I’ll use bullet points because I have a bunch of disparate thoughts that I’m too lazy to connect coherently. Hey, this is coming out basically a week after it happened. What did you expect?
- The scrimmage (which can be seen here) was played like a normal match with two 45-minute halves and a referee and … assistant referees? They looked more like players wearing shiny vests over their sweats and pointing their flags generally in the right direction. This will come into play later.
- The squad was split into Team Blue, which was mostly upperclassmen with the exceptions of Eileen Murphy, Ashley Cathro, Meredith Johnson-Monfort, and the freshmen goalkeeping tandem of Julia Cili and Natalie Phelps, and Team White, which was all underclassmen except Jayna Fittipaldo and the senior goalkeeping tandem of Elizabeth Cablk and Sami Sample.
- There were a few major absences, like Makenna Silber, Peyton Willie, Henar Urteaga, Katelynn Buescher, and Maggie Hillman. This primarily affected each side’s attack, since no other attacker on the roster can quite match the physical play of Silber or Willie.
- The scrimmage finished with a final score of 3-2 in favor of the youngsters, with all goals coming in the second half. Julia Eichenbaum scored for White first in the 56th minute after receiving a beautiful through ball from Zoey Kollhoff and fighting off a defender. Katie Le responded for Blue after a period of pressure from the elders in the 59th. Ashley Prell retook the lead for White with a left-footed howitzer blast from outside the box in the 64th. Murphy came forward for Blue and responded with an even more impressive blast in the 75th. Kollhoff put White on top for good by taking the ball off the foot of Cathro and putting it past Phelps in the 79th minute.
- Yes, all goals came in the second half, but that wasn’t on the goalkeepers. The attacks didn’t do much in the first half, and really, all five goals didn’t seem very salvageable for the keepers. Otherwise, Sample made an astounding save on a Breslin blast, and Phelps played some very good sweeper keeper in the last 10 minutes and made a few other decent saves along the way. I can’t really make a separation between the keepers from the scrimmage. I’d guess Cili is at the top of the depth chart currently since she started with the A-team, but I really don’t know.
- It’s a delight to see Cathro back out there. She held down the left side of the defense like usual. The first two goals and most of the chances for Team White came down the other flank or right down the middle of the park. It’s nice to have her back.
- That last goal for Team White was confusing (at least to me). I *think* it should’ve been whistled offside when Fittipaldo tackled the ball in the general direction of Kollhoff, but was Fittipaldo’s tackle a deflection or a purposeful play on the ball, and was there anyone keeping Kollhoff onside out of frame of the camera? It’s not a call some players wearing yellow vests would make. Anyway, she was onside when Cathro played the ball, and Cathro should be playing to the whistle. So yeah, it’s probably on Cathro, but she has an excuse (maybe). It’s also the sort of goal that doesn’t happen often, so I’m not extremely concerned. That being said, it was a very opportunistic goal by Kollhoff that even Chris Wondolowski would be proud of.
- Let’s talk freshmen! I’ve watched her play for only 90 minutes, but I’m a big fan of Eichenbaum. She’s tiny, but she’s fast and has quick feet. Really, the big thing is she doesn’t give up. On her goal, she got knocked off the ball, but she recovered, took it back, and put it away. Her movement and ability to find space is pretty good as well, and it led directly to her goal and another chance she fizzed over the bar later. Again, I don’t know where she’d be on the depth chart, but it’d be fun to see her play off of Silber.
- The youngsters’ back line was 2/3 newbies, and they held up well. Joanna Verzosa-Dolezal was solid, but I want to specifically highlight Makala Woods. She started out on the right side of the defense before picking up a knock in the second half. After she walked it off, she came back in on the right side where she marked Hope Breslin for the rest of the match, and woo buddy they went at it. Woods did a very good job at shutting down Breslin and frustrating her, usually taking the ball off Breslin almost as soon as she got it. The match finished with her drawing a yellow card on Breslin after taking the ball off her and starting a counterattack.
- Speaking of which, it doesn’t look great when a senior puts in a challenge against a freshman that is bad enough to draw a yellow card in an intra-squad scrimmage. It looks even worse when the scrimmage/match ended with that freshman still on the turf injured. Yes, it could’ve been more of a hard play on the ball instead of a cynical frustration thing, but it’s impossible to tell as an outside observer. Either way, if Woods is ok, maybe keep her and Breslin on opposite sides of the field if they’re on separate teams or just put them on the same team?
- I’ll just do a slapdash of single (possibly run-on) sentences on other players I’d like to highlight. Relative veteran Kendra Pasquale was a Swiss Army knife for the youngsters, a calming presence on the ball, and I think added some speed in the offseason. JVD and Aleah Treiterer were solid in defense for the young folks. Murphy was the biggest physical presence on the pitch on Friday night, as she will be in most matches. Kollhoff’s assist on Eichenbaum’s goal was exquisite, but I’m not sure how good she actually is because I get a bit lost just following five midfielders on one team, let alone 10 on two. That’s the first goal I’ve seen Le score, and she did it from the midfield instead of striker. Amaya Ellis’ major issue has been passes to nobody, but I didn’t notice it in the scrimmage, so hopefully she fixed it.
- Overall, I came away feeling better about the team’s defensive depth. I don’t know what the ceiling is, but I like this year’s roster’s ability to withstand defensive injuries better than last year’s. The drop-off won’t be as bad, but it’s difficult to say how high it’d be in the first place. Also, the younger side’s midfield and attack was mostly small folks who are hyper quick and can hustle. They’re fun to watch, but I don’t know how well they’d fare against a physical Big Ten slate. I think the idea in the future would be to have Murphy as a target for the first ball and then have all the tiny, quick folks go after the second ball. It’s an idea that works on paper. In practice may be another story.
- My current lineup, now that I’ve seen the freshmen a bit:
Forwards: Silber, Eichenbaum
Midfielders: Breslin, Murphy, Ashleigh LeFevre, Maggie Hillman, Pasquale
Defenders: Cathro, JVD, Treiterer
Again, big fan of Eichenbaum. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Le or even Breslin getting minutes alongside Silber, but I really like how Eichenbaum plays. Peyton Willie will be Silber’s backup. The midfield is a crapshoot. That’s where Rayfield uses the most substitutions anyway, and I’d bet on Summer Garrison, Katelynn Buescher, Le, and Ellis to all get solid minutes. Heck, Lillian Lucas, Fittipaldo, Prell (who knew she had that cannon for a left leg?), and Haley Singer all looked solid as well. There’s plenty of options for defense too, but they’re mostly very young. Henar Urteaga, the all-OVC transfer from EIU, might be a starter. Woods looked like she would be ready to fill a role off the bench if need be. Pasquale and Buescher are both experienced back there, too. I’ve already talked about the goalkeeper. I think Cili’s at the top of the depth chart, but I don’t have enough expertise to really separate them based on 90 minutes of play.
- I’ll use my last bullet point to kindly ask that the athletic department keeps streaming these scrimmages. Whether it goes in the record books or not, this is the first Illini Athletics team competition that was possible for the general public to watch since March. It feels a bit weird since it could be considered a “return to normal” while we still don’t have the pandemic under control, but it’s still something. However, if they’re still going to do these Friday scrimmages, it’s nice to let the public watch.