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 Texas Longhorns soccer team won its first Big 12 Soccer Championships by playing creatively up front and staying organized in the back. While the forwards bombarded the net against Nebraska in the quarterfinals, the final two games provided the Horns with fewer opportunities. Texas owned time of possession throughout the matches. The team moved the ball around the field—often stringing together six to eight passes. Their most dangerous chances came off these buildups when the final pass found junior forwards Kelsey Carpenter and Caitlin Kennedy through the backline or senior Amy Burlingham in the flank space. While most of the chances resulted from the midfield sending balls into the seams, the forwards also combined with one another on give-and-goes, ran off each other anticipating flicks, and dummied passes across the frontline. Kennedy played with creativity as she mixed up her runs, ran with Carpenter, and cut back and forth to beat players around the 18. She sent numerous shots on goal from outside the box that required either fully extended saves or the help of a post to stop. In the end, great individual efforts to step in front of defenders and fight for goals gave Texas the edge over tough Big 12 defenses
The Texas defense allowed a single goal throughout the duration of the tournament—the tying header off a free kick from Colorado in the final. The Buffaloes perfectly executed this set piece and sophomore goalkeeper Dianna Pfenninger had no play on the shot. Defensively, the Horns shut down both Co-Big 12 Players of the Year, Brittany Timko of Nebraska and Yolanda Odenyo of Oklahoma State. Then the defense smothered the Big 12 leading goal scorer Nikki Marshall of Colorado. The three backs including sophomores Jill Gilbeau, Kasey Moore, and Stephanie Logterman, who forced forwards to play into the middle, intercepted through balls and balls at their feet, heading away balls sent over top, and ran step for step with the fastest frontrunners in the conference.
If the offense put the team in the position to win, the defense sealed the victory. The backline played the most consistent and dominating week this season. While this aggressive mentality began at the back, it continued up field as the UT midfield also played some of its best defense all year. Everywhere an opposing player turned a Longhorn seemed to be waiting with unrelenting pressure. The intensity disrupted the possessing ability of all three opponents. Only when Texas began to let up late in the second half against Colorado—fatigue perhaps a factor— did it look as if another team gained momentum. Yet, the constant stellar play from Pfenninger in the net forced the other team to put across something literally unstoppable in order to earn a point. This included the six penalty kicks Pfenninger faced in the final. She had the biggest stop of her career as she found the fifth kick within her grasp, keeping UT’s hopes alive.
THE COMING WEEK
The defense will have to maintain this kind of performance in every game in the post season in order to keep talented offense quiet. Of course, the Texas offense will also have to continue with its dynamic attack up front. By incorporating a multifaceted plan of attack, using their outside backs to come forward, Moore penetrating up the midfield, Moore sending long balls into the corners, attacking endline, combining up top, and taking on 1v1, Texas will overwhelm the opposing teams with their numerous weapons. First, Texas will face the Long Island Blackbirds in the opening round. The Horns will take a lesson from a year ago when they let a 2-0 lead slip away to UTEP and then found themselves out of the tournament. The offense will work to push a number of goals across and then focus on maintaining the lead. The team has matured significantly from last season as they remain more consistently focused throughout each match. The second round provides much more of a threat to the Longhorns as Connecticut --one of only two teams to attend every NCAA tournament--or first timer and Ivy League champion Columbia awaits. However, Texas will take it one game at a time, realizing after their premature exit in 2005 that they have to take every team seriously.
STAMPS OF APPROVAL
STAMP'S PLAY OF THE WEEK: Sophomore goalkeeper Dianna Pfenninger stared down the fifth penalty kick that would win the Big 12 tournament title for the Buffaloes if it passed the goal line. The second-year Longhorn predicted left and followed the ball as she completely blocked the pass into the corner. No doubt, this save crushed Colorado which couldn’t place its final kick on goal.
STAMP'S PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Sophomore defender Kasey Moore anchored the team’s best defensive effort in an oppressing performance. Moore stepped in front of frontrunners as balls came forward, forced the ball backwards when the offense checked, stole the ball away from players on the run, blocked shots, cleared balls sent into the box at least 30 yards away from the goal, and played this hard for 297 minutes. Somehow she had enough energy to rocket away a penalty kick.