and she lifted her head just enough to get the ball up and onto the bar. I don't want to dump on someone for being upset when they hit the woodwork, but the time to lament that miss is when the ball is out of play or the game is over, not when it bounces back down into an attacking position. Mackenzie Geigle collected the rebound and fired it toward goal. Illinois' keeper could only block the ball away to a void just inside the six yard box. That void should have been full of one (1) EK Schroll who could immediately make up for her miss. Instead, she was still standing where she took the shot when the ball found its way free and she couldn't outrun a defender to it before it was cleared away.

Louisville maintained pressure but didn't really threaten much offensively over the last 12 minutes of the game. That feels incredibly odd to say, considering the Cards scored their first home goal of the season in those 12 minutes, but they really weren't threatening. Louisville earned one corner in the 80th, but other than that, Zamborini's goal was their only real effort into the box. I genuinely don't want to take anything away from Savina, because she goes out there and gives it her all for the Cards game in and game out, but she took half a chance as she went down with her cleat stuck under her and the keeper misread her position. Instead of calmly stepping back and reaching up to catch the ball, the keeper felt a goal line that wasn't there on her heels. She bounced a couple of times to prep herself, then leaped back to pop the ball over the crossbar. The primary issue with that tactic was that she was about two yards from the endline. I'm not really sure she would have gotten the ball over anyway, given that she flubbed the swat a bit, but from her position, the ball was much more likely to be hitting the underside of the top of the net instead of going over the bar. 

I don't want to end on that note, though, so I'll get one more bit of praise in for the goal scorer: while it looked a bit goofy both live and in the replay, it was an impressive effort by Zamborini to get the ball on frame with a bit of pace. We have given Louisville players a bit of a hard time for seemingly kicking it right at the keeper when they get it on frame, but tonight was a bit of a lesson in why you don't try to get too fine with it. Two could have been goals found the crossbar instead and a shot that would be saved 9 (or more) times out of ten found the back of the net. Put shots on goal and good things will happen.

The Cards ultimately weren't able to get their first win tonight, but they showed a fair bit more promise at stages. There is still a lot of ground to gain and not a lot of time to do it, but there are definitely things that the coaches can point out on film in the positive and not just the negative from this game. Coach KFD clearly hasn't been slow to make her opinion of a player's performance known to them, either, as the Cards started their fourth different lineup in the last four games. The bench also went 8 deep, with players finding themselves back off the field in short order if they weren't getting it done. There are plenty of different (and correct) philosophies to sub patterns and using them as a motivator. While it's unclear if this one will work, Coach is showing she isn't afraid to find out. Louisville is back in action on Sunday against Central Michigan. The Chips come into Lynn Stadium at 7:30PM, and you can catch the game on ACCNX if you can't make it out.

(photos by Jared Anderson)

Volleyball and Field Hockey Hit the Road

If you're still with me, I appreciate you, and I'll keep it short and sweet from here on out.

Field hockey is in Philadelphia for the ACC/Ivy League Crossover (we really don't have to name every interconference event like this, folks). The Cards will take on No. 10 Princeton at 11 AM today on ESPN+ and the 9th-ranked squad will take on the hosts, Penn, on Sunday at 1:30PM. That game will also be on ESPN+. After a nail biter in the road win at Northwestern, Louisville could continue to build their strong early resume with a pair of nice wins this weekend.

Volleyball kicks off their road schedule with the Missouri Classic. Louisville will play South Dakota today at 2PM before taking on NKU tomorrow at noon and facing the hosts at 3:30 on Sunday. All times are Eastern, and but the Go Cards site isn't currently listing any video availability. If you're looking to make the drive to Mizzou, I can assure you that the drive is just as boring as normal and that Labor Day travelers combined with construction lane closures will probably slow you down quite a bit (I just drove to STL and back this week for work). We'll have all the updates for you here on the site as always.

Until next time, Go Cards!

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