Soccer continues road stretch at Evansville, Miami (Ohio)

Illinois%27+Patricia+George+dribbles+the+ball+down+the+field+during+the+game+against+Illinois+State+at+Illnois+Soccer+Stadium+on+Sunday%2C+August+21.+The+Illini+won+1-0.
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Soccer continues road stretch at Evansville, Miami (Ohio)

Illinois' Patricia George dribbles the ball down the field during the game against Illinois State at Illnois Soccer Stadium on Sunday, August 21. The Illini won 1-0.

Illinois' Patricia George dribbles the ball down the field during the game against Illinois State at Illnois Soccer Stadium on Sunday, August 21. The Illini won 1-0.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Patricia George dribbles the ball down the field during the game against Illinois State at Illnois Soccer Stadium on Sunday, August 21. The Illini won 1-0.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Patricia George dribbles the ball down the field during the game against Illinois State at Illnois Soccer Stadium on Sunday, August 21. The Illini won 1-0.

By Gavin Good, Assistant sports editor

The Illinois soccer team has yet to attain the level of play they want this season, getting off to a sluggish 1-3 start and falling 2-0 at Illinois State on Sunday.

Illinois is currently in the middle of a seven game away stretch and they have been focused on remedying their weaknesses ahead of contests at Evansville on Thursday and Miami (Ohio) on Sunday.

A lot has changed for the team coming into this year, head coach Janet Rayfield said.

“It’s so different than last season,” Rayfield said. “I hate to use the word young, but I think it’s a team that hasn’t played together a lot and there are some young players we’re molding into that.”

The Illini have not possessed the ball the way they want to, and have to improve on staying connected from the defense up through the midfield and to the forwards, Rayfield said.

“I think if we can connect our back to front we’ve got some things we can do on the attacking side,” Rayfield said. “It’s the connection in the middle and that takes learning each other. We’ve got the front piece and the back piece and all we really have to do is put the spokes in the middle.”

For junior forward Patricia George, establishing a midfield that can control games and thread passes through the opposition is critical for the team to be able to compete. George said the team’s awareness and first touch on the ball also need to improve.

“Our first touch hasn’t been the best, so we need to work on that, and pick our heads up as we get the ball,” George said. “We haven’t been fully aware of where everyone has been on the field so I think that’s also been a problem.”

Sophomore midfielder Arianna Veland said the team has been working on being mentally strong and ready to compete.

“We lost three games and I think we’ve decided this is our turning point,” Veland said. “Right now we’re just trying to change things and get our spirit and confidence back up.”

Veland, who recently scored her first career goals in a pair of losses to Missouri and Washington, attributed the team’s early struggles to their lack of time playing with each other. A lot of younger players have been seeing more time on on the field as a result of the team losing 11 seniors after last season. Veland has gone from more of a reserve role — although she did play in 17 games last season — to starting defensive midfielder, and that epitomizes much of what the team is going through.

“We basically have a whole new backline and midfield,” Veland said. “We need to figure out how to get that ball up through the midfield and to the forwards.”

Through four games, the Illini are displeased with where they stand, but Rayfield said they have figured out and learned a lot from their early mistakes. At first, she said the team was trying to absorb and learn everything they needed to do, but they were too worried about what they had to do during the game instead of just concentrating on the moment and remembering not to dwell on mistakes. Now it is time for the team to refocus and apply what they have learned about themselves on the field.

“We’ve had that time, I don’t think we can give ourselves any more time,” Rayfield said. “But I think this time has allowed us to get things figured out. I think we can move some people around, we’ve figured out what their strengths are, and I think we can put together the pieces that make sense now.”

George has a clear picture of the quality she wants from her team and of the mindset she wants them to have when they head to Evansville and Miami (Ohio) in the coming days.

“I just want us to be able to get on the field and know that we’re going to dominate,” George said.