Elizabeth Breitmeyer / Gavel Media

Midseason Review: Women's Soccer

Women’s soccer is a little past the midseason mark and firmly into ACC play, going head to head with ranked opponents for their first three matchups. Game recaps tell part of the story, focusing on game-to-game play, but to truly understand a team, individual performances need to be evaluated.

Below is a midseason analysis of the eleven players who regularly start for women’s soccer players, aided by the philosophy of Laurent DuBois, who wrote The Language of the Game, to translate the poetry of movement in soccer into prose poetry. See what he has to say about BC women’s soccer and their season.

#6, Éabha O’Mahony

“With a powerful ability to help shape the space and movement on the pitch, she is always a few steps ahead, positioning herself and placing her passes perfectly.” 

O’Mahony serves as an outlet pass from the center of the field to the left wing, shaping the pitch wider and forcing the opposing team to commit numbers to stop her. The defender shapes movement on the pitch by stopping attacks down the left touchline, throwing balls into dangerous locations, and taking dangerous set pieces. Only a sophomore, O’Mahony understands the movement of the game and, with a little work, can put all the pieces together to smooth out the edges between transitions and improve positioning even more. 

#23, Michela Agresti

“Great defenders, however, are rarely given the kind of adulation or mythological status that is bestowed on great offensive players.”

Agresti deserves more accolades than she receives—the senior is a stalwart on the backline, keeping a young defensive line organized, compact, and engaged despite the trajectory of the season. The co-captain can certainly make spectacular sliding tackles and desperation clear, but often, Agresti doesn’t need to—instead cleanly dispossessing an opponent and turning up the field to outlet the ball before anyone knows what’s happened. Agresti’s poise and confidence in the back deserve praise and attention, especially in a season where the score lines don’t reflect the excellent work the backline has been doing.

#25, Sophia Lowenberg

“…for in a way, everything comes down to whether they can do precisely the right thing at precisely the right moment in precisely the right way.”

Lowenberg has played both a center-back and holding midfielder this season, both positions that require impeccable timing and ball movement—one wrong move and the opponent is through to the goal. The freshman has played both of these roles with grace, showing off her vision with long, diagonal balls over the top of the defense and demonstrating her timing with dangerous headers in the box, creating a goal and several chances for the Eagles. Lowenberg lives in high-pressure moments, and more often than not, the freshman rises to them, on both offense and defense.

#4, Sarai Costello 

“[Her] tactical sense is accompanied by a strongly physical form of play...”

If you think you’re getting by Costello, think again. Not only is her positioning sound, but the sophomore knows how to play the game with the physicality required. With a crunching tackle or holding steady to strip the ball from an oncoming forward, Costello sets the tone for the rest of the match, broadcasting to forwards what will be required to get past her. The sophomore controls the right side with her tactical sense and she is particularly strong in one-on-one situations, demonstrating that combination of tactics and physicality that make her such a ferocious defender.

#5, Sonia Walk

“…the midfielder is a fulcrum around which a team plays, the organizing force, the center to and from which all things pass.”

Walk, playing both as a holding midfielder and as more of a winger, is the player who delineates the line between the offense and the defense. The junior doesn’t hold on to the ball, dispossessing the opposing team and then quickly distributing further upfield or the wings to stretch the shape of the defense. Whether in a transition to the attack or in a scramble to transition back to defense, it’s a safe bet that Walk will touch the ball—the junior is instrumental in putting out fires in order to create new ones all around the pitch. You might not see Walk on the score sheet, but odds are good it was one of her passes that set up the sequence.

#8, Laura Gouvin

This was a way of taking free kicks that left goalkeepers confused and helpless.”

Gouvin brings several skills to her role in the midfield, despite playing deeper this year in a more defensive role. Yet of all the tools in her toolkit, Gouvin’s ability to take a set piece and create something dangerous out of it is the most important this season. The junior can bend a ball in just about every direction you can think of, plus several more that don’t seem possible from just about any distance or angle. Beyond bamboozling goalies, Gouvin’s distribution in the midfield and willingness to check to passes helps to create fluidity and movement, preventing the Eagles from playing stagnant.   

#15, Sam Agresti

“And there was, in that moment, something of the beyond at work, a bit of God, perhaps, in the work of this solid midfielder.”

Agresti completes the triangle midfield and has played more as an attacking midfielder in the second half of the season as the Eagles search for offense. Solid is an understatement, as the co-captain has proven her ability to generate offense, find a way to get on the end of long balls, or close down lanes to stop the opposing team. Versatile and always dangerous is the best way to describe Agresti. When the Eagles break through in ACC play, don’t be surprised to see Agresti’s name on the box score. 

#22, Ella Richards

“…[She] brought a certain way of capturing the field in front of [her], of understanding space and movement…”

Richards does the little things right: dropping deep to free up the wings, applying pressure on the defense or goalie to force them to play the ball, and using her technical ability to create space for herself within the box. After a breakout freshman season, Richards has been marked, making it difficult for her to find the back of the net, but the sophomore has found ways to influence the game and use an understanding of space and off-the-ball movement to allow others dangerous chances. Despite the opposing team’s best attempts, the final third is still Richards’—she just captures it differently this season.

#9, Sam Smith

“[She] controlled the ball brilliantly, but more importantly [she] controlled the larger flow of the game thanks to [her] masterful positioning.” 

When talking about Smith you have to talk about her ability (and desire) to take on opposing defenders one-on-one and her ability to be in just the right place, at just the right time, to blast a ball into the back of the net. The senior co-captain is masterful on the dribble, in part because her positioning sees her receiving the ball in space, with plenty of options to dribble, take a shot, or cross the ball into the box. In addition to technical skills, Smith brings speed, which gives the senior the advantage in most scenarios—if Smith is onside when a ball is played over the top, nine times out of ten she’s beating the defender to that ball and making something happen. It’s all in positioning.

#10, Emily Sapienza

“That is why forwards are also often called strikers: the goal needs to come like a bolt of lightning.”

Sapienza is a transfer to BC this year and the junior owns the right wing, utilizing space to cut inside and strike like lightning to give the Eagles a goal. Although not the speediest member of the forward corps, Sapienza knows how to time her runs and has scored four goals this season, second on the team. Lethal in the final third, Sapienza has also added diversity to the attack, driving centrally rather than run the wings and cross. Sapienza lights up the wing and her attack can be counted on to generate energy, if not a goal.

#1, Wiebke Willebrandt

“But to be a real hero as a goalie, Bell suggested, may mean not being recognized as such.”

The thing about being a goalie is that when you’re doing your job right, no one knows how hard you’re working. Willebrandt knows the tricks of the trade—how to stop opponents from scoring, how to be in the right position to intercept a cross, how to stretch an inch taller to punch the ball over the crossbar—and that knowledge means that often, the goalkeeper is in the right position to make a difficult save look easy. The goalie has come into her own as a hero for the Eagles this season, vocally commanding her defense to move up the second the ball is cleared, but it’s unlikely that people will realize the true extent of the work she’s doing.

Conclusion

ACC play always leaves a bad taste in the mouth, but the back half of the schedule has the potential to be friendlier to the Eagles than the front half. Each of the pieces are solid—the trouble so far this season has been putting the solid defensive line in contact with the midfield and forwards and vice versa. Most of the defensive trouble has come from allowing opposing teams too much space, whether on the wings or in the center of the field. Opponents use that space to either find an open man or to take a shot themselves—and with the time to think about where to shoot the ball, the shot almost always finds the back of the net.

The last three games against ranked opponents were a trial by fire. Now the challenge is to start chipping away at ACC opponents. The Eagles need to find a goal here and there—it doesn’t have to be pretty—and then string a couple of goals together into an ACC win at home or away.  Holding an opponent to only one goal would also be a win for the Eagles and would allow Willebrandt a break. Soccer is both a short and long season; there’s still a little under half a season to play and there’s no reason the Eagles can’t move past the first three games of ACC play to return to their non-conference form.

All quotes were taken from Laurent Dubois’s “The Language of the Game.”

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