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 teamís 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 home to the Forty Acres to face the defending national champion Portland Pilots, in the Sweet Sixteen of the 2006 NCAA Tournament. Amidst ideal weather and field conditions, both teams played quick one- and two-touch soccer, leaving behind the physical, direct play pervading the Big 12 Conference. Texas maintained possession best when the team stretched the field and created space across the backline up through the frontline, while Portland liked to play close to one another in tight spaces, combining with the midfield to get forward. The Texas offense consistently penetrated the Portland defense by going around on the flank space. Junior forward Kelsey Carpenter bombarded the box with crosses on the ground and in the air. Numerous balls sailed or skipped by the sliding or diving attackers and through the box. The best chance for UT came off an endline cross that Carpenter headed toward the lower right hand corner. Unfortunately, Portland senior goalkeeper Cori Alexander made one of her many phenomenal saves to keep the Pilots ahead.
A large part of UTís recent success has been the teamís conversion on set pieces. However, Portland gave up very few fouls or corners on the day. While Portland did their homework and marked sophomore defender Kasey Moore touch-tight with its best player in the air, Lisa Sari, Moore still got loose in the box and was able to get inside on a few opportunities, but again Alexander stopped the attack. The defense for both sides participated significantly in the overall offense. All four members of the Texas backline pushed forward and stayed forward after making runs up the sidelines and through the middle. Cumulatively, the defensive backs made the most runs forward of any game played this year. This contributed to more dangerous chances in and around the box as the numbers forward bottled the ball on the offensive third. It came down to the final pass, which often eluded players or the Portland defense smothered the chance, and finally it came down to finishing. While Alexander made a few key saves for Portland, Texas failed to convert and find a way to win as they had done so well all year.
The UT defense continued to impress with its solid 2006 performance, stopping some of the best players in womenís soccer. The one mishap that occurred defensively came on a corner kick for Portland, where Texas left a player unmarked on the back post. Despite eighth-year head coach Petrucelliís recent emphasis on communicating in order to make sure all players are tracked, Portland midfielder Natalie Budge snuck away to the far side, collected the ball, and chipped it past UTís sophomore goalkeeper Dianna Pfenninger in order to secure the win for the Pilots with under 10 minutes remaining. Although the Horns again started the first half slow, adjusting to Portlandís quick, combination style of play, the team soon found a way to spread the field and prevent the Pilots from playing close. When Portland did get a hold of the ball up top, the Texas defense patiently kept the play in front of the backline. They didnít dive in or track a frontrunner checking into the middle at full speed. They consistently applied steady pressure, while maintaining their formation. The support play by the backs made the difference in blocking the seams and watching the dynamic runs across the line. While perhaps some slight early disorganization and lack of pressure in the back provided junior forward Rachael Rapinoe with some space in front of the 18-yard box, her setup touch and rocket shot could not be stopped. Portland simply put away its quality chances and continued its attacking mentality till the final whistle.
STAMPS OF APPROVAL
STAMP'S PLAY OF THE WEEK: Junior forward Kelsey Carpenter continued to develop a new facet of her game as she headed a minimum of three crosses on the face of the goal. The most dangerous chance for Texas came when Carpenter again got lose from her defender and redirected a shot toward the back post, forcing senior Portland goalkeeper Cori Alexander to make an immaculate save.
STAMP'S TEAM OF THE WEEK: While Carpenter put up numerous shots, senior forward Amy Burlingham consistently broke down the Portland defense, senior midfielders Priscilla Fite and Carrie Schmit won the 50/50 and second balls in the midfield, and the entire backline limited the talented Pilot attack while pushing forward with every opportunity, no single player emerged apart from her team. The entire Texas squad in each position played extraordinary against the storied Portland program and defending national champions. While the Longhorns ended their NCAA tournament run with a loss, they also ended their historic season with one of the -- if not THE -- best Ďteamí performances seen on the Forty Acres.