After losing a tough conference opener at Michigan, Illini soccer was looking to get off the schneid against the two Indiana schools. Up first was the conference home opener against the Boilermakers on Thursday night.
The first half was fairly even. Each team produced a couple of half chances that didn’t result in much. Most of Illinois’ were much like this effort from Kendra Pasquale in the 28th minute, where the Illini had some movement going forward but were content to launch an off-target shot from distance.
Purdue didn’t create a whole lot of chances either, although this cross/pass required a spectacular intervention from Naomi Jackson in the 30th minute:
The teams went to halftime scoreless, but the seal would be broken not long after. In the 55th minute, Jackson decided to try to prevent a Purdue corner by…swatting the ball back into play…right to Purdue forward Sarah Griffith. She took that opportunity to hit a beautiful lob from a tight angle to give the Boilermakers the advantage.
That lead would soon grow. In the 58th minute, a Purdue cross into the box found the head of Illini defender Angie Galo, who placed the ball perfectly into the top left corner of her own net. Nobody online has cut a video of this, which is a shame because it was top bins, upper 90, etc., just into her own net which gave Purdue a 2-0 lead.
The next inflection point came in the 66th minute, when Eileen Murphy put a ball behind the defense that Hope Breslin ran onto. She put her shot past the Purdue keeper and into the net, but the AR had their flag raised for an offside, which kept Illinois off the board.
Illinois finally broke through in the 83rd minute. Breslin was taken down with a judo-esque hip toss in the box, and the refs correctly deemed it a foul and pointed to the spot. Breslin stepped up to take it, but the Boilerkeeper guessed right in multiple ways. However, Breslin arrived first to clean up the rebound and give Illinois a late lifeline.
The next 7 minutes were chaos as Illinois pushed for an equalizer, but it was all for naught. Purdue hung on for a 2-1 win.
Illinois looked to get some revenge on Sunday afternoon at Indiana. Now, I can’t tell you much about what happened for the first hour of the match because the Hoosiers had technical difficulties with their BTN+ stream. However, in the first half, Illinois was extremely efficient. Kendra Pasquale scored in the 8th minute to give Illinois a 1-0 lead. This would be the only shot Illinois took in the half. Indiana produced 6 more shots, but they came to nothing, so the teams went to halftime with Illinois up 1-0.
Again, I have no clue what happened in the first 15 minutes of the second half, but the stream came on just in time for the viewing audience to see Indiana equalize. In the 66th minute, Hoosier midfielder Paige Webber found herself in some space and launched an effort from about 25 yards out. It bounced off Jackson’s gloves and into the top right corner to put the score at 1-1.
And the Hoosiers weren’t done scoring. In the 79th minute, Hoosier forward Melanie Forbes went on a long meandering run from her own defensive third and decided to shoot from about 35 yards out. The ball took a couple of bounces and Jackson was unable to save it, so Indiana led 2-1 late.
The Illini attack was only able to muster 1 shot in the final 10 minutes, but it wasn’t quite as efficient as the first half. The final horn sounded the end of a third straight 2-1 loss for the Illini.
A couple things:
- Well, let’s pull the band-aid off quickly and get the Jackson update out of the way first. To put it kindly, she had a rough weekend. It’s tough for me, an unathletic guy who, even when he played soccer as a kid, was horrible at goalkeeping and has a generally anxious mental state that wouldn’t be good for a goalkeeper, to judge a goalkeeper’s performance. However, three of the four goals Illinois conceded over the weekend could be blamed mostly on Jackson. To quote my roster preview: “The goalkeeper position can carry or doom a team (just look at Iowa last season), but Illinois just needs reliability in the net if they want to take a step forward over seasons prior.” Well…I still think I prefer Jackson over Julia Cili just because Jackson seems much calmer in the back, but if she has the yips and Cili is back from concussion protocol, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a switch at the goalkeeper position come Thursday.
- I don’t like talking about a player and leaving it on a negative note. I will say, Jackson can make some absolutely spectacular saves. The ceiling is extremely high. I just value reliability slightly more than spectacle when it comes to goalkeeping. This from the Purdue game was absurd though:
- Schuler update: Put in 3 minutes at goalkeeper against Purdue. Otherwise, our hero didn’t see the field all weekend. The quest for the strangest career statline ever appears to have hit a snag.
- Outside of the goalkeeping situation, I think Rayfield has settled on a first-choice lineup, particularly in the back. The backline of Cathro-Murphy-Galo-Treiterer has worked pretty well. The Hoosiers and Boilermakers had a couple clear-cut chances, but for the most part, the Illini back four has proven to be tough to break down. As for the midfield, she seems to have a rotation, which is fine considering it’s only 3 players who have to cover a lot of ground. Joanna Verzosa-Dolezal is settling into the 6 nicely, and Pasquale is a natural for the 10. However, the 8 seems unsettled still. Sydney Stephens seems like the natural choice, but she has struggled at times and has been rotated with Kennedy Berschel and Maddie Mariani. If/when Maggie Hillman comes back, it’s possible she joins that rotation as opposed to her normal spot in the 6. However, considering the lack of connected passes, she certainly will have a spot.
- Alright, that bullet point was getting long, so I’ll use this one just to talk about the front 3. Maeve Jones plays as the false 9 and really focuses on hold-up play, which can be very frustrating when that hold-up play holds up an obvious break. She is a true freshman, so hopefully that decision-making will come along with experience. Breslin is special and should occupy the left wing, but her work rate can be…lacking…at times. Silber is darn good out on the right wing, and I liked Zoey Kollhoff at that position when Illinois was looking for a comeback against Purdue. Now, I’d be interested to see her on the pitch in a similar situation with Silber at the 9, but as shown earlier in the season, having 3 forwards mostly interested in getting behind the defense can be pretty easily stopped, but Breslin, Kollhoff, and Silber would at least be interested in attacking quickly. Otherwise, Abby Lynch has seen her minutes dwindle a bit (boo!) while Julia Eichenbaum and Ashleigh Lefevre have gotten into the rotation a bit (yay!).
- The big controversy in the Purdue match was whether or not Breslin was offside in the 66th minute, so it came up in the postgame press scrums. Breslin, as a forward, was adamant that she was onside. Rayfield said she didn’t have a good view, but she said that assistant coach Jeff Freeman felt that she also was onside. Scott Sudikoff, doing play-by-play for the stream, thought she was off. Unfortunately, the broadcast didn’t have a camera angle or a wide enough view to check this.
- But what about the most important opinion of them all: mine? Well, my angle, which was up on the south end of the concourse, was horrible for checking this objectively, but it was still fascinating enough for me to mention because I was in the perfect place to see this play unfold. The Illini attack had a turnover in the offensive third, and Hope was making her way back to her position from the right wing all the way back to the left. Then, the Purdue counter fizzled out and Murphy collected the ball in space somewhere on the left side kinda sorta near midfield, which set up this perfect line of sight for me where Eileen was in the foreground and Hope was in the background. I could see Hope realize that Eileen had possession and the fact that she was completely unmarked, work her way back to something approaching an onside position, and then start calling for the ball, which Murphy supplied. Hope, of course, tracked it down and put it in the net, but then the flag was up.
- So, I know Hope was at least trying to get to an onside position and she wanted the ball played to her. My gut feeling originally was that she was on, and I was surprised to see the flag. I’ll continue to question it until I see a better camera angle or overhead footage that removes all doubts.
- In the Purdue postgame scrums, both Breslin and Rayfield, when asked to comment on the penalty kick, mentioned that they put a ton of work into them. Yeah, sure, that likely entails actually taking the kick and figuring out the mental side. However, the team is clearly well-drilled on what to do and where to be for them because the moment the referee awarded the kick, Kennedy Berschel made a beeline straight for the right-most intersection of the semicircle and the 18-yard box, and Maeve Jones likewise did the same for the left intersection. If you check the video above, if Breslin didn’t get there first, at least 4 other Illini were on the doorstep ready to pounce. That attention to detail makes me very happy.
- These are not fun matches to write about, and according to the barometer, this chunk is officially below average, so I’m just going to summarize the B1G results and get out of here. Purdue, a normally middling program, sits atop the B1G standings with a sterling 3-0 record, while Illinois (who played them fairly evenly) sits at the bottom at 0-3. Some usual suspects, like Rutgers and Wisconsin are hanging around near the top, but your big surprise is that Penn State is now in the cellar with the Illini at 0-3 after losing their two matches this weekend to Northwestern and Ohio State, both in Happy Valley. Northwestern also drew Maryland in College Park on Sunday. Maryland played both c-over-lambda’s this past weekend and also drew Nebraska at home (this is some convoluted chemistry wordplay that only my mother if anyone will appreciate).
- Hey, lookie there, Illinois plays both Northwestern and Maryland this coming weekend, the two teams I made sure to highlight in that quick summary of how the B1G is going. Up first for the Illini is a visit to Evanston for a rivalry match on Thursday night. Kickoff is at 7 PM and the match will be streamed on BTN+. Following that, they come back home for a matchup with the Terps on Sunday. Kickoff will be at noon and once again will be streamed on BTN+.