It’s been a rough start to Margaret Rodriguez’s tenure as UConn women’s soccer head coach. The Huskies are 1-5 on the season and have dropped three games in a row. They hit a new low on Sunday afternoon by getting dominated by a previously-winless Boston University Terriers team, 3-0.
There’s always growing pains expected with a new staff but the way UConn is currently free-falling is a bit shocking. Throughout the first six games, there a few issues that have stood out consistently.
Defensive Struggles Persist
The Huskies’ defense has been an issue all season long. Despite Rodriguez’s desire to stick with four or five players consistently in the backline, the coach has been experimenting with different combinations to try and find one that works. She has yet to find it.
They began the season with the same five players for the first two games before making adjustments after a first half against CCSU where they fell behind 2-0. Initially, the changes worked as they kept the Blue Devils off the board the remainder of the game and didn’t give up many dangerous opportunities.
But since then, the Huskies allowed two goals to Boston College and three goals to Rutgers and BU, the latter of which entered the game ranked 236 out of 326 teams in goals per game average.
Talent isn’t an issue in this unit — Heidi Druehl is arguably the team’s best player while Liane Keegans, Regan Schiappa and Melina Couzis are all solid. But the group often struggles with communication and organization, leading to breakdowns that give the opposing team either a breakaway or a wide-open shot on net.
Some of that falls on goalkeeper Randi Palacios. It’s her job to organize the backline and while she’s impressed as a shot-stopper, she still needs to improve her communication to the field players. Palacios started every game this year but was replaced by fellow redshirt sophomore Mollie Kerrigan in the second half against BU when it was still just a two-score game.
Expect the lineup tweaks to continue on defense unless a group proves themselves over the course of a few games.
While the defense has struggled, the offense hasn’t fared much better. Take away the 3-2 win over CCSU and UConn has managed just a single goal in five games. That would be tied for dead-last in the nation in goals per game average.
The loss of last season’s leading scorers Kess Elmore and Vivien Beil is clearly a bigger blow than initially expected. But they need the players they have to start stepping up.
The UConn Blog learned that Sophia Danyko-Kulchycky has been dealing with a back injury all season. She only played eight minutes against BU, but it’s unknown if that is related to an injury. When on, Danyko-Kulchycky is the team’s best attacking player.
Entering the game Sunday, the Huskies ranked 233 in shots per game and 302 in shots on goal per game. The drop shows that not only is UConn having trouble getting chances, the few they get are aren’t very dangerous.
Passing is a major issue for UConn. They have talent up top but can’t get the ball to them. When the ball does make it to the forwards, they’ve been excellent in finding the net. Against Syracuse, the Huskies put together a well-executed counter attack to get on the board. The next game vs. CCSU, Yamilee Eveillard and Danyko-Kulchycky used their creativity to beat defenders and put shots on net, both of which led to goals.
Those moments have been few and far between to this point, however. Until the midfield can improve, scoring is going to continue being a major issue for this team.
Starpower (Or Lack Thereof)
The other night I was at an MLS game with the Portland Timbers. An ad for the University of Portland women’s soccer team came on and they mentioned how some of their alumni include US national team star Megan Rapinoe and Canadian star Christine Sinclair.
It got me thinking about this UConn team and while I’m not expecting them to produce world-class talent like those two above, there is a definitive lack of star power on the Huskies.
A few years back, there was the tandem of Rachel Hill and Stephanie Ribeiro, two of the best players in the country, both now playing professionally. Before them, there was Brittany Taylor and Megan Schnur.
The Huskies badly needs a player to step up and become a bonafide stud that opposing teams fear. Danyko-Kulchycky has the talent to become that and showed the potential in the preseason with five goals in two games, but hasn’t carried that success over into the regular season (possibly due to injury). Eveillard was strong up top by the end of last season but has been quiet to start this year. There are also concerns about her conditioning.
UConn needs someone that they expect will score. They don’t need an All-American, they just need someone capable of taking over games. If that happens, it draws more defensive attention onto one player and opens up the field for the other attackers.