Soccer faces Indiana State and Florida International this weekend

The Illinois soccer team is preparing to play Indiana State on Friday and Florida International on Sunday. The team knows that, to bounce back from its arduous weekend in Arizona last weekend, it needs to put on a full team performance. The team has not displayed the kind of consistency to top the Big Ten standings.

“At this point in time, it’s not a lot of new things,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “It’s a lot of repetition of what was once new so that now that becomes old and it becomes old hat. And once it’s old hat, it becomes consistent.”

Offensively, the Illini have been more than solid. Illinois leads the Big Ten in goals and ranks 2nd in assists. Junior forward Janelle Flaws leads Big Ten players in goals with seven.

Defensively, they have allowed the most goals in the conference and have yet to record a clean sheet. Freshman goalkeeper Claire Wheatley may lead the conference in saves, but that indicates the defense is allowing a lot of shots. Illinois has allowed 51 shots in its last two games.

Fortunately for Illinois, Indiana State and Florida International are a combined 4-6-0 this season. Florida International has allowed 10 goals in five matches. Indiana State has allowed seven goals in as many contests but that number was inflated due to one game against Green Bay, which it lost 4-0.

Rayfield knows that Indiana State’s defense will provide a different challenge from what the Illini have faced recently. Illinois will not be seeing a lot of wide plays and long passes but will have to focus on maintaining possession, something the team considers a strong suit.

“I think Indiana State, they really work to get a lot of numbers behind the ball,” Rayfield said. “So our possession is going to have to be good. Our speed of play is going to have to be good. We’re going to have to break down a pretty organized defense.”

Rayfield has been stressing in practice that Illinois also needs to show a more organized defense.

“We worked a lot on basically how tight we were,” freshman defender Casey Conine said. “(And) being a good group, moving together, making sure we’re all connected and talking and communicating so that we’re all moving as a unit.”

It’s vital for the line of defenders to be able to stay together horizontally to keep opposing forwards from sneaking in behind and finding space. If the line stays together, it’s more likely to trap opponents offsides.

Illinois will also value playing these two games on its home field. Last weekend, in a different time zone and climate, the team’s endurance and consistency were pushed substantially. The Illini view their test in Arizona as something that has helped to further develop them. Now with an opportunity to defend their home pitch, the players want to put what they learned to good use.

“Last weekend was definitely a challenge,” senior defender Christina Farrell said. “That definitely helped us to gain strides as a team defensively, offensively. I think that prepared us for the rest of the season.”

Alex can be reached at [email protected] and @AlexOrtiz2334.