Bellevue 2-1 Shorewood
48th min 0-1 Shorewood #7 goal
63rd min 1-1 Mia (Saleen, Leah)
67th min 2-1 Saleen (Mia, Lily)
"You can’t train at the zoo, then go to a jungle”. —Mikel Arteta, current Arsenal manager on the experience of playing at Anfield, Liverpool's home stadium.
Early-season games always contain a bit of mystery for both teams. Although we plan and prepare for several weeks and conduct Varsity-JV scrimmages to get ready, it's impossible to simulate the experience of being in the "jungle" of a competitive cauldron of actual gametime. Visiting a tiger at the zoo isn't the same as experiencing a tiger in the jungle, or more apt for our game against Shorewood, visiting the aquarium isn't the same as swimming with a Stormray (?) in open ocean. And so we stepped on the field at Shoreline Stadium against our Quarter-final opponent from our playoff run last fall, with stakes a bit lower (nobody's season would be over based upon the result), but with the intensity of two teams who have ambitions to play long into November this season. This is why we have a challenging non-league schedule, to test ourselves early and often so that we get comfortable living in the jungle.
And the lessons learned were valuable. First the positives: we won a tight game after going behind. That builds character, confidence, and resolve. Our team defense, shape, and commitment was very solid. Wingers and our strikers chased back, midfielders kept a good balance and competed in the tackle, and our backline provided cover for each other with good angles and positioning. But there were plenty of other, harder lessons learned: both teams were very frenetic in possession, especially in the first half. Mostly due to the increased speed of a quality opponent, but also due to bobbled first-touches, passes with inappropriate weight, or supporting runs going forward that didn't have much variation (always straight lines running behind...). Most of those issues will resolve with time as our team better understands each other and our respective roles. A good first touch is the technical base upon which everything else is built in a good passing team. And we can all strive to improve that part of our game. Lastly, it was the first day of school, and an important lesson to learn is how to balance our academic and social lives with our team. In high school soccer, we are scholar-athletes, there is a lot to manage that can take a mental toll. And finding ways to not get depleted mentally by gametime is a skill like any other.
We were in control for most of the first half. Although we didn't create a flood of chances, we did create 5-6 good opportunities while yielding only a few corners to Shorewood with no shots on our goal. But overall the game was choppy with very little rhythm and we entered halftime scoreless. The second half began with Shorewood on the front foot and we had to defend several well-taken corners and free kicks. Momentum had definitely shifted to the Stormrays. The opening goal was unfortunate, and an atypically heavy first-touch from rotating the ball across our backline turned into a turm-over and one-touch pass to the Shorewood striker who finished with a simple shot to the far post from 8 yards. We were behind in the 48th minute. 0-1 Shorewood.
I'd like to write that conceding a goal was the catalyst to our team finding a better and more confident rythym (there was still almost an entire half left to be played, plenty of time...), but instead the next 5-10 minutes were even more chaotic as we tried to panic rush our way to an equalizer. Eventually, we collectively calmed down a bit and began to possess the ball as the spaces increased later in the game, but in the future, we need to understand that 30 minutes is plenty of time to overturn almost any deficit. There was no need to rush it. We play quickly, but never in a hurry.
One of the many lessons from last night is that while we value balance and positioning in organized defending, in attack we need more movement and free-flowing creativity. And our equalizer was a perfect example: Saleen had chased a Shorewood midfielder in possession and forced a turn-over that Amber collected at left fullback deep in our end. Amber played a simple ball to Leah at left wing at midfield (which is a pattern that happens several times a game), but what made this different is that Saleen transitioned immediatly from chasing her opposing midfielder to executing an overlap of Leah on the left wing...well before Leah even got the ball...and by making a positive run in anticipation of Leah getting the ball, Saleen was at full sprint as Leah turned and sent a perfect ball into the space behind. On the other side of the field, Mia was at full sprint as Leah was unlocking Saleen on the left, and when Saleen crossed to the back post, Mia darted in front of her defender and finished from two yards. It was a stunning goal of movement, timing, anticipatory running, and excellent crossing and finishing. 1-1 in the 63rd minute.
And that was the catalyst. From that moment on we were in control and it took less than five minutes to add another. Lily picked out an open Mia on the right wing with a 40 yard ball played in the air but with perfect weight so that Mia could take a simple one touch trap into space where...wait for it..Saleen had already made an anticipatory run in support of Mia. Simple pass to Saleen's feet, a stutter-step-change-of-pace move to the inside and from 30 years our freshman hit the target with a left-footed howitzer to the upper left corner. Cue joyous celebration, hugs and the happy jog back to the center-circle with a 2-1 advantage.
And that was that. Other than a mystery free kick deep in our territory, and two Shorewood players simultaneously going down with leg cramps, we did a very very good tactical job of seeing off the final five minutes with 6-7 smart and well taken throw-ins down the line, and great decisions by players to get into the corner and keep possession. Seeing off a tight game with less than five minutes is test of a team's collective tactical intelligence and our girls passed with the highest marks.
I'm proud of our team. Getting tested in a tight and competitive game is a great early-season lesson for us all.
As LA-poet-rocker Axl Rose screeched, "Welcome to the Jungle."
The jungle isn't as scary once you been there a few times.
Now we face another test against Mt. View from Vancouver, WA. Mt. View won the St. Helens League last season so we can expect another competitive game. Reminder that we have an atypical 5:30pm kick-off so our opponents can get back home at a reasonable time afterwards. I'm looking forward to our home-opener.
Rest, hydrate and eat well. See you on Thursday.