Bellevue 1-0 LW
65th min Alex (Leah)
Former England and current Crystal Palace Manager Roy Hodgson once said, "Football isn't a beauty contest, it's about being good enough." On Thursday evening against Kingco rival Lake Washington, we were good enough.
As a program, we absolutely are committed to playing a beautiful, flowing, and joyful style of soccer, but we are also pragmatists. And over the course of an entire season, there will be variables that we can't control (weather, quality of the pitch, our opponents relative quality or style, etc.) that will necessitate a more practical tactical adjustment to get a result. For me, style should be directionally correct, not dogma. And so it was last night against LW, there were times during the game when beauty wasn't going to win the day, but gritty, tough and organized teamwork were going to be cornerstone upon which our more creative play would be built.
We might not play a team that plays a more direct style than LW all season. And this direct style requires our backline to be very connected, good in the air, and focused on denying entry passes, while our midfielders need to be very aware of off-the-ball runs and deflections from the initial long-ball. And collectively, we were excellent at winning our aerial duels, tackles and denying easy switches. And once we got that part of our game right, we were able to counter-attack through our midfield and around the wide areas.
After a teeter-totter first half, the winning margin came in the 68th minute, as Leah worked hard to win the ball in midfield and sent a curling pass down the left sideline towards Alex at striker. The LW defender had a good angle to win the ball, but Alex closed the gap, timed her tackle perfectly, won the ball and raced towards goal unopposed. The finish was outstanding, smashing the ball into the upper right corner of the net and leaving the LW keeper no chance. 1-0 Bellevue. Final score.
Overall, the game was as close to playoff intensity as we are likely to have during our regular season. We even had the same referee who was assigned the 3A final last season which just added to the playoff-like atmosphere. Entering the game, Bellevue was ranked #1 in RPI, and LW #4. And although RPI isn't really a trustworthy ranking of overall quality, in this instance, it did a good job of summarizing the situation: two of the very best 3A teams battling for positioning as we enter the pointy end of our season.
Although the game statistics would indicate that we earned our win by creating more opportunities (17/2 shots/corners vs. 4/1 for LW), the game never felt like a mismatch or lopsided in any way (many of our shots were speculative efforts from 30+ yards away). Every second required total focus and the game could've tipped in either direction for most of the night. But we did create more chances. And we were more dangerous going forward, especially when we were patient in attack, linking passes and running off-the-ball in support of our teammates. But LW is ever-dangerous, poised to pounce on mistakes, deflections, or opportunistic rebounds. They are never to be underestimated.
Finally, as I told the girls during post-game (and to fully blender mix my metaphors), last night was likely the first act in a three act play. We have been introduced to all of the main characters and established setting and plotlines. We know that the inherent drama at the heart of the play will need to be resolved by the final curtain, but the outcome is still a beautiful mystery. Act 2 will be in just over two weeks time (and I expect new main characters to make surprise appearances), ane we should expect a few plot twists, but I'm hopeful our Wolverine heroines continue the story arc to happy sappy conclusion, with a standing ovation from a supportive crowd at the end.
Until then, we won't take a bow yet, the outcome after Act 1 doesn't determine whether the play is successful. There's more to be done, and the director has plenty of notes.
Enjoy Homecoming weekend. No training today. Rest and recover. See you all on Monday as we prepare for another road trip, this time to Juanita as we enter the back-half of our Kingco season.
Excellence is always good enough.