Illinois soccer opens home season two wins

What a world of difference one week makes.

The Illini were 1-1-0 last Sunday after they conceded eight goals between their first two games. The team mentioned it needed to improve its defensive organization if it was to stand a chance at achieving its season goals; in the week since then, they have done just that.

In its first home games this season, Illinois defeated the College of Charleston 6-2 on Friday evening and followed that with a 5-1 victory over Illinois State on Sunday night. Illinois made some small personnel and position changes, but there is a simpler reason for the marked improvement.

“I think we’re taking more pride in our defense,” junior forward Janelle Flaws said.

Flaws completed a hat trick with three goals for the Illini on Sunday and had a total of four goals over the weekend’s games. Flaws has been plagued with injuries throughout her collegiate career, and head coach Janet Rayfield emphasized her importance to the team this season and what it will mean to keep her healthy. 

Illinois’ offensive production has not come from Flaws alone. This weekend, the team scored 11 goals and those goals were shared among seven players, none of whom were team captain Vanessa DiBernardo. DiBernardo provided two assists on Friday but was called up to the USA National team for their game against Mexico in D.C. on Tuesday and she missed Sunday’s fixture.

On Sunday, Allie Osoba scored her second goal of the weekend just 16 seconds into the game, three seconds behind the quickest goal scored in school history. In their last 3 games Illinois has totaled 16 goals, equaling the second-best tally in any three-game span in school history. The impressive goal-scoring feats are a far cry from the one-goal performance they put in against Notre Dame in the season opener. 

“(To keep the scoring going,) we have to do what we do best,” Flaws said. “Moving off the ball. Everyone is moving together. Instead of three people making different runs, three people making runs that go together. As long as we keep reading each other well and working for each other I think it will be a good sign for us.”

Twenty different players saw game time on Friday and the same number made an appearance Sunday as Rayfield utilized her substitutes often. In the absence of their star player, DiBernardo, the team didn’t appear to miss a beat when they were getting forward with the ball and they got a better defensive performance out of their players. The team defense that was once described as a sieve is now receiving strength in its numbers. Going forward, the team has no shortage of attacking threats. Just four games into the season, 10 of the 22 outfield players on the roster have gotten their names on the score sheet with 17 goals between them.

“Especially on the offensive side of things, we’ve got a lot of depth and experience,” Rayfield said. “Janelle Flaws is eligibility-wise a sophomore, but experience-wise she’s been around for a long time. Having those kinds of players that are your depth on the roster is certainly helpful. We also have some freshmen who are stepping up and providing us with some great depth. … This roster certainly goes pretty deep.”

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