I tweeted about this the other day but I’d like to expand a little.
Last year I attended a game or two, but this year, I’ve been to several Hokie soccer games: at least one of the men’s team and several of the women’s. It has been a lot of fun. There’s a smallish crowd, which is enough to make it fun, but not the insane size of the football games. It’s free to get in and parking is easy.
I’m going to give the men’s team another chance since they didn’t really impress in the game I saw, but I am really enjoying watching the Women’s Soccer team. They are extremely skillful and have many of the qualities of a great team, but they are not quite converting their dominance into goals as much as I think they should.
I thought they were unlucky in North Carolina (let’s just say that I didn’t entirely agree with the refereeing) and that they dominated Boston College for much of the game. They do seem to be a bit vulnerable on set pieces.
Their ball movement, patience, discipline, possession, and general talent are all fantastic. They play a little like Swansea in that they’ll typically move the ball out from defense on the ground with calm, precise and well-controlled passing. Several times, I’ve seen their central defensive players turn the opposition inside out before making a simple release pass. They are very good at relieving pressure in that regard.
The team seems to be setting up in a 4-1-3-2 formation and their midfielders are impressive. The one caveat is that they feel unimaginative on offense in the final third. What I have seen to this point are through balls, long balls, and runs that tend to be vertical (straight up and down) with few overlaps from midfield and less diagonal movement. Several times I’ve seen midfielders creating space in advanced positions by fantastic passing and then it fizzles out, either in a wayward shot or a tackle.
I’m not sure of the underlying reason. It could be intentional positional discipline, but the last game I saw there was at least one occasion for a clear overlapping run by an outside midfielder and the player just stayed in place. The other part of the equation is the offensive players themselves who seem a little static or “one note”. If you aren’t faster than the defense and being quick is your thing, then your options close down. If being tall is your thing, then you need service from the wings.
My understanding of an attacker’s role (and I say this both as a fan, and primarily a defensive player myself), is that it is at least in part to make defenses constantly worry about where you are, to get on their blind side, to get into positions where they can’t see both you and the ball, and to make runs off and away from the ball to draw the defense into bad positions. That off-the-ball mischievousness and creativity is what I think I’m not seeing. I’m not sure of the solution from a tactical point of view, but the team feels only a fraction shy of being a truly great team. They could easily have beaten North Carolina and Boston in my opinion.
Either way, they play again this Sunday, and I’m planning on enjoying the game, whatever the result.