By Chris Mackowiak
What: Salisbury women’s soccer hosts Wesley College
When: Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 3pm
Where: SU Soccer Complex
How to watch: Online via the Sea Gull Sports Network at http://www.suseagulls.com/
It will come down to the final match for Salisbury (4-7-4, 3-4-1) to find out if they make it into the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) tournament. Their final positioning can only be, at this point, sixth or seventh place. Only the teams that finish first through sixth place move on. A win Wednesday afternoon clinches a playoff berth for Salisbury. It is as simple as “win and you’re in.”
That is the simple problem. Salisbury has not been winning much lately. The team is winless in their last three games (0-2-1). A benefit headed into this final match is that they are facing one of the lower teams in the conference: the Wesley Wolverines (4-10-1, 0-8). Despite Wesley having won no matches in conference, there would be nothing sweeter for the Wolverines than to spoil Salisbury’s party in this Route 13 rivalry.
Salisbury University Sea Gulls (4-7-4, 3-4-1 CAC; currently sixth in CAC)
The Sea Gulls have plenty of options to make it into the conference playoffs with help from Penn State Harrisburg’s results during their Tuesday match, but Salisbury can still control their own destiny with a win on Wednesday. The injury spell for the team has quieted recently, allowing for a healthy squad to head into the match.
Senior midfielder Jayne Pinsky has returned to the field for the last few games following a prolonged head injury. She is a key leader in the midfield, a section that has been the real trouble for the team.
Salisbury runs a formation that is keen on great chemistry in the midfield. While it is given different titles, the team holds three consistent defenders in the back with a diamond formation making up the midfield. Wingers and forwards will roam the sidelines from full back positions to up top. Nobody really knows who will take up the fourth defensive spot in the backline each game.
In Major League Soccer, Real Salt Lake made this “diamond” formation famous. The key is to have midfielders that fit the roles perfectly because it takes great chemistry to be successful with it. Senior midfielder Lauren Mingenelli has been strong in the bottom of the “diamond,” keeping the ball out of the defense in last-second situations.
With Pinsky back, the defense is looking a lot better with the two key seniors in there. However, the offense is the problem at this point.
The best strategy has been to launch the ball up to junior forward Ruthie Lucas who is the engine of the offense. Senior forward Lindsey Andonian has also seen lots of time up top despite being listed as a defender.
What Salisbury has lacked is the ability to hold the ball up in the corners. The speed of Andonian is there to move the ball downfield into the corner for a cross. However, the defense and midfield seem more focused on getting the ball into the central attacking area with Lucas. The problem is that Lucas is not a distributor, she’s a speedster as a forward. To explain it, take a look at SU men’s soccer senior forward Leslie Umunna.
While Lucas is also physical in her play, her skill set as a forward is more dictated towards using her speed to bypass defenders. Although Umunna also possesses speed, his physicality and bulk make him perfect for distributing to wingers and holding up the ball.
Salisbury just does not play a formation that fits their roster and players. It is something to work on in the offseason. If Salisbury cannot find goals against a Wesley defense that gives up 2.56 a game, it is hard to imagine the team ever scoring again.
At least if Salisbury is not scoring, they have junior center back Rachel Anderson and junior goalkeeper Hope Knussman at the end of the day to bunker in.
Wesley College Wolverines (4-10-1, 0-8 CAC; currently last in CAC)
Despite the lack of offense in CAC play and the second-to-last defense in the conference, Wesley does sport one of the top offensive play makers in the conference. If there is one name to know headed into the match, it is freshman forward Aleya Cummings.
Cummings leads the CAC in goals with 14 and is second in the conference in points with 29. Ruthie Lucas is the motor behind the Salisbury offense, but Cummings takes it to a new level with Wesley.
The entire mission for Wesley is to get the ball to Cummings up top in order to score goals. Overall, the roster is very young and limited. In the next few years, Wesley will be contending in the CAC, but for now they are winless in conference.
The struggles have come from their one-dimensional efforts with only one scorer. If an opposing team double-teams Cummings and shuts her down for the day, there really is no one else there to step up.
Salisbury will key in on her with Anderson, one of the most physical defenders in the conference. It may come down to what production Wesley can get out of sophomore midfielder Janiah Moore, who has scored six times along with tallying three assists this season.
Wesley comes into Salisbury with nothing really to play for, so they can lay it all on the line against a Sea Gulls team that is under a ton of pressure. The Wolverines have their own offensive trouble, especially on the road. The team averages 0.9 fewer goals per game on the road as compared to playing at home alongside a (-10) goal differential in only five true road contests.
On defense, their best asset is in the net. Senior goalkeeper Sam Brannigan acts as a wall behind a porous defense that gives up over two goals per game. Despite letting in 29 goals this season, the senior is first in the CAC in saves with 117. That number is 54 more than Salisbury’s Knussman with 63 saves on the season.
While Brannigan has put a lot of work in behind a questionable defense, she is the main obstacle for the Salisbury offense to get back some confidence on Wednesday. While the Sea Gulls will be focused on just attaining a win, the match provides a great opportunity for Salisbury to gain momentum headed into a potential first round playoff match.
To recap, here are the scenarios for Salisbury to advance into the CAC playoffs:
1) Salisbury wins against Wesley on Wednesday
2) Penn State Harrisburg draws or loses to Mary Washington on Tuesday
Stay with The Flyer for post-match coverage on Wednesday along with a recap of the action.