Soccer team jumps to #15

Unranked last week, but beat #4 Florida and Lipscomb, both by 2-1 scores, over the weekend. Florida dropped to 12th in the poll, which is coaches’ voting.

UA also #13 this week in soccer RPI (we’re far enough into season for RPI to be meaningful). Record is 9-1 with 9 games left in regular season. This week, SEC games with Bama at Tuscaloser and Ole Miss at Oxford.

You seem to follow soccer. I dont really, but anything Hogs interests me.

How good are they in the grand scheme of things? They have big wins, but is it flukey or are they legit?

They look pretty legit to me. I attended the Duke game and watched the Florida game online. In both cases, we were pretty dominant, built a 2-goal lead, the visitors got a goal back in the second half but we held on. The Florida game could easily have been 3-1 or 4-1. (Duke is ranked #7 this week and is #12 in RPI, just ahead of us). Our only loss was at George Washington, which is a decent Atlantic 10 team (6-3 record), but I’m sure Colby Hale will tell you we should have won that one.

We’ve played and beaten the two toughest teams on our schedule – the two games I saw. Only ranked team left is #8 South Carolina at Columbia on Oct. 9. A&M is #14 but we don’t play them in the regular season. In addition to Bama, OM and SoCar, roadies left with Auburn and LSU. Home matches remain with Georgia, Vandy, Misery, and Kentucky. All nine remaining regular season games are with SEC teams before the conference tournament starts on Halloween. Only the top 10 teams make the SECT, and the bottom four play on Halloween.

This is the report from my daughter Sarah, the soccer guru in my family. She watches the women’s soccer team intently. Well, she watches all soccer she can. Of course, Sarah played college soccer and was a very good Division II player, an all-conference player.

She reports to me that this is a much better attacking team. They still don’t have the possession ability that teams like Duke and Florida have, but they have the ability to defend and counter. They are very good in goal. They understand to drop two behind the ball on defense EVERY time. They are much longer and taller and better in the air. They have great depth. They have more finishers. They understand how to play together and fight for each other.

They probably benefited from the weather on Friday night. The field was just barely playable because of the storms that postponed the game. Florida’s coach did not want to play in the conditions. Florida has good players and one GREAT player. The sloppy field probably negated her skill and ability to attack just enough to help Arkansas. The Razorbacks seem to adapt to these conditions and realize they had an opportunity. Florida’s All-America player was frustrated by the conditions, the way Arkansas played her and eventually got a yellow card. There was no doubt that she was out of her game because of those two situations, the field and the tough nature in which Arkansas defended against her. They played her well.

I have not seen a game. But I trust Sarah’s eyes on soccer. She sees a solid cohesive defensive team with the ability to counter and finish. There are lots of ways to play soccer. Sometimes it’s about realizing your identity.

What I’ve seen about Colby Hale, he can mold a team that plays with great work ethic. Work ethic will take you a long way in soccer. I have watched some of his practices. He demands effort. If he doesn’t get it, he’ll re-start practice or a drill until he gets it. The culture of the team is to out-work the other side. You will like watching the effort in the girls. Colby has done a nice job of adding size, speed and ability to the program. He recruited six players off of a very good Dallas Sting team last year. These girls know each other and have blended well with the returning players. Like I said, there is great cohesion in the way they play and the fact that these freshmen have been around each other for many years probably plays a role in that.

What makes this team a little different is that they have more finishers. They do not have dominant possession players throughout the midfield, but they will work to win the ball back. And when there is a chance, they don’t miss. They put the ball on frame. It can be frustrating to watch shot after shot go high or wide in soccer, not on frame. You don’t see that from this team. They put it on goal and make the keeper stop them. I seems like a little thing, but it’s not. Putting a shot on frame is the most difficult thing to do in soccer. When you have players that can put a shot on frame, you are way ahead of the opposition.

Sarah’s point about frustrating Florida’s star player is right on. She must have been (barely) offside five or six times (game stats show UF was offside 8 times, 2 for UA). A couple of those I thought were pretty marginal calls, but a good offside trap will frustrate the heck out of a team. IIRC, Florida did put the ball in the net a second time but the play had been blown dead (don’t remember if it was a foul in the box or another offside call). UA’s back line is very good in the air, even though Florida’s goal came on a header. And we counterattack very well, particularly Stefani Doyle. Jessi Hartzler has turned into a goalscoring machine in midseason.

So how does one watch online? Asking for a friend…

Most of the games are on WatchESPN. Not all; the Lipscomb game Sunday wasn’t. But the next four are either on SECN (meaning actually watchable on TV) or on WatchESPN. South Carolina isn’t, which is looking very much like a bad programming decision.

Anyway, the soccer schedule tells you where to find them. “SEC Network+” equals WatchESPN.

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One of the things Sarah told me this morning is that the soccer team has gotten better at possession buildups since the start of the season, probably because it took a bit to define the midfield roles with all of the new players. That is happening now.

I watch international soccer a lot for both men and women. But I have not watched college soccer much. However I do know that the success of US women’s team has been built solely by the farm system that US colleges provide. If Arkansas is a ranked team and has beaten some ranked teams, we must be a team that has talented players that can play on the next level and are well coached. I need to start watching them online.