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No. 3 FSU soccer vs. No. 2 Virginia: Let’s meet the Cavaliers

We are lucky to have Streaking The Lawn soccer writer Val Prochaska join us to help us learn about UVA.

Soccer: Women’s College Cup Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State and Virginia will meet tomorrow at 8pm in Charlottesville, VA. It seems like every year these two teams meet it is a top 5 matchup. Last year FSU was #3 and UVA was #1. Last year’s game was a 1-1 draw although the Noles beat the Hoos in the ACC Championship game 1-0.

With that in mind we would like to welcome Val Prochaska of Streaking the Lawn to answer our questions about the Virginia Cavaliers.

Even though the team is still winning, they seem to be struggling to create dangerous chances. UVA only has 8 total shots on goal the last 4 games. To what do you attribute this lack of production?

In the five or six years that I’ve been able to watch the women since the advent of the ACC Network, I would not have ever characterized this team as clinical. In the last two games, central striker Haley Hopkins has been sprung 1 v 1 on the keeper for two glorious chances, and she’s missed both. In our tie versus VCU, Alexa Spaanstra had two very good chances and she missed both of them. We’ve never been good in front of goal.

This year, Hopkins seems like a ready-made replacement for Diana Ordonez, who left a year early to go pro. But Hopkins is far more mobile than Ordonez and she’ll vacate the center of the field to set up wide. She’s also better at holding the ball in the middle of pitch than Ordonez. But it means we often lack a central target, and a team defending against a team with a wide 9, has more room to spread out, making it harder for midfielders and wide players alike to get quality shots.

Unfortunately, it seems that Rebecca Jarrett sustained another injury in the Duke game. If she isn’t able to play what will Virginia be missing?

Yeah. Injuries suck.

Jarrett, at least through her injury last year, had game-breaking speed and she had to be game-planned in a way no other player on Virginia had to be defended. She’s improved every year on she curls in on her weaker, left foot and she scored the first goal in Virginia’s stunning comeback against the Tar Heels. She’s also a willing defender, and as captain of the team, is an emotional leader for the Cavaliers. It’s a huge loss.

Fortunately, for Virginia, we have freshman Maggie Cagle who is arguably the most impactful Virginia freshman of the past half-decade. She has six assists, five of them game winners, so she knows how to seize the moment. Her mother was a former head coach of the Virginia Tech women’s team, but it looks like Maggie was born to play Virginia soccer. Cagle will step right into the starting lineup without Virginia suffering any drop-off, but it would have been nice to have her in reserve to be that spark off the bench.

Claire Constant was moved from midfield (where she has played most of the year) back to her accustomed spot on the backline for the Duke game. Discuss her impact and why you think Coach Swanson has moved her to the backline.

Three years ago, Swanson moved his best player, Phoebe McClernon, out of central defense and out to right back because he was preparing her to play that role professionally. While it was great from a player-development point of view, it wasn’t as good for the team because in the center of defense, I thought McClernon was the ACC’s best defender since your Natalia Kuikka. For me, this is the only explanation for why Swanson moved Constant who’d been a two-year, every-minute central defender to center mid. Swanson had a very versatile midfielder, Lacy McCormack to slot in the back in Constant’s absence, and Swanson was very successful doing that with Zoe Morse a couple years back.

I think Virginia is instantly better with Constant on the back line and with Alexis Theoret lined up as the central midfielder. Constant is a fine ball winner in defense, and she’s a physical presence (on a team that is none too physical) but she’s substandard, to be frank, in midfield. She can’t turn the ball under pressure, so every release is a back pass. If every pass is a back pass, an already overly-deliberate Virginia attack changes the point of attack at a glacial pace. She also lacks the understanding of where/how to show for an outlet pass from her defensive line.

Tellingly, Virginia couldn’t hang with UNC in the first of their matchup, failing to score while giving up two goals. With Constant on the bench to start the 2nd half, Virginia came out of the locker room on fire and they had control of the midfield within minutes. The first two goals of the comeback were both scored with Theoret in the middle.

It seems to me that UVA is struggling (by their standards) in the midfield. Has the loss of players like Taryn Torres and Sydney Zandi been more impactful than we expected?

Losing Torres and Zandi is huge. They both had tremendous engines and simply couldn’t be pushed off the ball. But as you know, departure is baked into the DNA of collegiate sports, and Swanson had as ready-made a replacement for Torres as could be imagined in Alexis Theoret. Theoret was groomed last year to be Torres’ replacement, and like any great understudy, she’s added the best of Torres’ game to her own.

Zandi was the hole that had to be filled as this season kicked off. It’s been a bit of committee of many filling in at right midfield. Last game out vs Duke, it was Cagle starting there, but with Jarrett’s presumed absence, Cagle will line up at wing and I would presume that Emma Dawson will play in midfield. Dawson is perfectly fine, and she’s gotten better every year she’s been at Virginia.

I agree with the premise of your question. Obviously, I think we’ll be all right should Theoret start in the middle.

How is Virginia going to beat FSU? And conversely, how is FSU going to beat Virginia?

I think Virginia is the toughest team, mentally, in the ACC. We just are. These women do not give up. They’d been run off the pitch in front of a sold-out Homecoming arena at UNC, down 2-0, and they could have put their heads down and tried to minimize the damage. But they fought back. And won. We’ve had numerous great battles with you guys and you’ve always been stronger, faster, and more physical. You’ve tried to bully us. And it’s never worked. And just this weekend, two minutes after losing Jarrett, we scored the goal that would knock off Duke. You are never safe playing Virginia.

As for how FSU could win? One name. Clara Robbins. I’m not going to list the goals that she’s scored against us, you can do that for your readers if you want, Prince. But suffice it to say, that there has never been a player that I have wanted to see exit the ACC more than Robbins. Ye gods, she’s slipped a dagger into our hearts a couple of times.

Oh, and poor defending on corners. Shoddy play defending corners was a bugaboo a couple years back, and we seem to be bringing that back as a feature this year. In our loss to Notre Dame, the single goal was off a corner. And Duke squandered a glorious opportunity to level the score off a corner. Kayla White is a better shot stopper than Laurel Ivory, but she doesn’t command the box on corners yet.

Thanks so much Val for your in-depth and informative answers.

This critical game with first place in the ACC on the line will kick off at 8:00pm from Charlottesville, VA. The game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.