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Hawkeye soccer's midfield has controlled possession

BY BEN WOLFSON | SEPTEMBER 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa soccer team has continued to build on its record-setting start by using dominant play in the midfield.

So far this season, the Hawkeyes (9-0-2, 1-0-2 Big Ten) have a total of 219 shots on goal in 11 games; opponents have only 95. This ratio is a direct result of a new-look midfield for Iowa, which has been playing with five players in the position — up from four for most of last season.

 

Head coach Ron Rainey's lineup against Purdue on Sept. 25 listed senior Rachel Blakesley, usually a defender, in the midfield. Junior Kat Lewis started in Blakesley's spot on the back line.

"We thought about it last spring and started doing it a little bit more this fall," Rainey said about the new midfield formation. "Basically, we're trying to win balls in the midfield and possess [the ball] with numbers in the attacking third [of the field]. With the mobility of the game now, that's where the game is going."

Iowa's current formation — four defenders, five in the midfield, and a lone striker — allows the Hawkeyes to play with two outside midfielders and three center midfielders. Two of the center midfielders focus on defending, and one is used in an attacking role.

Blakesley and sophomore Alex Melin filled the defensive center midfielder positions and worked well together against Purdue on Sunday; the two were aggressive and winning tackles throughout the 1-1 draw.

"Transitioning from [true] defense to defensive holding center-mid has been a little bit of a challenge for me, because I'm so defensive-minded," Blakesley said. "I and Alex Melin have worked well together holding that center-mid spot; Alex usually sets up a little bit higher, while I drop off in more of a holding position."

Whether the two center midfielders drop back to defend or go up to attack depends on the two defensive center-backs, freshmen Mel Pickert and Katie Brown. Pickert and Brown call out instructions to Blakesley and Melin to get them in the right position to win possession of the ball and keep opponents out of the Hawkeyes' zone.

The five midfielders have performed that task well. Iowa has only allowed double-digit shots on goal twice, against Illinois and Indiana. The Illinois game is the only time this season that the Hawkeyes have had fewer shot attempts than their opponent (19-14).

As the players adjust to playing with five midfielders, there is one issue that the team would like to fix. The midfielders need to do a better job of coming up the field when the Hawkeyes have possession to help out freshman striker Cloé Lacasse, Rainey said.

Lacasse, who leads the team with 10 goals and four assists, often had to take on numerous Purdue defenders by herself during Sunday's game.

But, junior midfielder Dana Dalrymple said, there hasn't been talk of moving a player up to partner with Lacasse.

"Instead, we're going to try to correct what we already have with our formation," she said. "I think it's more of getting people forward so Cloé doesn't feel alienated up top. We've had the opportunities, but we need to keep working on our final passes and attack."

Rainey agreed and said he'll stick with the formation for the foreseeable future. He wants Lacasse to pass balls back to the midfield so Iowa can gain numbers while attacking instead of going in by herself, he said.

"We want to work on entering the attacking third with numbers and with possession," Rainey said. "That means a lot of running for our midfielders — but to get more people in the box, we need that attitude of [put the] ball in, lay it off [to a teammate], and come in as a group."


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