Illinois soccer hosts Charleston, ISU to kick off home season

After splitting the games on enemy turf in their opening weekend, the Illini soccer team opens its home season against the College of Charleston and Illinois State.

“(The freshmen) are excited,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “They are looking forward to seeing what a night game and a home crowd is like. It is something they have never experienced.”

Five freshmen on the squad saw considerable minutes in the first two games against Notre Dame and Louisville, which gave them their first collegiate experience. But while those freshmen contributed three goals to the offense last weekend, the team surrendered eight on defense in the two games. Rayfield said the key to improving the “sieve-like” defense will be each individual doing their part, starting with the forwards.

“We allowed them to penetrate into our defensive third way too often,” Rayfield said. “We’ve got to win the ball higher up the field, so our midfield has to be better defenders and our front runners have to make the plays more predictable so we know where the ball is coming from and have players there to win the ball.”

Friday, former Illinois coaching assistant Christian Michner will lead the College of Charleston to face Illinois. Michner spent five years as a professional player in the MLS after graduating from Charleston. He spent two seasons as an assistant coach under Rayfield, and Illinois was ranked as high as 11th in the nation during his tenure. They also produced six All-Americans, 11 All-Big Ten first team selections and 51 Academic All-Big Ten honorees during that time span.

“I’m excited to have him back here,” Rayfield said. “He’s done a great job with that program and we knew when he left that he was ready to be a head coach.”

Michner’s Cougars from the Colonial Athletics Association are currently 1-1 on their season as well. Illinois will have to shut down veteran forwards McCallie Jones and Sarah Cardamone if they hope to win. The pair has yet to net any goals for the Cougars this season but ended last season as joint top scorers at four goals apiece. One of the defenders tasked with shutting them down is freshman Hope D’Addario.

“I just need to be ruthless with 1-v-1 defending,” D’Addario said. “Also, I need to communicate more and listen to communication from my teammates so we can defend as a team and not 10 individual defending battles.”

On Sunday night, Illinois State will be the opposing team at Illinois Soccer Stadium. The Redbirds have split the first two games and will be looking to take advantage of their in-state rivals. The Illini will have to neutralize redbird junior forward Rachel Tejada, who has assistant on half of the goals for her team this season. As the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012, Tejada may be the offensive threat Illinois needs to test its defensive organization.

Lanre can be reached at [email protected] and @WriterLanre.