Soccer staying solid on defense, amping up offensive output

In beating Nebraska this weekend, the Illinois soccer team brought its conference winning streak to seven games.

Four of those victories were by a final score of 1-0. In the two most recent wins, though, against Northwestern and Nebraska, Illinois scored three goals each.

The Illini (13-4-1, 7-2-1 Big Ten) have outshot most teams this season, but have had fewer high-scoring games. Putting chances away is something they have constantly been working to improve. Senior Marissa Mykines said the team was able to put up goals against Nebraska because of the Cornhuskers’ defensive setup.

“They played pretty deep for the most part so we had a lot more chances from outside that were maybe a little less unpressured, and I think focusing in the box and making sure we are getting shots on frame so we have the best chance to put the ball in the back of the net, whether it’s a rebound or just straight off the shot,” Mykines said. “I think we have been focusing on that, so that’s a good thing.”

Nebraska’s differing style of defense had both advantages and disadvantages. After a goal by the Cornhuskers’ Morgan Marlborough, pressure rose for Illinois to keep its lead and three offside calls were made against the Orange and Blue.

“Late in the game, Nebraska’s back defensive line was playing really high up, leaving a lot of spacing behind,” Illinois assistant coach Jeff Freeman said. “It was a matter of us just mistiming our runs and not getting behind them late in the game (Sunday).”

*Physical aspect raised in NU game*

During Sunday’s game, Nebraska tallied 10 fouls and one yellow card compared to Illinois’ six fouls and no cards. Physicality is something the Illini have had to adjust to playing in the Big Ten, but had problems doing so against the Cornhuskers.

“I don’t know if we adapted all that well to it, actually,” senior Jenna Carosio said. “We should have probably played quicker than we did, then the fouls wouldn’t be able to happen because they already would have given the ball away. I think it affected us in the first half, but we figured it out for the second half.”

Illinois has tallied 146 fouls compared to opponents’ 201 this season. Physicality is something the Orange and Blue always expect, but the Cornhuskers made them change the way they approached the game. Freeman was happy to see the Illini eventually adapt and take advantage of the chances they created.

“Nebraska made it tough on us to play by being very physical, and it was hard for us to get a rhythm,” Freeman said. “I am certainly proud that we were able to capitalize on the moments that we had in front of their goal.”

*Closing regular season against Michigan*

Illinois will end its regular season with senior night at the Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium on Saturday. The Illini have secured second place in the Big Ten standings and will compete against Michigan (9-7-2, 4-5-1), which is tied at seventh with Ohio State (9-8-1, 4-5-1) and Purdue (7-10-2, 4-5-1) in the conference.

Wolverines’ leading scorer sophomore Nkem Ezurike has tallied 10 goals this season, and is the biggest threat to Illini’s defense. As a center back, Carosio knows shutting down Michigan’s offensive leader will be a must to end the season on a high note.

“I know they have a good fast forward up top, so I think it will be similar to this last game, just shutting down that forward, because a lot of their offense goes through her,” Carosio said. “We just have to fight it out. Hopefully we can get back in our shutout streak and go out with a win and end the season with eight wins in a row.”