“The ball is faster than any human being.”
That’s why coach Darren Ambrose identified speed as the key for the Penn women’s soccer team Friday at Cornell.
For Penn to reel off its second straight Ivy victory in as many games and take care of business against the winless Big Red, “they’ve got to move the ball faster,” Ambrose said.
Coming off back-to-back 1-0 games, the focus for Penn (4-4, 1-0 Ivy) has understandably been on offensive precision.
“We’ve been very good playing two-three touches. We need to be playing one touch, two touch rhythm — it’s really something we’ve not been great at,” Ambrose said.
Ambrose has placed an emphasis on quick, sharp passes to feet, instead of gambling with long balls that provide the other team with great counter chances. Rather than hitting the ball near the goal and hoping that it finds the back of the net, the plan is to create quality shots and scoring chances, something the Red and Blue did not do in a tough 1-0 loss against Boise State on Sunday.
“The goalkeeper made two tremendous saves, and we couldn’t score four to five goals this year,” Ambrose said. “We have just not been as sharp.”
If the last 30 minutes of Wednesday’s practice were any indication, the Quakers should be able to possess the ball better this weekend, and if they can control the rhythm and speed of the game, the chances will come.
Searching for its first win of the season, Cornell (0-9, 0-1) will likely come out with a little extra passion as it faces its superior Ivy League rival at home. Ambrose, though, prefers to focus on what he control: his own team.
“I’ve always been this way. I have been more concerned about us,” he said. “We always scout every opponent but try to do what we want to do and have them adjust to us.”
This focus on offensive flow is made possible by the consistency of the Penn defense, which, together with senior keeper Sarah Banks, has not given up more than two goals this season and has pitched two shutouts.
Right center back Erin Thayer said the focus has been on crisp distribution out of the back and keeping the passes wide. With the midfield playing up top, the flatback four is often left alone, leaving a very small margin for error.
“We play possession usually so all of our midfielders are forward,” Thayer said. “So we need to make sure that we get it to our team because we are not necessarily in [good] defensive shape when we get the ball.”
Like the rest of the team, the defense has worked on playing to feet and avoiding playing “big balls that are intercepted, giving them a chance for a counter,” Thayer said.
Of the few goals the defense has let in this season, most have been on set pieces.
“The mentality and focus on set pieces need to be a little better,” Thayer said, adding that the Quakers can’t afford any “silly fouls, even around midfield.”
If one goal in two games defines ‘unfocused,’ then it’s going to be a long day for Cornell.