Soccer, football, fútbol, Fußball, calcio.
The Beautiful Game is the world's most popular sport by a large margin and with good reason; there is no game that is so simple to pick up, yet as technically challenging and intriguing as fútbol. Billions tune in to the World Cup every year. Thousands flock every weekend to watch their local teams compete. In other places, like Brazil, football is a religion. No game on Earth captivates the fan in the way that football does. 90 minutes of constant action between twenty two players battling over a ball. It truly is a sight to behold.
A game by any other name would be as popular.
But what about Texas? What are our footballing options? Well, we can all get behind the national teams, as many of us did with the USMNT and will next year with the USWNT. We can support the local MLS teams; the Houston Dynamo or FC Dallas. We can support the numerous lower-division teams in and around the major cities. But what about at the college level? What about those of us who live in Waco and have no access to professional football? Well, have I got a treat for you! If you were unaware, the Big 12 has this little sport called Women's Soccer. Surprised? Don't be. It turns out, Baylor has a team, and they're quite good!
Now, I realize the previous statements don't apply to everyone; many of you have at least heard of our fútbol team. But, I'd wager most of y'all have never been to a game. I'm here to tell you that that is okay, but I am also here to convince you that you need to go to more games! While they aren't as popular as our American Football team, the Baylor Soccer team deserves your viewership. "But Matthew," you say, "I just started watching soccer and I don't really know the rules and terminology!" Let's change that.
Football, like any other sport, has its own lexicon that the fan should know. All y'all know what a touchdown is, but do you know what a sweeper is?
Pretty straightforward, no?
Play starts each half and after each goal from the middle of the center circle. Only two players from the team kicking off are allowed within the circle; all others must remain outside of the circle until the ball is kicked off. The ball must first be kicked forward, so many teams have one player tap the ball forward and the second player will kick the ball back to another player on the their side of the pitch (the playing field, also called as such). Baylor usually prefers to kick the ball down to the opposing defense, putting the pressure on right off the bat.
The penalty box denotes the area that the goalkeeper (more on the positions in a bit) can use their hands. Also, if a foul occurs in this area against the attacking team, a penalty kick (a direct, one-on-one kick from the penalty kick mark) is awarded. Commonly referred to as the eighteen-yard box.
The goal box (or six-yard box) denotes the area from which the goalkeeper can take goal kicks (free kicks awarded when the ball goes over the endline after being touched by the attacking team) from.
The corner arc denotes the area from which a player must take a corner kick (a free kick awarded when the ball goes over the endline after being last touched by a player on the defending team).
Free kicks are kicks awarded by the referee for various reasons (fouls, offside, corner kick, etc.). The ball is placed at the spot of the infraction and is kicked by a member of the affected team. Opposing players cannot come within ten yards of the spot. Refs usually step off the distance and enforce the distance by eye during the kick, but a temporary spray used to mark off the respective lines is becoming more and more common. If you've seen the World Cup at all, you've probably seen this happening. Unless the NCAA changed the rules for the upcoming season, NCAA Women's Soccer does not currently use this technology.
The halfway line not only demarcates the center of the pitch, but also plays a crucial role regarding the offside penalty. Since this rule is a tad complex, it would be better for those who do not know the rule to peruse this Wikipedia article and then ask questions in the comments if they are still confused.
The flank is the area near the sidelines. Often, players will run up an down these and look to cross the ball into the middle.
I've done my best to describe here what all the markings on the pitch mean, but if you've got any questions (and this really goes for this whole preview), please ask in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.
The Players and Formations
The goalkeeper (GK) is the last line of defense and the first line of offense. The only player that can use their hands, they are a rather specialized position. Some, like German keeper Manuel Neuer, love to come out of their box and play the roll of "sweeper-keeper" and mop up the defensive mishaps, but most keepers prefer to stay in their box the majority of the match. Also of note: the term "goalie" is used to describe a hockey netminder. Soccer netminders are referred to as "goalkeepers" or "keepers". As a former keeper, this is a huge pet peeve.
Keeper Michelle Kloss punts the ball.
Now, here's the tricky part. There are an infinite number of formations that the remaining seven six players on the pitch can be in. They can be in the classic English 4-4-2, the German 4-2-3-1, the Spanish 4-5-1 that's more like a 4-6, the American 4-diamond 4-2, or the Dutch totaalvoetbal mindset where any player can play any position. I could write a whole series of posts on the pros and cons of each formation, but since this is a Baylor Soccer preview, I will stick to the formation they use: the 4-3-3.
The defenders (D) are players who normally remain on their keeper's half of the pitch. Most teams, including Baylor, use four defenders in a variety of formations. Below is a picture of the common formations used for teams with four defenders.
The yellow circles are representing a flat four formation. Two center backs (CB) and a right back (CB) and a left back (LB) default to, you guessed it, a flat line of defense. More common nowadays is the formation seen in the red circles. In this formation, the right and left back play more of a winger role(R/LWB) , meaning that they often run up and down the flanks. Naturally, wing backs need to have greater stamina than normal R/LBs as they do more running. Finally, a much less common (and a bit outdated in professional play), is the diamond formation, seen here in blue. In this formation, a sweeper (SW) sits on the edge of the penalty box while the forward defender plays more of a center defensive midfielder role (midfield is up next). The R/LBs can either sit back or go forward, depending on the team's style of play.
Baylor kind of combines all three in their play. Many times a CB will drop back into that sweeper role, but the R/LB are also a threat to go forward. They adjust to what is needed, which is the mark of a great defense. It just goes to show that once the ball in play, anything goes and as long as the defenders and keeper keep the ball out of their net. Given that Baylor only allowed 13 goals in 20 games last season and zero across six matches this spring. So, yeah, I'd say the back five are doing their job.
In the 4-3-3 formation, a team uses three midfielders (MF, in black) and three forwards (F, in red). Above is the "stereotypical" starting positions for the six players, though often times the players have a zone for which they are responsible. With these six positions, there are all sorts of demonyms one can use to describe the players based on their style of play and where they can normally be found on the pitch. In Baylor's case, the forwards and midfielders start out in the 3-3, but have free reign to adjust to whatever the game demands.
Up front, Baylor usually has two wingers whose job it is to run up and down the flanks and cross balls into the center forward (who could also be called a striker). Without getting too deep into the various tactics and positions, what separates a center forward from a striker is mainly possession. CFs, like Messi, tend to hold on to the ball, dribble, and create opportunities. Strikers, on the other hand, mostly sit up top, receive the ball, and shoot. A gross oversimplification, yes, but I hope that gives you a bit of an idea of the differences. Baylor tends to play a CF rather than a striker.
The right and left wingers could also be called right and left forwards, respectively. Whereas wingers play more on the wings (flanks) and play more of an assistant role, preferring to cross the ball rather than shoot, forwards play more central rolls and are more apt to go towards goal.
Midfielders are also called different things based on their position. Central midfielders can be attacking, defensive, or just plain "central".Right and left midfielders are a bit different in that they are usually more attacking than your typical center mid (especially in a 4-3-3). As such, they can be either R/LM or R/L attacking midfielders, who naturally sit father up the pitch than a R/LM.
MF Alexa Wilde on the ball.
Midfielders have numerous jobs on the pitch. Their main job is to get the ball from the defense up to the forwards, but once they do that, they need to run up the pitch to provide support. But if and when the team loses possession, they need to hustle back and play defense. The defensive support is especially important in a 4-3-3. Because three players are constantly in the opponent's half, the midfielders must be able to return in defensive support quickly.
Differences from Association Football Rules
Association football, or the brand of football played at the World Cup and at professional clubs across the world, is great. So is the NCAA's brand of soccer. However, there are numerous rules that are different from the FIFA Laws of the Game. Go read the first section of that Wikipedia article. The changes are strange at first, but you get used to them.
How Baylor Plays
In a word, "aerial". Baylor certainly doesn't play Spain's tiki taka style. Rather, they rely on through balls to the forwards. Kind of like Baylor Football, time of possession is not the top priority. And that's okay.
Baylor plays a very fluid midfield in that the three players are constantly running box-to-box and adapting to what the game calls for. Is the opposing team pressuring the defense too much? Then the CM will sit back in more of a CDM role. Need some attacking power? Throw those midfielders up the pitch into an attacking role. As such, there isn't much I can really say about Baylor's midfield other that they aren't afraid to change up their roles and adapt to what is needed. In a way, it's very Dutch of them.
In Women's College Soccer, there aren't any floppers.
The forwards are, by nature, a bit more rigid, though they too can come back in defense if need be. Often times Baylor will launch the ball up to their R/L winger, who will attempt to run down the line and look for a cross. Because the wingers are looking for a cross, the CF is usually trailing the wingers in the middle of the pitch so that she can be in position by the time the ball comes into the middle.
But, above all, Baylor is a bastion at defense. Although they don't produce Germany-level goals (who does?) all the time, they very rarely give up goals. In fact, they only gave up multiple goals in four games last year. So while Baylor may not play "beautiful" football all game, they play much like the USMNT in that they do what they need to do to get the win.
Another thing, in Women's College Soccer, there aren't any floppers. As disappointing as it is to see the act permeate the professional men's game, it even more refreshing to see the lack of it in NCAA soccer. These girls go hard.
Meet the Team
Unlike many teams, Baylor actually has a husband and wife duo at the coaching helm. Paul and Marci Jobson have been in Waco for six seasons (since 2008) and have had great success, raising the program's win total each year. "The better half of the duo" (his words) was a member of the USWNT from 2005 to 2007 where she earned 17 caps (appearances with the national team) during her tenure. The SMU grad has also coached various teams, including at NIU with her husband. Coach Paul began his coaching career as a senior at Presbyterian College in South Carolina and has never looked back. From being the Soccer Director and Program Supervisor for the Snellville (Ga.) Parks and Rec Department to the coach of Baylor, Coach Paul has certainly run the gamut of women's soccer.
Coach Jobson playing in the 2012 Alumni Game. She can still kick your butt at soccer.
Chuck Codd, graduate of NC State, is the assistant coach for the Bears. He, like the Jobsons, came to Baylor from Northern Illinois. Codd is, among other duties, in charge of goalkeepers and defenders. Coach Codd has played a huge part in turning Baylor into one of the NCAA's best defensive sides. Finally, Anna Maddox, is with the team as a Volunteer Assistant Coach. Maddox graduated from the University of Mobile in 2011, where she a four-year starter. She also played with the Buxmont Torch, a WPSL semi-professional team. Maddox graduated in May 2013 from Baylor with a Master of Arts degree in Sports Pedagogy.
Note: The BaylorBears.com profiles for the following student-athletes have not been updated to reflect the 2013 season, so I am mostly going off of these stats. Unlike american football, information on the soccer team is not everywhere you look.
RS Senior Michelle Kloss has been a rock in between the sticks. Starting all 20 games last season, Kloss posted a Goal Against Average of just 0.65 (second-best in the Big 12 last year) with 11 shut-outs. Back-up keeper SO Sara Martinson played in four matches last year, allowing zero goals and helping to bring the Bears two more shut-outs for a total of 13 on the year. Kloss will almost certainly start this year, but don't expect Martinson to sit idly by either.
Departing from the Bears due to graduation are former starters Selby Polley and Taylor Heatherly who both started every game last year. While the loss is huge (Polley and Heatherly combined for 3,500 minutes last season), there are many others who are ready to fill in. For although the offensive onslaught may be long and full of terror, the defensive wall stands tall.
Junior Anjadai Seals has already worked her way into the starting roll. As a sophomore, the defender started 18 matches and tallied 1429 minutes. With only one assist last season, don't look for Seals on the attacking side of the pitch, but you can be sure she'll be protecting the Baylor goal. Another junior who wracked up over 1,000 minutes as a sophomore (1,035 to be exact) is Katie Daigle played in 18 matches and started all but four of them. Although she had 12 shots last year, Daigle could not find the net, though she did tally two goals during her freshman year. The final defender in the 1,000+ minutes club is rising sophomore Lindsay Burns. As a freshman, Burns played in 20 games, starting nine, and earning 1341 minutes. Burns is also an offensive threat as well, netting two goals and one assist on 14 shots. Another heavy contributor as an underclassman was Hadley Young. The Belton native earned 892 minutes in 20 matches (6 starting). If I had to guess, these four would be my prediction for the starting back line this upcoming season.
Defenders Katie Dailge (#25) and Lindsay Burns (#12) chase the ball.
With the way substitutions work in NCAA Soccer though, do not be surprised to see many of the following players getting plenty of time on the field either. McKenna Martin played in ten games last year for 157 minutes. The junior from Wylie is majoring in health science studies pre-med and has made the Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll and the Big 12 Academic All-Rookie team, so you know she is smart. Look for her to continue her substitute role as she rolls down the road towards the MCAT. Finally, sophomore Emory Cason out of Coppell only played in three games for 36 minutes, but she still managed to net a goal on four shots as a freshman.
The Bears are losing a good deal of production in midfield due to graduation. The four seniors combined for over 3,800 minutes and 7 goals last year. Kat Ludlow, Larissa Campos, Karlee Summey, and Alex Klein helped provide veteran leadership in the midfield. But now it is time for the young'uns to step up.
And step up they will. Offensively, the midfield will be led by rising sophomore Ashley York. The Irving MacArthur product started 16 matches last season and played in all 20 on her way to 979 minutes. She was second on the team in points with 13 (6 goals, 1 assist) behind star Bri Campos. Look for York to lead the midfield offensively in the upcoming season. The rest of the midfield is a bit up in the air. Senior Alexa Wilde (Sic 'em Engineers!) is already a star in the classroom (Academic All-Big 12) and will likely see her role on the field increase this season as it did this spring, if I'm not mistaken. Wilde played in 18 matches, but only started one, for a total of 338 minutes.
Senior Anja Rosales and sophomores Bridget Hamway and Ashleigh James (Redshirt) will also look to increase their respective roles this season. Although none of three had a large chunk of minutes last season, they were also behind some stellar players on the depth chart. I would not be surprised at all to see one or all of the three step up in a big way and earn themselves a spot in the starting XI.
Without a doubt, the star at forward is Mexico U-20 member Bri Campos. Number 10 started every game for the Bears, netting six goals and four assists (for a team-leading 16 points) in 1626 minutes. Following this summer's experience with the Mexican National U-20 Team, Campos will be ready and raring to go to lead the Bears against the competition. Obviously, no one player can win the game on their own, but Bri Campos certainly has a bright future ahead of her in football. Come and watch her and the rest of the team play.
F Bri Campos looking towards goal.
However, much like Argentina is not just Messi, Baylor is not just Campos. They are a team. Despite the loss of Kate Beaudoin and Vic Hoffman to graduation, the Bears are ready to reload at forward. Senior Justine Hovden is a strong threat at winger; she had one goal and three assists on the season despite not starting a single game (played in 19). Hovden put in 632 minutes last season but I expect her to significantly increase that stat in 2014. Ursuline Academy product and 20-game starter Natalie Huggins will enter her senior year looking to improve upon her impressive junior season. The forward had four goals and one assist in 1500 minutes, good for third place in total points on the team last year. Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention junior Jordan Hatler. Although she only played 35 minutes in two matches last year, she played in all 25 matches her freshman year, which leads me to believe that she was injured last year, though I don't know for sure. If she's healthy, Hatler could contribute a great deal to the offense.
Campos, Hovden, and Huggins will likely start and have the potential to be very, very dangerous up top. The three already had great seasons last year and with the combination of another spring of practice under their belts and Campos' international experience, they could terrorize opposing defenses. I am excited.
Like every sport, freshman come in every year. Baylor Fútbol is no different. The six signees are athletic, fast, and good in the air. According to Coach Marci, both Delaine Davis (CM) and Kathryn Milberger (CM) will help to fill in for Kat Ludlow as both a ball holder and an aerial ball winner. The center mids (potentially defenders) are both very good in the air, which fits well with Baylor's style.
Precious Akanyirige (D) is "extremely fast" and an "amazing athlete" who can play wherever she is needed. Lauren O'Connell (D) is also a great athlete who will likely fill in at center back. According to Coach Marci, Tatyanna Lewis (D) is "a streak of lightning going down the field". The defender is blazing fast and can fill in anywhere. Finally, Jamie Yearout (MF) is "good with the ball" and will likely fill in in the midfield as a ball holder.
Four of the six signees come from California, one from Dallas, and one from Kansas. All six of the incomers have the potential to earn their way into the starting XI, but it is never easy to predict how freshman will adjust to the college game. Still, the coaches are excited with the new class and it certainly looks like the team will continue in the Baylor tradition of being ridiculously fast and ridiculously athletic.
Baylor Soccer has intentionally scheduled a "variety of different styles of play". Coach Paul Jobson believes that "this [schedule] will prepare us properly for the conference season and the post season".
Baylor has tough matches scheduled right out of the gate. Florida made it to the NCAA Tournament last year and finished 10th in the NCAA rankings. At BYU will be another tough challenge for the ladies. BYU came to Waco last year and beat the Bears, 2-1. The Cougars finished the season ranked 23rd and, if their away crowd is any indication, will have a large crowd ready to welcome Baylor to Provo. Finally, Notre Dame finished the season at No. 14. Baylor certainly has a difficult away non-conference schedule. However, if they make it through with a decent record, you can fully expect them to be in strong contention for their second Big 12 crown in three years.
There's never a dull moment when Baylor and WVU are on the pitch.
In conference play, any match against West Virginia, Texas, or Texas Tech will be hotly contested. Both WVU (No. 12) and Tech (No. 17) finished in the top-20. The Big 12, like it is in football, will be wide open this coming year. Baylor needs to win their home matches to stay competitive, but to do that, they need home crowd support. So mark down the dates on your calender and be loud and proud Baylor fans for your Baylor Soccer gals!
You'll want to be there to witness it!
Baylor certainly has the returning players to make another run at the Big 12 crown and perhaps go even farther. If the midfield can mesh quickly, I don't see a limit for this team. 2014 has the potential to be a record-breaking year for Baylor Soccer.
A humongous thanks to coaches Paul and Marci Jobson, without whom this preview would not be possible. They gave me access to three games worth of tape that helped me learn more about this team and their style of play. Seriously, the Baylor Fútbol staff are phenomenal! Thanks are also required for @YoungSoccerFan, who gave me access to photos of the games, among other things. Go follow her for the latest in Baylor Soccer news! Follow the team @BaylorFutbol and the coaches @CoachJobson.
F Justine Hovden blows past a defender.
Thanks y'all and I hope you enjoyed this preview! I'll see all y'all at the Baylor matches this fall!
Thanks to the mythical "Sources", I have some more accurate info:
1. Anjadai Seals has, unfortunately, been "medically retired" due to accrued concussions. While her powerful throw-ins and stout defense will be missed, her health is top priority. She'll stick around, finish her degree, and support the Bears from the sidelines. Expect Emory Cason to fill in at sweeper.
2. Speaking of sweepers... I, like many opposing offenses, was very confused by Baylor's defense. That's the point. I won't give away any tactical secrets (just in case WVU, etc. coaches are reading this), but rest assured, Baylor does indeed play with a sweeper. Marci Jobson and crew have crafted a defense that is, essentially, "anti-Briles" in that it takes away space from the other team. It, like Briles' offense, is complex, simple, and effective as heck.
3. Jordan Hatler was indeed injured last year and should be close to 100% by the start of the season. She'll be one to watch up top.
4. This game vs UNC is apparently a prime example of how well Baylor can be when their plan comes together. No idea if there is video out there, but feel free to look.