The last time the Cornell women’s soccer team won an Ivy League game, not a single current player or coach was part of the program. Led by Head Coach Rob Ferguson, the Red have emerged from the pandemic with fresh talent and an eagerness to turn around this program’s reputation.
In his first full season at the helm, Ferguson has had to learn about his new team on the fly, using the first few weeks of non-conference play to adapt to the Red’s strengths and weaknesses.
With a strong core of defenders and two capable keepers, the Red opened up the season with a rare 3-6-1 formation: three defenders, six midfielders and a lone striker. Despite the unusual approach, the Red started out strong with a win and a draw in late August.
However, due to key injuries in the defensive line, Ferguson added an extra defender after Niagara and Villanova combined for seven goals against the Red in their next two games. He shifted the team to a 4-3-3 formation, and the Red pulled off a tie against an undefeated Syracuse team, followed by two hard-fought losses to Iona and Binghamton.
Despite these losses, Ferguson said he believes in his players and sees the formation working in the long-run. He believes the losses came from problems in mindset rather than in the players’ tactical ability to execute on the field.
“We have had some really positive performances,” Ferguson said. “The problem right now is I just feel like there’s a lack of conviction, lack of a positive mindset and lack of desire to just go out, take the game to the opponent and being willing to compete and wanting to compete in the first minute.”
Despite the losses, junior defender and midfielder Emily St. John said she feels the 4-3-3 formation has allowed the game to open up for the Red.
“It gave more angles for people to play off of,” St. John said. “A lot of us are used to playing a 4-3-3 on our club teams.”
Having six midfielders can be advantageous on the attack, but the formation risks clogging up the middle of the field and leaving gaps in the defensive line.
“By pushing one person out wide, we realized we could utilize the width of the field much better,” St. John said. “And I can join the attack a lot easier now, which is really fun.”
Senior captain and goalkeeper Miranda Iannone said she appreciates the defensive support offered by the Red’s 4-3-3 formation, echoing St. John’s emphasis on playing horizontally.
“As a goalie, I definitely like having four in the back a lot better,” Iannone said. “It’s been really good for our possession and ability to get the ball out wide.”
Turning this program around is not going to happen overnight — the Red were launched into a loaded schedule after not having played in over a year. Still, Ferguson is providing a ray of hope with his abilities to make adjustments and earn the respect of his players.
“I’m optimistic and I’m a positive person,” Ferguson said. “We didn’t go into this season under any illusions. We knew this was the turning point in historical struggles, but we did have belief and visions of moving in a good direction and we think we have overall.”
Despite the challenges this new team has faced, Ferguson and his players share one important thing in common: optimism.
“We came off of a big game against Syracuse feeling good,” Iannone said. “We need to find our identity and get back to doing the simple things right. Once we do that, we’ll be fine.”
The Red (1-4-2) look to continue strengthening their play as they travel East to face off against Stony Brook University (2-4-1) Friday night. After that, the Red kickoff Ivy League play against Columbia University (3-2-1) on Saturday the 25th.