The Husker soccer team began the 2019-20 season Thursday night in a pretty disappointing way, dropping a 4-0 match to Kansas on the road. It was the team’s first loss to Kansas — an NCAA Tournament team last season — in the last seven meetings and snapped a streak of six straight season-opening wins.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Trouble Behind the Half Line
Nebraska has one of the best central defenders in the conference in senior Sinclaire Miramontez. But the first showing for coach John Walker’s three-women backline as a whole left a lot to be desired.
Olivia Brown, a sophomore defender trying to replace a departed senior fullback from last year’s squad, struggled. Trying to play their way out from the back proved an adventure for the Huskers. Diagonal runs were there all night long for the Jayhawks. Nebraska routinely gave the ball away in its defensive third and struggled to hold possession through the midfield.
One of the Jayhawks’ four scores is a wash. A shot coming from goalkeeper Aubrei Corder’s left to her right from a difficult angle seemingly took a deflection off a Husker foot that popped it up and bent it into the backside of the goal. (If it wasn’t deflected, it sure looked like it, but that doesn’t change the fact the defense was there.) Corder could do nothing to stop it.
But the fourth and final goal of the night was emblematic of the bigger issue. Nebraska was sloppy in areas it needed to be sound. Senior Savanah Uveges gave the ball away just behind the halfway line on the right side, taking too large a touch back toward her goal without knowing a Kansas forward was right behind her. Kansas pounced, as it did on heavy touches all night, and Katie McClure completed a hat trick with a ball placed just beyond Corder’s glove to the near post.
Kansas pressed high all evening and Nebraska didn’t handle the pressure well. That’s something that will need to be addressed.
Things to Build On Up Top
The Huskers outshot Kansas in the first 45 minutes. Chance creation wasn’t an issue. Twice during the middle stages of the match, Husker shots were saved by a Kansas defender standing on her goal line. When Nebraska was able to get the ball up into its attacking third, there were opportunities to produce goals.
The goose egg on the scoreboard will be a little tougher to stomach because of the number opposite it, but Nebraska should feel like there are positives it can take from the offensive end on Thursday night.
Redshirt freshman Adriana Maldonado drew the start up top next to Brenna Ochoa and Uveges, while Meg Brandt dropped into the midfield. It’s a different look from the one the Huskers showed in their exhibition as mixing and matching will probably continue to be the case.
Nebraska has to replace its top goal-scorer from a season ago in Faith Carter. Moving Brandt and Ochoa around the park isn’t a bad way to try and accomplish that, as the two are probably the Huskers’ most dynamic players with the ball at their feet.
Uveges having to track back as much as she was Thursday is probably not a recipe for much success moving forward, though. Nebraska needs to be better in through the middle of the pitch to afford Uveges the ability to stay upfield and do what she does best: score. She had eight last year, just one off Carter’s tally.
It’s Only Game 1
It’s probably best not to overreact too much to a season-opening nonconference game. Thoughts racing through my head during the second half of Thursday night’s affair ranged from “Is Kansas really this good?” to “Nebraska-Omaha wasn’t that bad.” There’s not really a way of definitively knowing either yet.
Especially not with the Huskers’ playing so much youth. Freshmen played a combined 149 minutes and sophomores played another 298, nearly 50 percent of the available minutes.
It’s going to take time for things to mesh. Brown and Ashley Zugay, a sophomore, were flanking Miramontez on the backline at times. That will be a work in progress and something to monitor moving forward. Kenzie Coons, also a sophomore, is now the engine in the midfield. Maldonado, and if not her then true freshman Emma Marcus, are going to have to get used to the physicality of defenders at this level.
Nebraska has a week’s time to fix what needs fixing and work on building whatever still needs building, with its next match a home contest against Clemson next Friday, Aug. 30, at 7:05 p.m. CT.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.