They say the best offense is a good defense. Unfortunately, sometimes you just need a good offense. For Penn women’s soccer, that is the mantra for this new season.
While their overall 6-4-6 record in 2015 looks good on the surface, a 1-2-4 Ivy League record paints a different picture. In all competitions, the Quakers scored 19 goals while only giving up 11, but in seven conference matchups, they were outscored five goals to three. This prompted Red and Blue coach Nicole Van Dyke to focus her efforts on increased firepower up front.
“I think this year we’re actually going to be taking more risks. We know what we’re capable of doing defensively and we know what we need to do on the attacking side,” Van Dyke said. “We focus a lot in training on talking those risks and getting numbers in the box and having a bit more quality in the final third.”
These aren’t just empty words — this new formula will lend itself to a slightly different system with more emphasis on the defenders participating in the attack. This means the opposition can expose the weakened back line, but Van Dyke has confidence in her team’s resiliency.
“We do attack well with the outside backs, but you can’t just attack with one; you attack with two. There’s gonna be a time and place for that and for sending more numbers forward. I think we’re really confident with the players we have and that everyone can defend,” Van Dyke said.
With a fresh batch of youngsters on the squad, the all-important question will be how to involve the new players into the new system — and who can step up and make an immediate impact.
“We’ve got about four or five players that are battling out for those [wingback] position. ... On the other flank we have some seniors and an incoming freshman Abby Reed, who is from England and has begun to establish herself as a very high level technical player that likes to get in the final third. It’s a challenge, they’re all battling it out and the first few games will reveal who’s most effective,” she added.
Reed, who is attached to Chelsea Ladies FC, is an England native ready to make her mark at Penn. Regarding the demanding nature of the position, she noted that her experience and the training have prepared her well.
“It’s something we’ve been working on at practice, getting up and back, which is a big part of my play and coming up the line and exposing their defense. Having that extra man up to help get more goals this season is key, which is something we need to improve upon through a more attacking mindset,” Reed said.
When dealing with a crop of new players, integration to the team is paramount for success, especially when some of the freshmen will be required to fill starting roles. Van Dyke noted how different that process can be when dealing with girls traveling the globe to get to Philadelphia.
“As a coach you worry when some are coming from California and England how are they going to adapt and can they do that quickly. ... That’s something that as coaches we can try to cultivate but one of the players’ biggest strengths is their chemistry,” Van Dyke said.
Freshman Emily Sands, an incoming midfielder with 66 goals in her high school career, feels that team has already formed a real cohesive unit in their short time together.
“We had a team bonding week and it was kind of awkward at first because everyone was trying to get to know each other,” Sands said. “Freshmen were trying to get to know our class, so we started bonding together that week. Then next week at preseason the whole team started to gel. I feel like we’re a family already and it’s only been two weeks.”
Reed agreed with Sands and added some perspective on the cultural differences overseas.
“They’ve all been really welcoming and nice. Being international, it’s quite funny as I’ll say something and they’ll laugh and I’m not sure why. I haven’t missed home and they’ve really adopted me as a second family,” she said.
With a host of tough opponents ahead, the Red and the Blue will really need to get the newcomers on board and perfect this updated system to begin lighting up the scoreboard.
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