Every week throughout the season, former UCLA and U.S. Under-16 National Team midfielder Jessica Stamp provides color analysis for the Texas Soccer Web Broadcasts and her perspective on the team's performance over the last week. A Houston, Texas, native, Stamp played for the Challenge Soccer Club before winning a Pac-10 Championship and reaching the College Cup Finals as a UCLA Bruin.
The Longhorns returned from their first road trip of the season with a reality check as the team went from beating No. 3 UCLA a week earlier to squeaking by unranked opponent Arizona State 1-0 and then losing to also unranked Arizona 2-0. Texas joins seven other collegiate programs ranked in the NSCAA's top ten in losing early in the 2007 season with only No. 1 Stanford and No. 8 Boston College remaining undefeated in just four games. One issue in UT's young season-greatly magnified this past weekend--is the lack of shot production. Although the Texas offense began the season strong by putting up 25 shots against TCU, the Horns have since averaged under seven shots in the following three games with an average of under four on goal. In order for Texas to be successful in accumulating opportunities on goal, All-American senior forward Kelsey Carpenter must be a part of the attack. She did not register a shot in the boxscore although she was active in the area. This includes getting endline herself and sending the ball across or getting into the box on the end of these balls as well as combining up top to get her and the other forwards behind the defense.
The 2006 Texas squad averaged 19.1 shots per game, an astonishingly high number given their competition throughout the season. However, the Longhorns have lost three of their top five goal scorers from that landmark year to graduation in seniors Amy Burlingham, Carrie Schmit, and Ashley Foster. Additionally, UT lost senior Priscilla Fite who was tied for sixth on the team in scoring, and the top assist leaders-Burlingham (9) and Schmit (7). That's a lot of production to replace. However, Texas now knows how to find success on offense as evident by the 2006 run. If the Longhorns return to their game plan up top and take advantage of their dangerous abilities on set pieces, then the team will no doubt put up more threatening numbers.
There is no question that the strongest unit on the field is the Texas defense. Consistently solid in the back and dangerous when on the attack, the UT flat back four sets the tempo of the Texas style of play. However, the squad struggled to maintain possession this past weekend and too frequently gave the ball away. Traditionally, this experienced unit plays intelligent, sophisticated soccer in the back. In 2006, they held their opponents to an average of 9 shots per game, giving up zero penalty kicks and very few corners. While the UT backline followed its fantastic performance against UCLA by limiting Arizona and Arizona State to only a few dangerous chances, they did exhibit a lack of focus and disorganization in allowing additional opportunities. For example, the team allowed a total of 13 corners between the two matches with eight in the Arizona match alone. However, more important than lowering these opposing offensive numbers is the backline contribution in leading the team. This includes not just vocal leadership out of the back, but also leading by example. When the back line possesses the ball, battles to win balls played into feet, challenges in the air, and penetrates on the attack, the Longhorns become more formidable across the board.
THE COMING WEEK
Teams like Texas, that have historically sat on the bubble of making a NCAA Final Four appearance by finishing in the third round or quarterfinals of postseason play, should be encouraged by the early toppling of such powerhouses as UNC, Notre Dame, Portland, UCLA, and Santa Clara. The testament to increased parity in women's college soccer defuses some of the psychological apprehension of playing such dominant programs. Young players more specifically will gain significant confidence in the idea that no team is untouchable. Texas revealed early that it could compete with and even dominate strong opponents like UCLA. This produces an expectation of the Longhorns to bring comparable intensity and team performance to each of their games played. The 2006 Texas squad consistently played well from game to game and for the full 90 minutes-whether at home or on the road, whether preseason or postseason, and whether a ranked opponent or unranked opponent. If the new 2007 squad looks to build off last year's success to push further into the NCAA tournament, then they will have to be learn how to put a string of strong performances together against a variety of opponents in unfamiliar locations.
STAMPS OF APPROVAL
STAMP'S PLAY OF THE WEEK: Freshman Nikki Arlitt scored her first career goal and the game-winner in the 1-0 victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils. The newcomer made her role count as she came off the bench and immediately contributed, leading Texas to its first road win of the 2007 campaign.
STAMP'S PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Freshman forward Alisha Ortiz continues to look dangerous up front and steps up her game when Texas needs some magic. She led the team in shots against Arizona with four, but more importantly injects energy into the Texas offense when it's discouraged by strong defensive coverage.