Matt: Question re Ladyback Soccer Program

I note that the soccer team has started up the spring season (victory over MO St) in preparation for the NCAA tournament. The program has risen like a phoenix these last five years or so to settle in as a very solid top-ten program (currently 7th, I think). The recruiting classes seem to be loaded. Have a few questions. How competitive are the Ladybacks with the very top teams, e.g., Carolina, FSU?
Where do you see the program being a few years from now with recruiting the way it is now? How hard is it to move into the top echelon? Is a high level of international recruiting required? The play at goalie seems to have been average lately. Will the new transfer from OK St. juice that?

Not Matt, but we have beaten both UNC and Duke at Razorback Field in recent years, so certainly on those given nights we were competitive. So far Colby hasn’t put it together for a deep run into the NCAA tournament (I think they made the Sweet 16 in 2013, losing to Duke on PKs) but it’s certainly possible with this team. Our limiting factor, I think, is that we’re very aggressive on attack and in so doing leave ourselves open to counterattacks, which is what Vandy did in the SEC final last year. If we can ever figure out how to be aggressive without giving up the counters, it could be fun.

I covered our game with Virginia Tech in the 2018 regional. We frankly outplayed the Hokies, hit the wood a couple of times, their GK was standing on her head, and then VT scored on a set piece in overtime and that was all she wrote.

I’ll do my best to answer your questions. I don’t consider myself a soccer expert by any means, but I have followed the program closely. There are others on our board who know the game well. Hopefully they will chime in.

I think Arkansas is in the midst of a really good multi-year run that is due in large part to the play of this year’s senior class, in particular Taylor Malham, Parker Goins and Haley VanFossen. Those three are as good at their position as anyone else in the conference. Anna Podojil has complemented that group well, and there are other strong players on the team. Kayla McKeon has been really good. I think Bryanna Hunter is a good defender. I’ve heard Ellie Podojil might be as good of a midfielder as her sister is a forward.

Most, if not all, are planning to come back next season with the extra year of eligibility, so I expect Arkansas to be among the SEC’s best again. Past that it will be interesting to see how the team stacks up. The recruiting has been good, so you’d expect the team to continue to be successful. But sometimes there are those special groups who propel a team to a high level. I think this senior class is that type of group. Perhaps there is another waiting in the wings, younger players now who are the leaders in future years.

I don’t think international recruiting is necessary to win. North Carolina’s roster does not have any international players this year and that team is as likely as any to win the national championship. Arkansas has done a good job recruiting Dallas where soccer is very popular, and is nearby good soccer towns like Tulsa, Kansas City and St. Louis.

As far as where Arkansas fits in the national perception, I’d say it is probably in the tier below the heavyweights. The Razorbacks have beaten a lot of the perennial powers in the past four or five years, but I don’t perceive them as getting the same level of respect nationally. Some of that might be due to the style of play.

I think the SEC teams have a great amount of respect for Arkansas because of how often the Razorbacks beat them. As Colby Hale told me in the fall, they are now “the hunted, hated Razorbacks” within the SEC. If they can sustain their level of play in the SEC, that’s a good start toward a better national perception. They need to go further in the NCAAs. They have struggled with ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament and have only made it past the second round once. Jeff made an interesting point on the counterattacks. I tend to wonder if the aggressive style might make them wear down in tournament settings, where there can be less time to recover in between games.

I’m not sure what is happening at goalkeeper. I thought Taylor Beitz was playing pretty well toward the end of the regular season, but she has graduated and isn’t playing this spring. I’m planning to talk with Colby soon and will try to get some more information on that.

I missed the question about international recruiting. FSU has five international players on its roster (one each from China, Venezuela, Canada, Ireland and Bermuda). Stanford, ranked #1 right now, only has two (Switzerland and Australia). As Matt mentioned, UNC doesn’t have any this season, but they had three English girls on their 2019 roster; one of them is now playing for Arsenal Women in the English WSL. We have one, BTW, a Canadian girl who transferred from Louisville.

Could international recruiting help make up the difference? Yeah, probably, but we’re doing okay with the girls we are recruiting,

Regarding goalkeeping, the Okie Lite transfer played Sunday against SLU and it concerned me that she didn’t make a single save. Now the match was not streamed and it’s possible that she had no chance on any of the three goals, but that ain’t a good sign when your shotstopper goes 90 minutes and doesn’t stop any. If she had no chance on three goals, that’s some bad defensive breakdowns.

I expect recruiting Tulsa will stay strong. Colby had strong ties there. And Dallas soccer is always terrific. There are two clubs there producing a lot of national pool players and Colby has ties there, too.

What I see on the Arkansas team is top end speed starting with Anna Podojil.

Regarding my comment above on style of play leaving us open to counterattacks, let me throw in a basketball analogy (which is not completely appropriate because of the offside rule in soccer, but close). Say Muss told all five guys to crash the offensive boards every time we took a shot. We’d get more offensive rebounds, but we’d also give up dunks on the other end when we didn’t because no one is back. Well, Colby’s style leaves us open to the fast break when we lose possession in somewhat the same way.

Does anyone know why Taylor Beitz left the team with the second half of the season + NCAA tournament coming up? (Besides merely graduating)

She got a job. Sometimes we forget the reason they come to college as a step towards the real world. I know as fans we don’t want them to stop playing but it’s a part of the process to join the working force.

When my daughter was in her last year of college soccer she asked for me to stop asking how she did at practice and how her student teaching went. It’s weird how that works. I was really awakened as a dad as to what was/is important.

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