Illini challenged by Louisville, look to build off comeback victory


Illinois’ Shayla Mutz fights for control of the ball during the soccer game against Gonzaga at the Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium on Friday, Aug 19, 2011. In their game against Louisville on Sunday, Mutz said Illinois’ defense was tested and ultimately pulled through.

By Dan Longo

The Illinois soccer team “battled from behind”: Sunday to beat Louisville in extra time 2-1. With the first three games of the season being blowouts, Illinois’ new high-powered offense showed an ability to fight back and score clutch goals.

“I think that this will be good experience for the team to understand that they can play from behind a goal, being an offensive team, that is a real thing in your advantage even if you’re down a goal,” head coach Janet Rayfield said.

Illinois’ defense let in a Louisville goal early in the game, then tightened up as Louisville was held to just two shots in the second half.

“We talked at halftime that one of our greatest assets defensively is our offense, and we needed to go back out and make them defend us, and I think that happened in the second half,” Rayfield said.

The Illini have scored 17 goals in their first four games from eight different scorers.

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    “You know I think it’s going to be tougher to keep us off the board for 90 minutes,” Rayfield said.

    The Illini have reached the midway point of their nonconference schedule without a loss. Gaining experience from “nonconference opponents”: is key in preparation for Big Ten play, midfielder Shayla Mutz said.

    “Just being in different situations, playing different kinds of teams with different formations, and teaching us where to attack when we’re facing different formations,” Mutz said of the different experiences the team can take from nonconference play.

    Although a team’s nonconference record has no weight in determining a team’s seed in the Big Ten Tournament, Rayfield wants her team to be challenged before conference play.

    “Like today for instance is the first time we’ve been down a goal, so just being able to come back and learning the mentality that that takes,” Mutz said.

    The Illini will look to continue to gain experience, as they will face their toughest nonconference opponent, USC, at home Friday.

    The “Trojans ended Illinois’ tournament run”: early last season, beating the Illini 3-1 in their first-round matchup.

    In this week’s practice leading up to the rematch, the Illini look to improve on spots defensively where Louisville was able to challenge them.

    “(Sunday’s) game really tested our defense in a lot of ways, I think we will look at a lot of video to talk about how we solve a team that counterattacks against us,” Rayfield said.

    Louisville challenged the defense early in the game by playing a 4-5-1, which crowds the midfield.

    “Some of the things that they did in terms of players coming out of the midfield, they did a great job in terms of tracking players and attacking our backside of the midfield,” Rayfield said. “This will be a great game for us to watch some defensive footage and really talk about some of the things we need to sure up.”

    If nothing else, Sunday’s comeback win may help build momentum as the team continues through nonconference play.

    “It’s a great game to get your defense tested, to learn a lot about the things that you need to improve and still find a way to win,” Rayfield said.