Soccer finds leadership in backline
Aug. 16, 2012
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
Equal parts sneaky and savvy, technical and talented, defenders make their mark by sniffing out passes before the opposition even serves them.
“If we don’t have to defend, we’re doing our job,” Gilbert says. “That’s how defense is. You’re reading the pass. Does the ball look like it’s going long? Then we know we need to drop as a unit.
“You’re always guessing where they’re going to play the ball and dropping into that passing lane. And if you’re not right, you’re running around, chasing balls over your head and trying to make slide tackles.”
As the Longhorns prepare to open the 2012 season under first-year coach Angela Kelly on Friday against Dayton at Mike A. Myers Track and Soccer Stadium, Gilbert and Arnold have emerged as two anchors on UT’s defensive backline.
“They are both students of the game, constantly watching and learning,” Kelly says. “I’ve certainly seen a maturity in both of them and a willingness to be held accountable, lead and take more responsibility.”
The Longhorns feature a roster of 23 with 11 newcomers, nine of which are freshmen. The focal point to preseason training has been pounding home the foundation of chemistry and personality.
As the season deepens, they will build from that foundation, and the team’s tactical awareness will grow. However, UT’s identity should be evident now and always.
“We will defend as a unit and attack as a unit,” Kelly says.
That starts with the backline, and the organization Gilbert and Arnold provide. They direct when the Longhorns shift position and when they stay.
Last year, Gilbert and Arnold were the only freshmen to start every match in 2011. Arnold logged 1,863 minutes, the second-most among all field players, while Gilbert was named to the Big 12 All-Newcomer Team.
“Last year, I was the youngest on the back line, the least experienced,” Arnold says. “My role has developed into more of a vocal leader and a positive leader in the back because you have to tell your teammates where you want them and where the pressure is. You’re coaching them on the field. Our leadership in the back is crucial.”
But offering vocal instruction is only a portion of the backline’s responsibility. As key distributors, Gilbert and Arnold also have to read the opposing defense to set up their teammates in offensive attacking positions.
Because Gilbert spent most of her freshman season as a holding midfielder, it’s second-nature for her to play through that spot because she already knows where that individual needs to be positioned.
Gilbert can deliver passes to feet, but she’s also working to better recognize when to send a ball over the top and extend the defense.
“If their line is really high,” Arnold explains, “you can play over the top and next time that will create space because the defense will drop off more.”
In last week’s exhibition victory against Texas State, Gilbert and Arnold played the full 90 minutes and helped to limit the Bobcats to just seven shots. Goalkeeper Ava Vogel needed only two saves in a 1-0 shutout.
“We need people to do great things, but as a team. We’re going to defend as a team,” Arnold says. “We’ll never leave someone isolated outside.”