Despite having already won more games this year than in the last two years combined, the Cornell women’s soccer team (5-6, 0-3 Ivy) is still winless against Ivy League opponents. The Red fell to Harvard, 2-0, on Saturday, bringing its losing streak in conference play to 12 games.
The Red has not won a match against an Ivy foe since Oct. 28, 2008, when it beat Brown, 2-0. The Red offense has been shut out in Ivy play so far this year, despite its stellar play against non-conference opponents with an average of over two goals per game.
A recurring theme this season has been the Red’s struggles defending set pieces. Both of Harvard’s goals came off of dead ball plays. Harvard got onto the scoreboard at the 17:32 mark of the match, off a free kick past Cornell keeper Kelly Murphy. At the 25-minute mark of the match, Harvard made the score 2-0 off of a corner kick. Against Penn a week before, Cornell let in three goals off crosses in the air –– one of which was off a corner kick.
Despite being talented in the air, the Red has struggled winning second balls.
“We’re actually all right in the air,” said head coach Danielle LaRoche. “The funny thing is on set pieces we struggle on the second ball — we always get on the first ball to clear it out, but we have trouble getting that extra clear.”
On offense, part of the struggle can be attributed to the pressure Ivy forwards have put on the Cornell backline. This pressure has made it difficult for the supporting players to get the ball up to the forwards.
“The forwards (of the Ivy League) pressure our defense heavily,” said junior forward Brook Chang. “Even if we’re playing weaker defenses, it’s hard for our defense to win the ball and to get it up to us.”
However, the Red forwards have had trouble handling the faster, more aggressive Ivy defenses when they do get the ball, according to LaRoche.
“Part of it might be the pressure put on the back line and their struggles in getting it up to the forwards. But I would say that our forwards really struggle with is playing against much better defenses in the Ivy League,” LaRoche said. “They have to get more creative and work harder off the ball –– some of the things that worked against lesser opponents won’t work (in Ivy play).”
The problem is compounded by the fact that Cornell lacks a true target forward that can hold the ball and handle any heavy pressure. Most of the Red forwards rely more on speed and finesse to score goals, which is fine when defenders give them time to roam. However, this presents a challenge against the faster, more aggressive opponents in the Ivy League.
“Ivy defenders pressure our forwards so much that every time our forwards touch the ball one or two defenders are collapsing in on them,” LaRoche said. “In non-conference play the defenders will give our forwards a lot more space to create whereas in the Ivy League you just don’t get that.”
However, LaRoche does not believe that a lack of a target forward has prevented the Red from scoring goals this season.
“I can’t say that if we had that player that all of a sudden we’d be scoring a lot more goals,” LaRoche said. “It’s something that we would definitely like to have, a skill set that we need on the team. It’s something that we’ve recruited, though, that will be here in 2011. But I believe with the forwards we have now we should be scoring a lot of goals. It’s just a level of commitment and attention to the details so that they’ll make it happen for themselves.”
The Red is back in action Saturday against Yale at Berman Field. Cornell hopes to notch its first Ivy win in two seasons. The players hope their new three-forward formation, implemented earlier in the season, will lead to increased scoring opportunities.
“The 4-3-3 formation immediately clicked; our chemistry was awesome and we moved the ball around a lot better and we’ve been playing it ever since,” Chang said. “Coach recruited amazing attacking players this year. Since we have so many forwards it makes sense to play all of them and be more of a high pressure team and pressure their defense. And since we have so many forwards Coach can keep us fresh by subbing us out.”
Original Author: Jimmy Xi