In Margaret Rodriguez’ tenure as head coach for the UConn women’s soccer team, it has not lost a match when giving up less than 10 shots in a game.
For a team that gave up 17.2 shots per game last season and lost 14 games, however, that is not easy to come by. They were only able to do it once in 2018, in their 1-0 win over Cincinnati late in the season.
“I want to defend higher up and go after this win, we’re going to chase it,” head coach Margaret Rodriguez said on the message she sent the team at halftime. “I don’t care what happens at the end of it, we’re going to win.”
They have already done so twice this season, most recently in their 2-1 win over Colgate on Sunday. The game saw a lot of shots, but they were mainly from UConn’s ferocious attacking front of Duda Santin, Kess Elmore and Jess Mazo. Their most important shots of the game came from unlikely places, though.
“For lack of a better word, I started with subs,” Rodriguez said. “They were gonna go out there and fight and defend higher up for us, and that’s what we needed. I think Regan and Izzy were phenomenal out there, they just worked their butts off and allowed us to get into shape and move the ball higher up.”
The Huskies’ goals came from Rachel Marchini, who had a free header off a corner in from Jackie Harnett, and Sofia Leone, who got a touch in the box before firing in a strike from a well-placed Elmore pass. Neither of these two players had scored in their UConn career until Sunday.
UConn goalkeeper Randi Palacios has been reliable this season, allowing just one goal per game thus far. She has also featured an 81 percent save percentage this season, up from 67 percent last season.
“Randi’s been great, she cleans up the ball and made a huge PK save. At half time I told the team that they owe her the game because you don’t allow your ‘keeper to make that great save and then two minutes later, put a goal in. I think they owed the game to Randi because she played another great game for us.”
Considering this team had just six wins in the past two seasons, and three of those wins have come when they tightened up the defense and allowed less than 10 shots, there is reason to believe there is a correlation.
What kind of impact does a high number of shots have on a team? Well, first off it mentally taxes the defense to be in constant high-stress situations. If a goalkeeper knows they have a weaker defense, they will be more likely to stay constantly on edge, waiting for a shot to come through.
Limiting shots also means the goalie will have to use less energy, thus increasing their potential to save vital shots as the match goes on. This is especially important in the final minutes, when the defense has less energy stored up in their personal reserves.
Overall, facing more shots means there are more chances for the opponent to score, as they are direct attempts on goal. It also opens a team up for possible mistakes or deflections that can lead to goals given up.
The Huskies have used this to their advantage, with a high shot volume attack strategy that has helped them crack their opponents late into games.
UConn’s offense basically runs as follows: The defense holds possession of the ball in the back while space opens to play passes to their wingers, who dribble up the flanks and cross into the box for their striker or play the ball back across to the middle for a midfielder. So far this season, this strategy led to a lot of chances for the Huskies.
They are averaging 16 shots per game through their four games this season. However, they are averaging just 1.75 goals per game, so they are not taking the best quality shots just yet. Should they get better looks with that high volume, they will be on target to score more goals and thus win more games.
UConn’s ability to win comes down to the shot category, if they can allow as few as possible while taking a lot of good quality ones, they are on the right track.
Mike Mavredakis is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com