Today, the women’s soccer season commences, and thus, it’s time for us sportswriters to get together and make predictions on matters about which we know not. Oh, we’re qualified in our knowledge about the sport and all. Many — well, some — of us played years of competitive soccer, and we can regurgitate Ivy League statistics that even coaches fail to find interesting.
But the reality is that making claims about a team’s future before the season starts is an exceedingly tricky business. Then again, we’re sportswriters, and speculation is our business. We predict various teams’ successes, or lack thereof, and when we’re right, we look like geniuses. When we’re wrong, we shrug our shoulders and move on. We’re the hedge fund managers of newspapers, just without the Zegna suits, sparkling skyscrapers and government bailouts (so we’re nothing like hedge fund managers. Did I mention that we use outrageous analogies?).
All disclaimers aside, it’s safe to make at least one prediction about this Penn women’s soccer season: Offense will be the key. This isn’t because defense isn’t important, but rather because no one doubts coach Darren Ambrose’s team will play good-to-exceptional defense. A goalkeeper in his college days, Ambrose has transposed his defensive mindset onto the program, which accounts for much of the team’s success in his 13-year tenure.
But last season, despite yet another impressive defensive performance, something in the offense never clicked. One might call it bad luck, but over the course of a season, the sample size is too large to blame it on chance.
In an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, Ambrose gave his assessment of the scoring drought, explaining that last season’s squad was much less experienced than it appeared. The team had graduated leaders Marin McDermott and Ursula Lopez-Palm, and though it returned 2010 ECAC and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Kerry Scalora, she had missed much of the previous year due to injury.
Fair points, all around. But here’s where this position gets fuzzy. Even if we account for Penn losing a couple of crucial scorers and Scalora assimilating back into the team, how do we explain the other offensive pieces that evaporated from 2011 to 2012? For instance, Kathryn Barth, Callan Parra and Megan York combined for 17 goals in 2011 . A year later, the same trio netted just four scores.
While sportswriters are speculators, we are, in fact, not mind readers. That is usually why we do interviews. But in this case, getting inside the heads of various players doesn’t necessarily provide all the answers. Though optimistic about the season, even veteran forwards Kerry Scalora and Kathryn Barth seemed puzzled about what happened to the team’s offensive verve last season.
“We never quite clicked like we did the year before,” Barth said.
There were questions about formations, cohesiveness, rhythm and creating the right opportunities. Barth has recently worked on putting herself in scoring situations suited to her strengths, especially chances to battle and brawl with defenders, rather than beat them in a sprint.
But Barth also recognized that when the offense generates opportunities, success depends on one word: finish.
“It really helps to have one or two people who you just know when it comes to them in front of the goal, they’ll put it in,” Barth said. “I don’t think we necessarily had that last year.”
Last season, Dartmouth’s Chrissy Lozier and Emma Brush finished to the tune of 15 goals, and Princeton’s Jen Hoy and Lauren Lazo raked in a combined 29 scores. By comparison, the Red and Blue as a whole scored just 22 goals last season.
I don’t want to misrepresent the state of Penn’s offense by painting some morbid, do-or-die picture. For starters, Brush and Hoy have graduated, depriving their teams of their offensive firepower. Moreover, this Penn team could score the exact same number of goals this season as last and win an Ivy League title — heck, they very nearly did just that a year ago. But it would be equally misleading to ignore the fact that this team is capable of much more. Meanwhile, Dartmouth, Princeton and Harvard are ready to pounce on any Penn missteps.
So here’s my prediction for this season: To accomplish their goals, the Quakers will need to score them. Capitalizing on chances is the name of the game. If they overcome last season’s offensive anemia and finish opportunities, you can expect the Red and Blue to hoist an Ivy League trophy this November. If not, then expect Theresa Wagner Romagnolo’s renegade Dartmouth squad to steal the top spot.
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