Penn women’s soccer is playing at a level never before seen in program history. Through nine games, the team stands at a formidable 7-1-1, scoring 17 goals while conceding only 3. Of course, to perform at this caliber, a team must make the most of their 90 minutes on the pitch; however, the Penn women’s soccer team has consistently found another gear in the second half.
A long list of evidence can be compiled to support this:
Five second half goals against Mount St. Mary’s – four of which were scored in the final 10 minutes – in a 5-0 rout.
The lone, decisive goal against Army West Point, which came in the 63rd minute.
A second half rally against NC State almost propelled the Quakers over the then-No. 13 ranked squad in the nation.
Both goals in the Red and Blue’s most recent victory against Cornell were netted in the latter 45 minutes.
You get the idea.
What does this say about the 2018 Quakers as a team? Perhaps it speaks powerfully to the team’s tactical intelligence.
For instance, in the first half of the contest against North Carolina State, the Red and Blue had their back against the wall. The Wolfpack played a high line and the majority of the half was spent with the ball in the Quakers’ half.
After halftime, the entire dynamic of the game shifted because of a tactical decision: the Quakers dropped a defender and played with three women on the back line, which allowed the Red and Blue to move the ball up the field and attack the Wolfpack’s goal.
A similar trend can be seen in the recent draw against Harvard: three shots in the first half, eight shots in the second.
Regarding the team’s ability to adapt and overcome, coach Nicole van Dyke highlighted the vast spectrum of ways in which this team can adjust at halftime and become the better and, more importantly, smarter side when they step back on the pitch.
“I think that’s the beauty of this team and the personnel we’ve had. Sometimes it’s personalities, and someone on this team has something special or unique that they feel like they can exploit. Sometimes it’s purely like ‘hey, we’re going to defend a little higher, we’re going to change our line of confrontation’,” Van Dyke said.
Despite this sustained string of second-half successes, some of the Quakers’ most significant starters do not see their team as such.
“I wouldn’t necessarily consider us a second-half team, per se. I think we’re completely capable of scoring early goals, and I think from a more defensive standpoint we’ve done a really good job of staying locked in for a full 90 minutes, as we have not conceded much in general, and specifically in the first half,” star junior goalkeeper Kitty Qu said.
Team points leader, junior Emily Sands, on the other hand, does not outright reject the notion of the “second-half team”.
“I think that one reason that we have seen us be really strong in the second half is that, this season, we’ve really worked on taking feedback and applying it to the game. So, at halftime, when we’re getting feedback from our coaches, we’re really working on how we can implement it,” she said.
The sources of that feedback, according to Van Dyke, are not merely limited to the coaching staff – and perhaps this is what sets this year’s Quakers apart from years past.
“It’s not like the kids come up with something and the coaches come up with something … it’s a very collective environment,” she said. “The best part about them dissecting the game as well is that they become students of the game, and so that way, they’re able to make changes within a half versus it just being at stoppage.”
The 2018 Quakers are a special team. And while week in and week out, they are playing 90 strong minutes of soccer, that latter 45 is what really sets them apart from the pack.