OTTAWA – Oftentimes the first few minutes of a soccer game can give players and coaches a good idea of what may or may not work to produce the best chance of a winning outcome.
The Ottawa girls squad and coach Sean Porter quickly saw they would be able to use their speed to take advantage of Rochelle’s aggressive defensive third during Wednesday’s Interstate Eight Conference contest at King Field.
The Pirates, with the Hubs backline pushing up to midfield when the ball was in the hosts’ third of the field, used quick counters by the forwards and midfielders to beat the defense downfield on numerous occasions in the first half – scoring three times – on the way to a 5-0 triumph.
“We have a young team, so we’ve talked all season to the girls about getting better every second they are on the field and learning from mistakes., I thought we did that and played a pretty solid all-around game.”— Ottawa girls soccer coach Sean Porter
Junior Gabi Krueger and sophomore Nastya Sheptenko each netted a pair of goals, the former adding two assists, while senior Bhumika Patel also found the back of the net for Ottawa, which improved to 3-7 overall and 2-3 in the I-8.
Rochelle fell to 0-5 and 0-3.
“We definitely used our speed to our advantage today, and I think put a lot of pressure on their defenders because of that,” said Krueger. “Nastya did a great job of running down through balls, and those through balls have been something we haven’t been using as well as we should be. I think we also did a much better job of using the middle of the field, and we also had a few really good give-and-go chances that opened up space.”
The home team scored what proved to be the only tally it would need in the 6th minute when Sheptenko stole the ball from 40 yards out and dribbled past a defender before scoring on a shot from around 15 yards out. Krueger made it 2-0 just under three minutes later, carrying the ball from near midfield to the top of the box before juking around the oncoming Hubs keeper and putting the ball into an open net. Then, midway through the half, a Krueger 20-yard shot was stopped, but Sheptenko jumped on the rebound to make it 3-0.
“I felt I was faster than (the defenders) and was just trying to stay onside,” said Sheptenko. “Today was a fun day, and I’m just happy to be playing.”
“We talked at halftime about our forwards staying onsides. Rochelle was playing a very high line in the back, and when a team plays that aggressive from a defensive aspect, as a forward you just have to be patient,” said Porter. “Gabi is a really good facilitator in the midfield, so opportunities are going to be there for a solid run, but the key is staying onside and putting yourself into open space.
“We did a pretty good job of that in the first half.”
The Pirates made it a four-goal game in the 51st minute on Krueger’s breakaway tally, on which she used nearly the same exact move for her second goal of the game. Ottawa closed out the scoring with 24 minutes, 52 seconds remaining when, off a Krueger corner kick, the ball found its way through traffic and to the foot of Patel, who blasted it in from close range.
“I was so excited, it’s my very first (varsity) goal,” said Patel. “I was able to see the ball all the way, and a couple of girls kicked at it and missed. I started in the middle (of the penalty box), and as I moved forward it came right to me. I was able to get my foot on it and get it in.”
The Hubs actually held an advantage in overall shots, 21-9, and on-target attempts at 10-5, but Ottawa sophomore keeper Morgan Stone stopped all 10 shots to record the clean sheet.
“We talked about being more of a possession team in the second half and also improve our communication on defense,” said Porter. “I thought we did a really good job in both of those things.
“We have a young team, so we’ve talked all season to the girls about getting better every second they are on the field and learning from mistakes, I thought we did that and played a pretty solid all-around game.”