Ending the scoring drought
If there was any doubt that finding a way to score after being shutout twice on the west coast must have been a focus of Maryland's practices, the women's soccer squad dispelled that quickly in Thursday night's game against the William and Mary Tribe. And this was not reflected merely by the fact that the Terps' first goal of the game (and the season) came in only the third minute.
No, the first hint comes from from the owner of the assist on that goal - Maryland goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands. Even more surprisingly, Beanlands' assist came not from a goal kick but in the run of play when she came far off her line, outside the eighteen yard box to play a long through ball in the direction of Alex Doody who showed an uncharacteristic burst of speed to get past her defender before making a lovely finish with a lofted shot over the head of Tribe keeper Caroline Casey.
If more evidence was needed, the assist on Doody's second goal just more than 11 minutes later also came from a back line player, Shannon Collins. Since Collins plays most of the right side corner kicks, seeing her pick up an assist might not be too surprising. However, in this case, the assist also came in the run of play when she also pushed a pass forward from Maryland's defensive half that Doody finished with a shot from a difficult angle into the far side of the goal. There is some dispute as to which of those goals is what her teammate Rachelle Beanlands calls a "Classic Doody." In either case, Terrapins women's soccer fans should certainly be greeting the junior with a hearty, "Howdy Doody!"
And then, of course, came the Terrapins' third goal off the foot of center back Erika Nelson. Because of some injuries suffered on the west coast, namely Lauren Berman's hyper-extended knee and Cory Ryan's broken arm, Coach Jonathan Morgan moved Shade Pratt into an attacking midfield position. This move seemed to drop Nelson more into a position of center way back (or WAYBAC for Mr. Sherman and Peabody fans). The goal was the first of Nelson's career and the first of her 13 career shots on goal.
While playing William and Mary at home is not quite the challenge of playing UCLA on the road, the Tribe is a quality opponent with a surprising history. They finished 2013 with an RPI of 49 (Maryland was 47) and have made 24 NCAA Tournament appearances in the 31 year history of their program which has never finished a season with a losing record. Goalkeeper Caroline Casey, who was named first team All CAA last season and to the league's preseason all-conference squad, had an impressive 1.00 goals against average last season.
According to Morgan, a big part of the turn around was due to, "Our midfield breaking pressure when we get balls off our backs and being able to play forward. That got our attack going. I think tonight was the first time our forwards were able to start making some runs."
One of the big takeaways for Morgan and his squad from the UCLA loss was that despite their great talent they "keep the game simple. They let the ball do the work and allow their team to get rhythm. We need to realize that sometimes a five or ten yard pass just to keep the ball moving is just as good as trying to find that home run ball." Morgan also cited UCLA's organization defensively which is important regardless of the level of opponent.
Meanwhile, the Terrapins' defense and goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands turned turned the shutout bug around holding the Tribe scoreless in Maryland's 4-0 win over William and Mary.
Keeping the momentum
The only question coming out of Thursday's win was: Can the Terps continue their progress and repeat the effort and result on Sunday and pick up a win over NC State? As the Magic 8 ball might have said, "It is decidedly so," as Maryland came away with a 2-1 win over the only ACC opponent they will face during this regular season.
After waiting out a nearly two hour "lightning in the area" delay, an energized Maryland squad exited their trailer and played a dominating first half everywhere except on the scoreboard. Yes, the Terps led 1-0 at the break but given their time of possession and opportunities, they had several chances to take a larger, more secure lead. "We played good soccer this weekend," Morgan said after Sunday's victory. "We still have to be better in the final third but you can see how we want to move and how we want to play. The soccer itself is coming together."
Though Morgan's assessment that the Terps have to be better in the final third is accurate, the Wolfpack posed a significant challenge to any offense when they opened the game by playing much of the first half with a compacted ten player defense surrounding the box. As Morgan acknowledged, "Getting behind that type of defense can be difficult."
One revelation of the weekend games was the play of Shade Pratt. The senior, who started at center back for Maryland in 2013, has been moved to a forward or attacking midfield position because of some early season injuries. Maryland's fastest player, Pratt created several threatening chances in the contest with William and Mary though she failed to score.
Against NC State, she had her efforts rewarded when she scored Maryland's first goal in the twenty-third minute. "It's tough for Shade. We're throwing her in at a position she's never played before but she did a really great job of implementing what we've talked about. She's getting a better sense of how to play her first touch away from defenders. I think she's starting to get some confidence and as we keep coaching her, I think we could have something special."
Since returning from the west coast, the Terps have developed more efficient and effective possessions coming out of the back half. Morgan feels they are breaking the first lines of pressure from their opponents which has allowed Maryland to get into the attacking half more. "Now we have to improve on the hardest phase - scoring goals and being creative in that phase of the game," he said.
The game with NC State provided a good example of that need. The Terps possessed the ball for long stretches of time, continually pressed forward but came away with only a single goal. "We're so focused on how we're trying to play right now it makes things hard," Morgan added. Sarah Molina, who scored the game winning goal on a header off a Shannon Collins' corner kick agreed with her coach. "We could have had a bigger lead at halftime," she said. "We're working on being more dangerous because we can control the ball for as long as we want but we need to score more. We're progressing but we need to get better."
Terrapins soccer fans will have the chance to see if the improvement arc continues when Maryland takes the short trip east on Route 50 to face Navy at 5:30 p.m. on September 8. The Terps will then open their inaugural B1G season with three consecutive home games beginning with Rutgers on September 12.