Soccer adopts intense play style on offenseBy Ben Stansell | 09/14/2017 11:43pm
When junior forward Abbie Boswell found the back of the net in just under two minutes of action against opponent Kennesaw State earlier this season, Boswell and her teammates reacted with excitement, but were not shocked. Getting a quality scoring opportunity early in games is now expected, since a key component of Alabama’s potent offensive attack this season has been an emphasis on putting up a shot within the first five minutes of every game.
This philosophy embodies Alabama’s aggressive offensive mindset, which has helped boost it to a 7-1 start in which it is on pace to surpass their offensive production from last year by a wide margin.
Through eight games, Alabama is averaging 2.25 goals per game, up from last year’s average of 1.58. The Crimson Tide has also become more proficient at creating scoring attempts, putting up an average 18.1 shots per game, compared to only 14.9 shots per game in 2016.
“The really important thing that we’ve been doing is getting a shot off in the first five minutes,” said junior winger Emma Welch. “It gets the other team on-guard and make them conscious of their goal while letting them know we’re going to be aggressive throughout the game.” Welch has benefited from Alabama’s new approach, having tallied two goals and five assists this year.
Starting off each game with a run on goal is a pillar of Alabama’s attack, but it is far from the only reason why the Crimson Tide were ranked inside the top-50 in nine offensive categories after three weeks of competition. Alabama’s increase in offensive proficiency is a culmination of both a change in formation and an alteration of their scoring mindset.
Last season, the Crimson Tide employed a widely used formation that featured four players on the back defensive line. In an effort to be more forward thinking, Alabama switched to a three player back line for the 2017 campaign. In this system, two wingers are called on to both defend and create offensively from one end of the field to the other. Although this adjustment forced wingers like Emma Welch and Celia Jimenez Delgado to play positions they have not before, the move has paid off by making the offense more varied, and therefore more dangerous.
By only leaving three defenders on the back line, Alabama also gives itself the opportunity to crash the opponent’s box with more than one striker at a time, putting even more pressure on opposing goalies.
“Overall offensively, I think we have a lot of weapons," said Coach Wes Hart. "I don’t think we’re one dimensional. It’s not like we only attack down the left side, or the right side, or only score on crosses. I think it’s a combination of having good flank play, you’ve got Emma Welch and Celia Jimenez Delgado who are both really good at one-on-one. If that gets shut down, we’re able to get the ball to the middle. An opponent can’t just focus in on one player.”
Nine different players have contributed goals for the Crimson Tide this season – Abbie Boswell and freshman Taylor Morgan lead the team with three goals apiece.
Besides strategic changes, Coach Hart has focused on giving his players specific goals to work toward each game. The goals vary by position and include a certain number of shots and crosses, among other statistical categories.
Despite having these goals in place, Coach Hart prides himself on giving his players experimental freedom to create on offense within his overall system.
“We try to give our players a lot of freedom," Hart said. "It’s not like football where most are scripted plays. Soccer is a little bit more free flowing and we want to give our players more freedom because it’s a lot harder to defend."
Hart’s hands-off approach to exactly how his players create scoring opportunities resonates with Welch, who enjoys having his confidence when she wants to take advantage of one-on-one matchups.
“Wes is very good about just letting us be us," Welch said. "He doesn’t expect me to pass the ball every single time. Sometimes I’m going to go at someone one versus one and beat them with a move and I think he expects that. It’s really nice having a coach who enhance the gifts you have rather than trying to change it to format the way he wants to play.”
Although Alabama has been stout offensively thus far, they are set to begin a difficult SEC schedule, starting with a paramount road matchup against third-ranked South Carolina on Friday. South Carolina will be the second top-ten team Alabama has faced this season, the first being Florida State, who the Crimson Tide upset 1-0 at home. According to Welch, Alabama will use that victory to build confidence for a key in-conference game against South Carolina.
“I think because we have such a young team, I would be worried if we had not played the FSU game,” Welch said. “I think now that we’ve got that game, been exposed to that stress, now that we’re all on an even level playing field, we’re not going to be afraid to go right at them. We’re not scared, we’re not backing down at all.”