After a sub-standard effort against Notre Dame resulted in their first loss of the season, the Virginia Cavaliers returned to the friendly confines of Klöckner Stadium trying to get back on track. The opponent couldn’t have been better selected because Virginia has never lost to the Cardinals. And, following a rare loss, the UVA was quick to release coach Steve Swanson’s 61-8-13 record following a loss. Thus, the signs did not bode well for Louisville.
The last three games have been interesting for the ‘Hoos. A draw versus VCU kicked off a three-game stretch where Virginia has struggled to maintain their usual dominance of midfield. The next game up was the stunning second-half comeback from 2-0 against the Tar Heels. It was a great, great win to be sure, but don’t let it mask the fact that the women were run off the pitch in the first half. And mid-week, the UVA was out-played by the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and they fell 1-0. Again, Virginia couldn’t control the midfield.
Against Louisville, Swanson made a couple of changes. He inserted Maggie Cagle back into the starting lineup. He’s gone back and forth over who is taking corner kicks all season, and today, it was Alexis Theoret. Cagle and Alexa Spaansta flipped wings. This is not uncommon, but they switched sides after 10 minutes, which is rare. At one point it looked like Laney Rouse and Samar Guidry similarly swapped sides, which would have been highly unusual, but it may have just come about based on how they positioned themselves for a corner kick.
But, most tellingly, when the Cavaliers had possession in their half, and to compensate for the loss of Rebecca Jarrett’s speed on the wing, Swanson moved Theoret (normally the right midfielder) back to the center of defense and he moved Lacy McCormack out wide. This effectively pushed Laney Rouse up to midfield. I don’t know if Rouse has actually gotten faster, but she has learned how to make more effective use of her speed on the flank and she’s more effective on the attack this year.
This was a significant departure for a team that, for the last 5-6 years at least, has lined up in a pretty vanilla 4-3-3 formation. Unfortunately, the results were mixed at best. For a fourth straight game, Virginia struggled to control midfield against a very average, middle of the table, Louisville team. The team is just not crisp with the ball. Twice in the first 20 minutes of the game, the announcer noted, “The idea was there. The execution was not.” I had to agree with him.
The emblematic play of the first half was a nice Maggie-Cagle through ball that split the Louisville back-line well ahead of Haley Hopkins. She was in full sprint, matched stride for stride by a Louisville defender and her second touch on the ball was extremely heavy and it rolled to the keeper before Hopkins could get off a shot. It was not the touch of a two-time All American and a woman closing in on 50 career goals. This was the touch of a replacement player and it summed up the play of the Cavaliers in the first half. Distinctly average.
The clouds rolled in during halftime and it was pelting rain within 15 minutes of the restart. It seemed like a perfect metaphor. Whatever halftime talk Swanson tried to give his squad, it didn’t have the same effect as it did last weekend in North Carolina.
The game changed in the 73rd minute as Hopkins was brought down 10 yards outside the box. Just five minutes prior, Lia Godfrey had been subbed off, so up stepped Alexis Theoret. I think Theoret is a wonderful dead-ball striker and I have wanted her to take all the corners this season. I was actually cheering that Godfrey substitution in my mind, and Theoret would prove me right. She drilled a laser to the top left of the goal, giving Louisville keeper Erynn Floyd no chance.
The game was essentially over at that point. Swanson brought back his starters to ice the game. With 8 minutes remaining, Talia Staude had a free kick from 10 yards deeper than Theoret’s. She found Hopkins and it was as if the scrum hard parted like the Red Sea. Hopkins was isolated one on one with her defender, and with a majestic header, she buried the ball in the back of the net. It was her 8th goal of the season and the 50th of her career.
All the fight went out of the Cardinals and the Wahoos mostly played keep away to ice the game.
Next Up: Virginia travels to Durham to take on the Duke Blue Devils this Friday. Game time is 7:00pm and the game will be broadcast on ACCN Extra.