Angel Napoli’s early season approach may not be providing the results she wants at the end of games, but she is seeing the progressions she wants to see.
The new head coach of the Massachusetts women’s soccer team began the season focusing on her backfield, moved onto working on her midfield in UMass’ second game and followed with the offense in the most recent game, a 1-0 loss to Providence this past Friday. In the loss, the offense showed that it is still a work in progress – it only managed three shots, one on net – but the defense, where Napoli began her focus, was solid.
Despite giving up 17 shots (eight on goal), the Minutewomen defense was strong, shutting down the Friars (2-1-0) on many opportunities. The Friars dominated possession, controlling the ball on the ground, but the Minutewomen (0-3-0) held strong once Providence moved into the attacking third of the field.
The only mistake of the day for UMass’ defense came in the 67th minute when the Friars Jill Camburn found Nicole Benko at the top of the box. Benko found the top-left corner of the net, just outside of freshman goalie Emily Cota’s reach.
“Every game they have gotten better, every game I feel they are getting more and more confident,” Napoli said. “We had one breakdown and they got a great shot and it was a great finish.”
The goal was the first Cota has given up in her career at UMass, and the game was her second in a UMass uniform. Cota came into the game in the second half, replacing senior Lauren Luckey. It was the second game in a row that Napoli has used both goalies, something she expects to continue doing.
“During practice it has been so close that during [our last game] we just decided to give them both time,” Napoli said of her goalie situation. “They are both strong keepers, they both bring a different quality, they both are going to be able to make the big saves and they both may have those situations that one is better than the other, but going with two keepers your going to have that happen.”
Neither goalie was a concern for UMass, as Cota made four saves and Luckey saved all three shots she faced, but the offense appeared to be.
Throughout the game the offense was played through the wings, who attempted to feed the ball into the box hoping to set up a shot. The Minutewomen had success moving the ball up the wings, especially at the feet of redshirt junior Sydney Stoll, but Providence dominated the middle of the field, preventing UMass from getting open looks at the net and holding them to just three shots.
The three shots were an improvement from the Minutewomen’s previous game, a 2-0 loss at Boston University, where UMass was out shot 30-1. Even in its first game of the season, the offense was lackluster as it put up just eight shots in a 2-0 loss at Holy Cross.
The Friars were also very aggressive throughout the game, especially on defense, often disrupting the Minutewomen on offense. Stoll was often knocked to the ground from behind as she tried to create some offense.
“Going into it we knew [Providence was] one of the most physical teams we were going to play,’ Stoll said. “I knew it was going to happen but just wasn’t really ready for it.”
But just as the defense has shown improvements with each game after Napoli has focused on it, she is hoping for the same with the offense.
“It is just going to be part of the process,” Napoli said. “I think just getting numbers up there, we’re getting more numbers in the attack and it’s just more keeping the ball and connecting it and then looking for our shot.”
Despite the few shots taken, Napoli still feels she is seeing her offense getting more opportunities; it’s just that those opportunities may come as a surprise to her offense after struggling to put anything together in the first two games.
“I think with our first two games we didn’t get much success on the attacks and I think today when we actually got [in the attacking third] they were surprised,” Napoli said. “Even though we’ve been working on it a little bit, I think it was just almost shocking that [we got into the attacking third] and then they got nervous and just lost their heads a little bit.”
Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at [email protected]