Sun doesn’t shine on Illini soccer in pair of Florida shutouts

By Cody Westerlund

A weekend trip to the Sunshine State turned out to be gloomy for No. 18 Illinois as its offense went stagnant in a pair of shutout losses.

Although the Illini (4-3) had their fair share of scoring opportunities last weekend, they failed to execute. The result was a 2-0 loss to No. 17 Florida (4-1-1) on Friday night in Gainesville, Fla., and another 2-0 defeat to Central Florida (5-1-1) on Sunday afternoon in Orlando.

“Soccer is a sport where you have to capitalize on the opportunities you create, and we didn’t do that,” said head coach Janet Rayfield.

In a matchup of ranked teams on Friday, Florida negated many quality Illini scoring opportunities by fouling them 14 times. Despite taking nine shots, four corner kicks and having numerous dead ball restart chances, Illinois was not able to take advantage offensively.

“Anytime we got behind them (on offense), it seemed like there was a foul,” Rayfield said. “We had a lot of restart opportunities and we didn’t convert. We need to be more effective on restarts against a team that’s going to foul us in the attacking third (of the field) as much as Florida did.”

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    Rayfield said the Illini played well in the first two-thirds of the field, but their performance in the attack zone was a different story.

    “We’re doing things pretty well until we get into the final third, then on that last pass or as we attack on the restart there is miscommunication,” she said. “We have to get better at that.”

    Junior midfielder Courtney Bell agreed. “We need to pay attention to detail and not let any lapses happen throughout the game,” she said.

    Rayfield also stressed to her team the defensive importance of controlling a talented Gators team on restarts.

    “They are really dangerous on restarts,” Rayfield said. “Giving up a goal off a corner kick in the first five minutes of the second half was really the difference. From a momentum standpoint and psychological standpoint, that goal was costly.”

    Despite losing a tough road game to a ranked opponent, Rayfield and the players did not think they were outplayed. Rayfield said the team did a good job of winning balls in the air and competed very well in a “high-level game.”

    “We had our chances, and if we capitalized offensively, it was a game we could have won,” said junior forward Chichi Nweke.

    In their second game, the Illini outshot UCF, 16-10. Only four of those 16 shots were on goal. Rayfield said the team needs to get back to putting about 40 percent of their total shots toward the goal as they did early in the season.

    “There’s no rocket science,” Rayfield said. “The more shots you have on goal, the greater chance you have of scoring.”

    Nweke, defender Danielle Kot and midfielder Marti Desjarlais each had two shots, with one coming on goal, against UCF.

    Rayfield said the Illini came out strong in the first 20 minutes against UCF, but then had a mental lapse the rest of the first half. She singled out a poor job of marking attackers in the box, which cost the Illini when UCF’s Danielle Dos Santos scored in the box off a corner kick.

    “It’s a matter of staying focused for 90 minutes and making sure we mark them in the box,” senior defender Emily Zurrer said. “Both of their goals came off scrambles in the box. We need to be more focused on not giving up goals like that anymore.”

    As the team’s home matchup against Colorado College on Friday draws near, Rayfield knows how dangerous her team can be when they are on top of their game. “We have to sharpen the blade a bit and then have the confidence to know we are the type of team that can compete with anyone in the country,” she said.