The Illini continued their hot start to the 2019 campaign by opening conference play with a win over Northwestern on Friday night. The defense was sturdy all match and the offense was cooking, making the Illini quite the formidable force.
Things got rolling quickly. In the 13th minute, Kendra Pasquale (welcome back) lobbed the ball over the Wildcat defense, and Kelly Maday got to it first, deftly chipping the ball over the oncoming keeper and into the back of the net.
The team-located-in-the-city-that-only-requires-one-train-ride-to-get-to-downtown-Chicago kept putting pressure on the one located where it usually takes two (without wifi too). In the 20th minute, Maday was on the attack again, firing a shot off the wrong side of the post. As a team, the Illini particularly got after it right before the half, putting a barrage of corner kicks on the Northwestern goal right before the halftime whistle. However, it came to nothing, and the Illini took a 1-0 lead to the break.
In the second half, the Illini didn’t let off. In the 48th minute, Maday did her marker dirty and whipped in a cross that found the feet of a wide open Hope Breslin at the back post. She took a moment to compose herself and then decided to score when she was good and ready.
Twelve minutes later, the team-from-the-town-where-everyone-is-up-in-arms-about-the-impending-demolition-of-the-prototypical-college-bar-and-is-thus-the-team-of-the-people caught the team-from-the-town-where-everyone-is-up-in-arms-about-the-impending-demolition-of-a-lighthouse-and-therefore-a-team-that-is-out-of-touch-with-the-common-man on the break. Kelly Maday found a trailing runner in Arianna Veland in space, who launched a bomb of a shot past the keeper and under the bar to put the Illini up 3-0.
GOOOALLLLL!!!— Illinois Soccer (@IlliniSoccer) September 21, 2019
Arianna Veland makes it 3-0 for the & in the 60th minute! pic.twitter.com/o0dZpTGkY0
However, in the 80th minute, the school-with-the-objectively-worse-architecture got a questionable foul call in their favor which led to a questionable hand ball call in the box (maybe?), giving the Wildcats a penalty. Jaelyn Cunningham guessed correctly, but Regan Steigleder’s shot was juuuuust a bit better, putting it past the Illini keeper’s reach and into the bottom left corner. The Illini then saw out the final 10 minutes without too much trouble from the team-that’s-closer-to-Buffalo-Joe’s-and-Edzo’s (both of which I mention only to prove that I can see the good in everyone), winning 3-1.
A couple things:
- KELLY MADAY had a performance that requires me typing about her in all caps. Yes, she scored. Yes, she assisted on Veland’s goal (which was mostly the result of Ari’s brilliance but still). And yes, she assisted on Hope’s goal which was mostly the result of KELLY MADAY’s brilliance. However, she didn’t have only three good moments in the match. MADAY was a terror for the Wildcat back line all night. It didn’t matter who Northwestern marked her with. MADAY beat them with pace, skill, smarts, everything. It was beautiful cruelty from an orange-and-blue point of view.
That was by far the best performance I’ve seen out of KELLY MADAY, and I’m willing to venture that was probably the best match she’s had for the Orange and Blue.
2. The Illini defense was solid. Besides the penalty, nothing really tested Cunningham to the point where she had to prove that she is an exceptional keeper. I really wish stats at this level advance past total shots and SOG, because Northwestern outshot Illinois 11-7 and had a 5-4 advantage in SOGs. However, the Wildcats may have had a higher quantity of shots, but the shot quality heavily favored the Illini. Basically, give me those sweet, sweet xGs to point towards, and I’ll be happy.
Special credit goes to Katelynn Buescher, who is growing into the left back position. She locked down the left side of the pitch tonight which bodes really well for the rest of the conference schedule.
3. Speaking of left back, welcome back to the pitch Kendra Pasquale! She was out at left midfield as opposed to her usual position at left back, which makes sense. Weaknesses show up for a back line is if there’s a lack of consistency. Resetting that consistency by replacing Buescher with Pasquale during conference play is risky in general. Also, considering Pasquale makes more sense at left back in a 4-4-2 as opposed to a 3-5-2, having her there would require a whole change of system. Plus, coming back from an injury means she probably isn’t 90-minutes fit, so she’d likely need to be subbed out yet, throwing that consistency for a loop mid-match.
Long story short, Pasquale is back at midfield, and she probably will/should stay there barring another injury. She got an assist on MADAY’s goal, and while it’s early, having her in the midfield looks promising.
4. It’s time to talk about the off the field stuff. Once again, it’s nice as a fan not having to stare into the sun for the first couple of minutes after kickoff. The field lighting is excellent. It’s all LEDs and it’s set up to where light pollution is minimal.
The freebie tonight was a tambourine. It was a little plastic thing that made some noise, but after being spoiled with the hard hats, it was a bit of a disappointment.
5. Congratulations to Coach Janet Rayfield on her 200th career win at Illinois. She’s the second-longest tenured coach at the University of Illinois, and in her 18 seasons in Champaign, she’s amassed a record of 200-137-33.
6. The 201st could be absolutely massive though. Illinois’ next match comes this Thursday at 8 p.m. CT on the road at No. 19 Iowa. The Hawkeyes are undefeated on the season, with their marquee win on the road at No. 14 NC State. The match will be broadcast on actual, big-time BTN.