WOMEN'S SOCCER | Success Hinges on Corner Kicks
Published: Friday, October 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 25, 2013 02:10
In soccer, teams fluidly move the ball around the pitch, improvising, strategizing and looking to exploit holes in their opponents’ defense. However, a few times a game, when one side earns a set piece or corner kick, the chess match pauses briefly. These are the moments that are often the difference between victory and defeat.
For the No. 15 Georgetown women’s soccer team (13-1-2, 5-1-1 Big East), set pieces — more specifically, corner kicks — have played a crucial role in propelling the squad to one of the best starts in program history. On both the offensive and defensive end of the pitch, the Hoyas have successfully combined tactics and execution to thoroughly outperform their opponents on corner kicks. And when the Hoyas are the better team on corner kicks, they are nearly unbeatable. In fact, it has been over five years since Georgetown has lost a game in which they were outscored by their opponents on corner kicks.
For the Hoyas, the success is rooted in defending their own penalty box.
“We defend with a zone on corner kicks,” Head Coach Dave Nolan said. “The only goal we’ve allowed on them this year was in the first game of the year against William & Mary, where we just totally fell asleep, and since then, we’ve defended pretty well.”
“Pretty well” is an understatement. Since that one conceded goal to William & Mary, the Hoyas have successfully defended 50 corner kicks in a row.
The key to that success is the zone strategy. Instead of worrying about covering every offensive player, each Georgetown midfielder and defender is assigned a sphere to defend within the penalty box. The tactic forces the offense to adjust to the defense instead of vice the opposite. The danger is that for some, the strategy can be more difficult to grasp than traditional man-marking.
Senior defender Mary Kroening, perhaps the most valuable player for the Hoyas when it comes to both defensive and offensive corner kicks, likes to keep it simple.
“On the defensive side, I just don’t want to let the ball into the back of the net,” Kroening said. “And on the offensive side, I want to make sure the ball goes into the back of the net, no matter how.”
Of the 11 goals Georgetown has scored on corner kicks this season, Kroening has five. The senior’s combination of height and athleticism makes her a potent weapon. Standing at 5-foot-10 and possessing an impressive vertical leap, Kroening is able to reach balls in the air with her head that opposing goalkeepers struggle to touch with their outstretched hands.
On the offensive end of the pitch, one of the most successful strategies for Georgetown this year has simply been placing either Kroening or sophomore midfielder Marina Paul — also 5-foot-10 — next to the opposing goalie and lofting a ball right at them.
“We can really attack the ball once the delivery is good, so once we get consistent service on set pieces and corners, we’re always a danger,” Nolan said.
Delivering that service for the Hoyas has been junior midfielder Daphne Corboz. Despite missing the first five matches of the season due to injury, the junior leads the team in scoring, due in part to the eight assists and one goal she has tallied on corner kicks this year. Corboz is quick to credit her teammates for the success.
“We have Mary and Marina who are huge presences in the air, and then we have Kailey [Blain] and Kaitlin [Brenn] who are huge presences when the ball drops,” the junior said. “They’re doing a great job of getting on the end of the crosses.”
It’s not always as simple as booting the ball into the box and hoping for the best. Against both VCU and Yale, Georgetown scored goals on short corners; for the Hoyas, they are a good way to mix it up.
“We always want to keep teams guessing. We always like to keep them on their toes,” Nolan said.
When asked if it was his or Corboz’ call when to employ a short corner, Nolan laughed.
“It’s not basketball where you send in plays,” he said. “It’s anyone’s call; I try to give them free reign to do their thing.”
The improvisation has been working. Georgetown is averaging close to a corner kick goal a game in conference play — a major boost to the team’s second-ranked scoring offense in the country, which averages over three goals per game.
By the time Georgetown takes to the pitch this Sunday to face Villanova, it will have been a week since the Hoyas last saw game action. With the regular season coming to a close, the focus for the Blue and Gray has turned to securing a second-place finish in the Big East and the accompanying bye through the first round of the conference tournament.
Georgetown sits a point above third-place DePaul in the table and therefore needs to win its final two games to assure it will maintain its current position.
As the days grow shorter and the stakes get higher, entire seasons can hinge on the ability to defend or score on a corner kick — if it comes down to this for the Hoyas, they can feel good about their chances.
Villanova Up Next
On Sunday, Villanova (6-7-3, 3-3-1 Big East) will look to knock Georgetown out of second place and secure its own spot in the Big East tournament.
It has been an up-and-down season for the Wildcats, who currently occupy fourth place in the Big East despite having failed to string together two straight victories all year.
Of primary concern for the Georgetown defense will be locking down star freshman forward Katie Martin. Martin leads the Wildcats in scoring with five goals and 10 assists to her name.
The match is slated to kick off at 1 p.m. Sunday in Philadelphia.