Put the VSA Heat on your holiday card lists this year. Thanks to their 3-2 defeat of Annandale, Magic still have a shot at the ODSL Division 1 crown, despite yesterday’s 2-0 loss to EPIC Hammers in Stephens City.
Magic had been unbeaten in ODSL play, relying on strong goalkeeping and tenacious defense to mask a few goal scoring issues. Last week, the girls fought back from a 2-0 deficit to forge a 2-2 tie at Vienna. This week, the offense could not dig out of another 2-0 halftime hole, despite the players’ tremendous effort. Here’s my take on what it’s going to take to get things fixed for the long haul. A loss makes a good opportunity to take stock a little bit.
Technically. We need to improve our technical speed. There were times that we dominate play territorially, but struggle to get quality shots. It’s taking too long for players to receive, turn, prepare & shoot. We also need to improve the quality of our ball striking. When we are getting shots, they’re often wasted opportunities because we can’t get the ball on frame with pace. We still have a tendency to mentally target the goalkeeper’s chest as opposed to targeting the far post. This all comes down to more and more touches this fall and during winter training. We’ve improved though, and we’ll continue to improve.
Tactically. We’re not seeing open spaces well. A few examples: We had a 4v1 yesterday which resulted in a shot from an angle that went well wide of goal. The player that shot was the player that was being defended. Even an average centering pass likely would’ve resulted in a breakaway. We had a similar situation on Saturday when we have a 3v1 that resulted in nothing because we didn’t see the open space and pass to an open player. From a coaching standpoint, the most frustrating practice we had all year was trying to work 2v1 give-and-go passes, not because we can’t pass and receive, but because we didn’t see the open spaces and move accordingly. Finally, we still have players out of position. A few examples: After spending 20 minutes warming up in our positions, our left/right forwards lined up on the wrong side of the field at the start of the game. Our midfielders push very far forward, leaving a large gap between the other teams’ defenders and ours. That means we don’t have any support for our forwards, and makes it much easier for the defense to clear the offensive zone.
Physically. Our level of physical play has improved, and I’m pleased that our players don’t back down from anyone. The last two weeks I felt like Vienna and EPIC had a bit more team speed than we do. Jeff’s looking into offseason speed/conditioning training to help that aspect. Mostly, we need to be more aggressive. We stopped taking loose ball statistics, which was probably a mistake on my part. When we had the stats, we were showing improvement, but we only won the loose ball battle in one game. I think if we added a statistic that showed who touched the ball first on restarts (corners/throw-ins/goal kicks, etc.) we’d be losing the battle by a wide margin. Winning the ball is where we have to start. Without the ball, it doesn’t matter how good our skills are.
Psychologically. This team impresses me psychologically. The never quit, and they don’t get down on themselves. I sort of expected a few tears after the game, especially with the notion that we’d lost our shot at first place, but it didn’t happen. I think we had a wakeup call, and I bet the kids are going to come to practice ready to work. On the other hand, we need to be more focused, and a little hungrier at the beginning of our games. We need to treat 0-0 like we’ve treated 0-2 the last few games and put that level of intensity on display from the first whistle.
I know that’s all wordy, but it gives me a good chance to reflect on where we are and need to go. If we go out next week and play like we’re capable of playing, we’ll knock a few into the goal.