The SSM U16 girls found the going to be difficult in their second weekend of Midwest Regional League play, but ended the weekend on a high, with several good lessons learned along the way.
On Friday night, the Sabres squared off against the hometown Rockford Raptors in a game that started late because of weather delays, then was played in mostly heavy rain. Despite the long day of travel, late evening kickoff, and poor conditions, the girls came out flying. In just the 13th minute, outside defender Alex Skinner cut inside onto her right foot laced a shot from 30 yards out that the Rockford goalkeeper could not deal with. The goal gave the Sabres even more life, and they controlled the majority of the first half with better ball movement and possession than they have displayed at any point thus far in the young season. A thunderbolt of a strike from Rockford coupled with a scrum in front of the Sabre goal following a corner kick saw the Sabres down 2-1 at halftime, despite having both the territorial and possession advantage.
The second half saw more of the same: long stretches of sustained possession but not enough quality chances on the Raptor goal. “It’s almost more dangerous to have the ball for so long,” said U16 head coach Sue Vodicka. “With so much possession, your players attain a more wide-open shape that can be susceptible to counters when the ball is finally lost.” We were unfortunate to have that happen to us a couple times in the second half, but the girls’ commitment to playing fast, possession-based soccer started to really show through in this game.” The game’s final score was 4-1.
Saturday afternoon, the Sabres faced Chicago-based powerhouse Eclipse, one of the largest girls’ club soccer programs in the Midwest. In what proved to be their least productive half of soccer on the weekend, the Sabres found themselves tied 0-0 at halftime, but creating little in the way of attacking chances. The second half opened up rather flat for the Sabres as well, giving up two quick goals on counters that Eclipse were able to capitalize on after picking off a couple of errant SSM passes. “Goals give you an excellent opportunity to learn from mistakes,” said Vodicka. “I tell the girls all the time, mistakes are going to be made on the field….no one is perfect after all! It’s how we respond to the mistakes we make that either makes us better, or keeps us down.”
For the remainder of the second half, the Sabre ladies chose to respond, and were rewarded with much more of the ball and more chances on goal. While they were ultimately not rewarded for their efforts with any goals, Eclipse were on the back foot for long stretches. Midfielder Nina LeFlore came closest to scoring, hitting the crossbar with a good bit of individual skill to free herself for a shot following an excellent string of passes down the left flank. The game ended 2-0 in favor of Eclipse, but Shattuck brought the game back to life in the second half and ended the day on a positive leading into Sunday’s contest.
Sunday, SSM faced another Midwestern powerhouse in the form of the Michigan Hawks. Sitting in second place in the U16 First Division Blue standings, the Hawks proved to be perhaps the toughest opponent the girls would face all weekend. The first half was a back-and-forth one with the Sabres again looking better in possession than they had last week, combining nicely though the midfield to release Ashley Kemmet down the right flank a handful of times. Hawks were dangerous themselves, with three big, fast forwards looking to run at the Shattuck back line every chance they could. However, the back four lineup of Leizl Chavez, Patricia Wentworth, Carissa Seying, and Skinner, combined with some fine goalkeeping from Katie Commins kept the scoreline even heading into halftime.
Finally in the second half, the reality of three games in three days set in, and a tired Sabre eleven saw themselves largely pinned in their own half. Despite that, the girls dug deep and exhausted themselves in pursuit of a result, and were justly rewarded with a point in coming out of the contest with a 0-0 draw. Goalkeeper Dana Grieme had an outstanding half, stretching low to her right to parry away the best Hawks’ scoring chance of the half with about 15 minutes left to play. “We knew coming into this game that our legs would be tired,” said Coach Vodicka, but the desire to fight and compete with this very talented team for 80 minutes earned us a well-deserved tie. I was immensely proud of the composure we showed and the level of organization we kept, despite having to sit deep and defend for long stretches in that second half.”
One must look beyond the scoresheet to see the progress the girls made this weekend, but the Shattuck style of play is starting to show up more and more in games. “We have made speed of play and movement off the ball to create better passing/shooting angles major points of emphasis in training,” said Vodicka. “Despite two losses and a draw this weekend, [assistant coach] Beau and I are very confident that the girls are progressing in the right direction, as these aspects of the game are being displayed more with each game. It leaves us excited to see what the girls will look like three weeks from now when we resume MRL league play.” The Sabre U16s have two weekends of training and friendlies coming up before they will host FC United and Milwaukee Bavarians over Fall Family weekend.