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Women's Soccer Postmortem: What Went Wrong?

Boston College Women’s Soccer opened the season with four commanding wins over non-ACC opponents. The offense appeared to be firing on all cylinders, and freshman keeper Wiebke Willebrandt stood tall in the net and the defense in front of her proved tough to crack by opposing teams. 

Then the offense dried up, the losses piled up, and an ACC tournament berth slipped out of reach. All told, the Eagles were shut out in six of their 18 games and scored only six goals against ACC opponents. Despite numerous roster tweaks, the Eagles were unable to rekindle the magic of the early season and won only one ACC game, ending the season with a 7-10-1 record.

So, what happened? 

 

THE OFFENSE

In soccer, the final third will always be the most frustrating area of the field for both players and fans. A goal requires excellent timing to stay onside, a well-placed cross or a perfectly pulled move, and the composure to find the back of the net. It isn’t easy and it doesn’t get easier when frustration grows as goals fail to materialize. This showed with BC’s drought in ACC play.

The Eagles took 263 shots over the course of the season, and 46 percent were on frame—not bad. For reference, their opponents registered a season percentage of just under 44 percent. The problem was, of course, that most of the Eagles’ shots on goal occurred against non-ACC opponents. Against fellow ACC teams, the Eagles registered 42 shots on goal, capitalizing on only six, while opposing teams nearly doubled that total with 74 shots on frame for 24 goals.

While the midfield demonstrated creativity in sending the ball to the forwards, too often the idea fizzled out before a meaningful chance developed. The Eagles also only converted half of their penalty kicks this season, while their opponents converted all their chances. Penalty kicks don’t make or break a season, but missed chances are missed chances nonetheless, and PKs play an important role in momentum.

The bright side is that the first third of the season proved that the Eagles have the creativity and finishing touch to drive a prolific offense. Both of the team’s top scorers—Linda Boama and Ella Richards—were underclassmen. Boama missed part of her freshman year due to injury and disappeared from the lineup for the final third of this season. Five of the top seven goal scorers are returning with another year of experience under their belts.  

 

THE DEFENSE

Jason Lowe specialized as a defensive and goalie coach before becoming Boston College’s head coach in 2019. Knowing this, it is unsurprising that the Eagles posted good defensive numbers, including two shutouts. Goalkeeper Willebrandt shined in her starts and kept the Eagles in several tight games. The team held opponents to 1.89 goals per game.

Tactically, the defense was a bit of a mixed bag. The team gave up 61 corners in ACC play, earning only 39 across all ten ACC games. The lack of earned corners speaks to the limited number of set-piece chances the Eagles had over the course of ACC play. Giving up 61 corners in ten games speaks to the kind of desperation defense the Eagles were playing in key situations.

What the Eagles executed particularly well was the offsides trap. ACC opponents were flagged offsides 39 times over the course of ten games, giving the Eagles a chance to restart with the ball and negate potentially dangerous chances. By holding a high line, the defense repeatedly trapped the opposing team offsides, allowing the Eagles to control the pace of the game.

The positives of the offsides trap were offset by the corners given up and the free kicks awarded near the box. The Eagles surrendered five penalty kicks over the course of the season and frequently gave up dangerous set pieces, making it harder to defend the goal. While the Eagles' defense was organized, creative teams often split the two center backs and forced individuals to make incredible plays in order to prevent open looks at the goal.

The defense will likely remain a mixed bag next year. Graduate students Mia Karras and Haley Thomas will be leaving the program. Captain Michela Agresti returns as a senior to lead what will be a young backline. Freshmen Éabha O’Mahony and Sarai Costello, both of whom started most games, will inherit larger leadership roles on the backline as a new freshman class comes in. How the backline performs next year depends on how well they can build chemistry.  

 

CONCLUSIONS

The dry spell at the end of the season can’t be chalked up to just bad luck or unfortunate calls. On paper, the Eagles look every bit like an ACC contender with significant firepower upfront and a stalwart defense in the back, but they are still in the middle of a rebuild, and need to learn how to remain poised when facing pressure or frustration.

Games like the buzzer-beater loss to Miami and the overtime loss to No. 5 North Carolina were demoralizing, especially with Miami’s record and the Eagles' domination in the North Carolina game. For all intents and purposes, this is a young team and the ability to bounce back and do the small things consistently isn’t quite there yet. 

Mentality will be one of the last things to fully develop with this team—especially with only one win in their last ten games. Coming off a season shortened by Covid-19 where the team underperformed, perhaps expectations were once again set too high. Graduate transfer Abby McNamara had only one goal on the season, Boama did not play in the final third for an undisclosed reason, and several freshmen were slotted in to try to be a much-needed spark.

No one player solves the Eagles’ problems in conference play. Some of it is the attitude, surely, and perhaps the second season of minimal results will lower the expectations and allow the Eagles to perform free from pressure. Yet, Jason Lowe recently stated in a press release that the incoming class is the highest-ranked recruiting class in program history and top 20 in the country this year. 

Next season is still a long way off, so any predictions now would be too early to mean anything, but the Eagles need to string together ACC wins and a .500 season. Several key freshmen will have a year of experience under their belt, including Richards, Costello, and Willebrandt. Sophomores like Boama and Laura Gouvin will be upperclassmen, able to grow into leadership with an unabridged season completed. The ingredients for a quality ACC team are there, it’s just a matter of perfecting the recipe.

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