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Breaking down Women's Soccer's picture-perfect goal against Kent State

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Through nonconference play we've been a bit surprised that Women's Soccer has struggled to score. For a while it was important to remember that it took a half-dozen games to find the offense last year, as well, but we've also seen a struggle to string passes together or win 50-50 balls.

On the rewatch of the 1-0 win over Kent State, I was very, very pleased with the offensive showing overall (more on that below), but I was absolutely blown away by the goal itself, which was as perfect a start-to-finish play as I've seen from the Bulls all year.

I've uploaded a series of screenshots and captions into a gallery above, but I'll walk through it here in a little more detail:

(1) The play starts 77 yards from goal on the foot of Brianna Shingary, who never threatened to bring possession too far upfield, but did bring it into the middle after beating and overaggressive attacker. This attracted a second defender. Prior to the screenshot, she could have passed it back, but Kent has a forward between Andrea Niper and Jackie Hall. She could have sent it all the way across to Meghan Simmons, but instead holds on a little longer to dump it off to the more advanced Kristin Markiewicz.

At the start of the play, Kent has nine field defenders behind the ball. Two are now removed from the play.

(2) Shingary's feint to the middle has opened up space and time for Markiewicz to look up and see Kassidy Kidd has found a soft spot in the defense.

(3) Markiewicz has moved up five yards since receiving the ball, and still has four strides of room on the recovering defender to play it forward to Kidd. Because she's had so much space, Kidd has dropped the two defenders she was even with. It's a decision the Kent players have to make because Markiewicz has already had so much space.

Kidd's calling for the ball as the next defender is looking at Moira Petrie, who looks to be running into the window between those two defenders at the 47-yard line. Carissima Cutrona is sliding down to this side of the field.

Kent now has two more defenders completely removed from the play and a third flat-footed.

(4) Markiewicz' ball is perfect, Kidd has beaten her defender badly, so much so that the next Golden Flash has to come down to prevent her from turning on goal. She was supposed to be on Cutrona, and an even further removed player is trying to catch up to the play.

Kent now only has three defenders in front of or even with the ball.

(5) Kidd has drawn both of her defenders to the outside third, and Cutrona has maintained her advantage over a defender come down from higher up. Cutrona will receive the ball cleanly and with a moment of time before a defender is on her.

Both defenders who were on Kidd are now removed from the play. Only Cutrona's and the goalie have a shot at the ball.

(6) Rather than rushing a shot, Cutrona settles the ball and turns past around her defender (who's now caught up), Moira Petrie comes up the middle of the field and Julia Benati (not yet in the screen) up the left side. She could keep turning and try to shoot across her body or pass to Petrie, but Moira hasn't beaten two Kent players back.

(7) What Petrie has done, though, is once again draw a defender, leaving all sorts of space for Benati. This defender was originally on Celina Carrero, but has been keyed on Petrie since (3). Carrero has dropped back a bit and isn't a threat, but the problem (among many) for Kent is that the player previously marking Benati is now on Cutrona.

That player trailing Julia by 5 yards? That's who Brianna Shingary beat badly enough at the start of this play to draw further attention and spring room for Markiewicz. She ran 35 yards at the start of the play before UB turned up field, and has now had to sprint 60 in the other direction. She's toast.

Kent now has no defender in the play, Benati's getting the ball 15 yards away from net, and the Kent goalie is frantically sliding over.

(8) The ball is in the net, but look where in the net it is. All the way on the other side. Defenders have been frantically crashing to the bottom of the screen since Markiewicz found all that space, only for UB to systematically pick them off two by two by working the ball back to the left, and then for Benati to put it in back in the right corner.

What impresses me so much about this play is that UB forced Kent's hand every step of the way once Shingary drew a second defender. Shingary drew two, which opened space for Markiewicz, which kept two defenders honest and opened space for Kidd and Petrie. Petrie drew one and delayed another long enough for Kidd to draw two. Cutrona only drew one, but she was the only one left, and there was no one to pick up Benati.

***

Other general observations:

This game makes it clear to me that UB is going to be fine in MAC play. Here's what I didn't say on the podcast, because I was working only from the box score:

  • I guessed last night that UB settled into a bit of a shell after taking the lead and said I was OK with that strategy. That was way off; Buffalo was the aggressor throughout and though Kent State had more shots, UB had many more chances.
  • This was the closest I've seen yet to UB looking like last year's team. After a shaky first 15 minutes, the Bulls found plenty of chances down the edges. Rebecca Bramble had a four minute stretch in the first half where she threatened to open the scoring, and Carissima Cutrona was real dangerous in the second half. This opens up the midfield passing game, too.
  • The defense is totally fine. Three goals allowed in the last six games, one to WVU. Kent had some chances, but that will always happen. I do think UB's a little better with Kassidy Kidd in the formation - her substitutions turned the tide early and helped Buffalo lock down in the second half.
  • I think Kent and Ohio are both improved teams over last year, but Ohio is a defensive team that got better and stymied Buffalo, while Kent has become more offensive and couldn't break through themselves. UB looks like a better team than most, but will need to continue their quick decision making in games against the MAC's more physical teams.