Commentary: Hawkeyes head into Big Ten play


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Iowa soccer is officially finished with the nonconference portion of the schedule. This can only mean one thing — Big Ten competition is just around the corner.

This raises the question of whether the success that the Hawkeyes enjoyed during nonconference play will translate to conference play.

Over the past two seasons the Hawkeyes are 8-9-5 while facing Big Ten opponents, the best two-year stretch in the history of the Iowa program. The soccer program is steadily improving, and I expect this season to be no different.

The Hawkeyes need to continue their dominant defense, because this will keep them competitive in each game.

Through eight games, the Hawks have given up 4 goals, leading to an average of 0.50 goals per game — second among Big Ten teams this season.

The Hawks have posted five shutouts. These shutouts have been a team effort but mainly anchored by a backline that rarely ever gives up shot attempts, let alone goals. Hawkeye opponents this season have only shot 58 times — an average of 7.2 per game.

Another reason Iowa should be confident heading into conference play is experience. Iowa is returning seven starters from its 2012 season, and many of those starters saw significant playing time during the 2011 season as well.

These players understand how the game changes when Big Ten play rolls around. They understand that the physicality ramps up. They’ve also experienced what it’s like to win conference games and what it takes.

The final reason is one that doesn’t show up on any stat sheets. The Hawkeyes have shown the ability to win ugly. It may not be the most desirable way to describe a team, but in the end it wins games.

The Hawks are going to have games where their shots are off or they can’t get a clean look at the goal. But as they have shown throughout this season, they have the ability to pull out a win with a timely goal or another dominating defensive performance.

However, I don’t believe this means that the Hawks are going to roll through the competition. Through nonconference play, the Hawkeyes have shown some weaknesses worth worrying about.

The most troublesome is their scoring. Of the Big Ten teams, the Hawkeyes rank 10th in goals scored per game at 2 a contest and 16 total — nine of which came from either a free kick, corner kick, or penalty kick.

This reliance on dead ball plays for their scoring could be viewed in two ways.

It could be seen as the Hawks’ lack of ability to create open shots for themselves during live play. Or it could be seen as evidence for Iowa’s ability to get into dangerous areas of the field and draw fouls rather than their inability to create goals during live play.

If the Hawkeyes are to take the next step, they must win during conference play. This is something I think is not only possible but likely to happen this season.

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