Illinois soccer searching for more offensive options

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Illinois soccer searching for more offensive options

Illinois’ Reagan Robishaw challenges for the ball during a game against Arizona State on Aug. 29. The Illini have lost their last two games against Penn State and Northwestern.

Illinois’ Reagan Robishaw challenges for the ball during a game against Arizona State on Aug. 29. The Illini have lost their last two games against Penn State and Northwestern.

Illinois’ Reagan Robishaw challenges for the ball during a game against Arizona State on Aug. 29. The Illini have lost their last two games against Penn State and Northwestern.

Illinois’ Reagan Robishaw challenges for the ball during a game against Arizona State on Aug. 29. The Illini have lost their last two games against Penn State and Northwestern.

By Joey Figueroa

It was a tough weekend in Evanston, Ill., for Illini soccer. Just a week removed from a hard-fought 2-1 loss to the Big Ten’s top squad, Penn State, Illinois suffered a shutout defeat to Northwestern, a team that was previously at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.

Illinois has scored just one goal in its last two matches, and have been outshot 31-23 in those two contests. Teams are beginning to clamp down on the Big Ten’s leading goal-scorer Jannelle Flaws, who had her record-setting streak of five straight matches with a goal snapped Sunday.

“I think we have to realize that she’s not our only goal-scorer,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “Reagan Robishaw can get in and score, Nicole Breece can get in and score, Abby Elinsky can see herself as a goal-scorer now that she’s playing up front. I think this week we’ll say that everyone has to be able to score.”

Besides Flaws’ conference-leading 10 goals in Big Ten play, Illinois has found the back of the net with just two other players. In fact, the next closest number to Flaws’ 20 shots on goal during conference play is five, coming from Breece.

There is no denying that Flaws has put up the numbers to prove she can carry an offense, but when teams shut her down like Northwestern was able to do, other attacking options have to step up. No player on the roster besides Flaws has scored more than four goals in a single season, so finding that other option might pose a problem.

Rayfield believes it is something that can be solved, though.

“We have to tactically figure out how we get those other players in,” she said. “Some of that is Jannelle doing things a little differently. Instead of making runs toward goal, maybe she makes runs away from goal. So we’ll have to be a little bit more creative in terms of how we get into the final third.”

The Illinois defense continues to outplay the offense, but after holding a school-record eight straight opponents to single-digit shot attempts, the Illini have allowed a combined 31 shot attempts in their last two matches.

The Illini’s two-game losing streak dropped them down to No. 51 in the NCAA’s RPI rankings, after hanging around the top 25 in past weeks.

Rayfield views this small stretch of struggles as another learning opportunity for her team to capitalize on.

“The regular season is all about that,” Rayfield said. “It’s about learning and growing so that your team is better prepared. We will, at some point, look back on this and say, ‘This was the game that made us a better team.’ We’ll always be disappointed in the result, but we’ll take this and make sure it’s a learning experience for us going forward.”

Joey can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @joeyfigueroa3.