Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask your indulgence win me and patience with the team as we review the opening weekend of the 2014 Maryland women's soccer season. To begin, Maryland could not have scheduled a much more challenging opening to the season than the one the Terps faced on August's penultimate weekend. The list of difficulties begins with the trip to the West Coast - a traditionally difficult environment for Maryland teams. Sasho Cirovski and the national runner-up men's soccer team made a similar trip to start last season and escaped with a tie and a loss.
This season's women's team added a layer of difficulty when they found themselves face to face with a defending national champion UCLA Bruins squad that returned ten of eleven starters to their lineup. Then they would have to turn around and play a quality Pepperdine team on one day's rest of the first of only three such weekends this season.
No party in Westwood
Adding yet another layer of complexity, Maryland had to face this challenge without its two top scorers from last season's 10-10 squad - Haley Brock and Ashley Spivey. Since Brock was a senior, her departure was expected. Spivey, a rising junior who transferred to Central Florida, would likely have been a key element of Maryland's 2014 attack. These two players accounted for over half of the Terrapins' goals and nearly one quarter of the team's 2013 assists. Additionally, Brock was the type of player who could simply impose her will on a game and her teammates grew somewhat habituated to watching her do just that.
Accustomed to a high degree of reliance on Brock and Spivey, it should therefore come as no surprise that, to start the season, Maryland would find themselves an offensively challenged team in search of an identity. Facing a team that conceded a mere eight goals over the entire 2013 season, the Terrapins found themselves so thoroughly stifled that they failed to not only failed to launch a shot but could not even muster a single corner kick while UCLA managed 22 shots and 10 corner kicks.
At UCLA, the Terps got a taste of just how far they need to go not only in establishing an offensive identity but also to reach the level of an elite team. In truth, had it not been for the kindness of the post and a spectacular 10 save career night effort from goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands the score would have been significantly more one sided. As Coach Jonathan Morgan said after the game, " We ran into a superior team tonight. UCLA's quality was just too much."
A short drive and a small step
After a single day of rest, the Terps had to turn around and face another quality opponent in the Pepperdine Waves just 10 miles or so up the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. The Waves would also be playing on one day's rest having opened their season at home with a 2-1 win over Cal Poly.
While I didn't see the game against UCLA, I was able to watch the stream of the Terps in action against Pepperdine. Although the stream wavered and froze from time to time, two things became evident. First, the Terps clearly took a step forward on both the offensive and defensive ends of the field. Second, they are still a team searching for their offensive identity.
Sunday, the Terps managed eleven shots putting four on goal by the official statistics. I note this because Cory Ryan's shot off the crossbar doesn't count as a shot on goal because there was no save by the Pepperdine keeper or team. On the other hand, I don't think the ball that Shannon Collins played was intended as a shot but it resulted in a save so a shot on goal it officially is. While Pepperdine is not likely to challenge for the national championship, they are a quality team that is likely to improve on their 2013 fourth place conference finish and one that has the potential to reach the NCAA Tournament. So although the Terps again failed to score, they are steps closer to making that breakthrough.
Once Maryland's passing becomes crisper and their build ups more organized, the Terps showed they have some potential to be an effective, if not overpowering, offensive team. It's possible that by season's end the Waves will count themselves fortunate that they faced the Terps at this early stage. I see you are pondering the set pieces. Clearly, this is another area Maryland needs to improve. Though they generated five corner kicks, none of them resulted in any real threat to the Pepperdine goal. The Terps will need to find ways not merely to threaten but to score.
Defensively, Maryland suffered one lapse and the Waves made them pay as good teams will do. Taylor Alvarado simply got behind the Terrapins' defense on a through ball from Amanda LaCave and Beanlands was essentially hung out to dry. Still, the talented junior forced Alvarado into a difficult shot that just made its way inside the left post. Other than that moment, the Terps' defense was generally quite effective. Though the Waves launched 15 total shots, only two were on goal and most were off target because of the efforts of Maryland's defenders.
In closing, members of the jury, I ask you to consider that the Maryland women's soccer team is a work in progress; that they are a team in search of their identity. Are the results from Friday and Sunday disappointing to Terrapins fans? Of course. However, many games lie ahead and the season's success isn't rarely determined on the opening weekend.