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 played two very different teams in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Women's Soccer Championship. Texas faced a powerful and physical young program in Long Island on Friday and then a talented and experienced team in Connecticut on Monday. The team also played on two different fields and under different weather conditions-sunny and cool on Friday; cold and rainy on Monday. Yet, eighth-year head coach Chris Petrucelli and the team maintained this year's mantra in executing their game plan: it doesn't matter where they play, when they play, or who they play. The mentality continues to work for Texas as the team added to its unbeaten streak on the road.
It took the Horns a goal to assuage the initial nerves of playing in the postseason as junior Caitlin Kennedy's early goal against Long Island in the first half appeared to trigger the dominant Texas style of play. After the first goal, the team pushed the ball around, changed fields, and built up field with pace. The forwards were able to stretch both the Long Island and UConn backlines, creating space on the flanks and channels for through balls. While the endline service proved most effective against both teams, Texas tried to attack from all sides. While two of the four goals against Long Island came off crosses into the box, the team also found some space in front of the defense near the 18. Senior midfielder Priscilla Fite took a square ball into this space and ripped a bending ball past the Long Island goalkeeper. UConn also gave Texas too much respect in and around the box, but Texas' shots failed to challenge the opposing keeper. Again, Texas looked most dangerous after building out of the backfield up through the midfield, getting endline, and sending crosses into the box.
An important part of the Texas attack has been their consistent threat on set pieces. Sophomore defender Stephanie Logterman continues to send in free kicks and corners in an attempt to hit fellow defender sophomore Kasey Moore. Moore scored by following in a free kick against Long Island and then put Texas ahead 1-0 over UConn by heading in a picture perfect corner. Converting on these set pieces will increase in importance as Texas moves deeper into the tournament, since fewer and fewer opportunities will come against tougher teams.
The UT defense continues to look solid, despite a bit of a rocky start against Long Island. The backline won nearly every long ball in the air. As Long Island and UConn realized they couldn't play direct balls in behind, they adjusted and tried to split the defense with through balls. UConn increasingly found the seams in the second half of play, but the Texas defense either beat them to the balls in or cleared every cross into the box. A key for the defense remained first-time, long clearances and then the midfield winning the second balls. While the conditions on Monday made these clearances more difficult, Texas was able to prevent the talented UConn frontline and midfield from connecting in the final third of the field. Only sophomore goalkeeper Dianna Pfenninger appeared to struggle with the timing of balls played on the turf at the Yousef Al-Marzook Field at University of Hartford. She misplayed a ball sent back by her defense and then misjudged a free kick sent into the box, which resulted in the UConn goal. The slick surface coupled with the harder turf caused the ball to bounce high and skip-a dangerous combination in and around the goal. Any balls allowed to drop in the box threatened the keepers. Even though the momentum subsequently turned toward UConn's favor for the first time in the match after the tying goal, the Texas defense maintained its tenacious defensive line, weathering the offensive storm in the final minutes of regulation.
THE COMING WEEK
The 2006 Texas squad exhibits more maturity and consistency not only in their focus from back to front, but also in their ability to find a way to win. The team has now gone into overtime three times and penalty kicks twice in little over a week. Texas has yet to lose when forced into extra time. As Texas continues to face tougher teams, the ability to play consistently under pressure will help the Horns in advancing in tight contests. It doesn't get much tougher than UT's next opponent-defending national champion Portland. While the Pilots lost a couple players who played a crucial role in their two recent NCAA titles, including multi-time national player of the year Christine Sinclair, the team still posts the biggest threat to Texas on this side of the bracket. Like UConn, Portland has a tremendous amount of experience as a program in the postseason and is one of only three schools with multiple championships. They play fast and hard and have many talented personalities. Yet, so does Texas. The squad that plays the best together as a team will have the best chance of moving on to the Elite Eight.
STAMPS OF APPROVAL
STAMP'S PLAY OF THE WEEK:
Senior Amy Burlingham walked the long, nerve-racking journey from midfield to the penalty area, where she possessed the opportunity to extend her collegiate career by connecting on the fifth and final penalty kick against UConn. Despite not having kicked a penalty kick against Colorado or another previous opponent, Burlingham approached the spot with confidence and determination. The senior sent a low strike into the lower left hand corner, securing the Texas victory and the program's second ever appearance in the Sweet Sixteen.
STAMP'S PLAYER OF THE WEEK:
Sophomore defender Kasey Moore once again dominated on the backline. She seemed to tower over every player, winning long balls, corners, free kicks, and crosses. She stripped forwards and maintained possession. She took balls out of the air with one touch under pressure, remaining composed and transitioning into the attack. Moore also led the team in scoring on the week as she tallied a goal off a free kick against Long Island and then converted a header off a corner to put Texas on top of UConn 1-0.