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ECNL Sep 11, 2012

ECNL: Richmond Strikers U-16s hold off Va. Rush for opening day win

By Jimmy LaRoue

Shaking off some preseason rust, the Richmond Strikers Under-16 girls scored two first half goals and held off Virginia Rush for a 2-0 win Saturday at Hampton Roads Soccer Complex to open the 2012-13 Elite Clubs National League season.

Ann-Robert Goode opened the scoring for the Strikers, and Madi Mazzola tacked on a second after her corner kick, with an assist from the warm breeze and an errant punch by the Rush goalkeeper, went into the net.

Both teams had trouble stringing passes together, but showed promising moments throughout the match.

“I think both teams looked a little bit rusty,” said Strikers coach and ECNL director Jay Howell. “For us, for the Strikers, we’ve been training for five weeks. We’ve played two or three scrimmages, but it’s not the same as game intensity.”

Said Rush coach Brian Cvilikas: “The nerves and the stuff that goes into a normal game day was there, but I thought that they handled it very well.”

Howell said he appreciated his team’s work ethic and the way the girls pressed the game.

“We really went into this to really just talk about structure and shape,” Howell said. “I know that’s awful to say, but we had to just get ourselves organized, so to speak, because we had to springboard from there. For a first day, I’m happy. A win 2-nothing is good.”

Cvilikas, who is the club’s director of coaching, noted the team’s difficult season a year ago, one in which the group as U-15s went 2-14-1 in the Southeast Conference.

“We tried to do a lot of things right [last year], but the results weren’t always there for us,” Cvilikas said. “So we’ve been working very hard to get ‘em fit, on the technical side, on the tactical side, and overall, the same kind of thing. The result wasn’t there today, but we’re closing the gap. We played a lot of good soccer. We’re knocking the ball around, we’re doing the right things–swinging it around the back, getting the defensive midfielders involved, finding the forwards, playing off of them, getting the ball wide, all that kind of stuff.

“The difference today is that the Strikers finished on two chances, and we had our chances and they didn’t really fall for us.”

Cvilikas said he was pleased with the overall play, especially in the second half, but hopes to improve in front of goal finishing opportunities. At their ideal, Cvilikas wants his team to play the ball wide and allow his players the freedom to be creative on the ball while maintaining possession.

“They looked more comfortable out there,” Cvilikas said. “They looked more relaxed where last year in certain games, we looked a little more timid and kind of anxious. They were composed. They were knocking the ball around. We kind of settled in there. Like I said, we created some chances and we played some good soccer, [but] we just couldn’t really get that finish in there.”

Cvilikas expects central midfielder and co-captain Natalie Simons, along with central defender Emily Baragar, the other co-captain, to step up and lead the Rush U-16s.

The strength of the Strikers U-16s will come out of the back, Howell said, with centerbacks Mazzola and Maddie Burns leading the way.

“They’re going to inspire the other girls,” Howell said. “They’re the ones who are going to put in the shift and put in the hard work. They’re both very good with their feet as well, so they can play and we need to build on that a little bit. Today they showed they’re good in the air. They won a lot of stuff in the air. I think they’re going to be the basis, or the foundation, for our team. We grow from there.”

Howell said, in his first game with this group and incorporating a few new players, they have to adjust to the substitution patterns, getting used to the game environment and being fit.

“I thought we got ourselves defensively in the right spots,” Howell said. “I like the way we dealt with pressure. We deflected a lot of stuff away from goal. Every opportunity they had was from long distance, like really long distance. And so I was proud with the way they dealt with that. It’s one of the things we’ve been working on.

“I think now we’ve got to start working on the way we’re going to play. So we do the right defensive things, now we’ve won the ball, how are we going to get out of things? How are we going to get out of pressure? What’s going to be our rhythm of play? So we’re going to have to start focusing on that, because as we start to play more games in the ECNL, and the varying levels of talent of these teams, if you don’t have a clue on what you want to do, you’re going to get punished.”

Howell said he wants the team to play with three up front “of some varying degree.”

“I usually play with a center forward and wide players,” Howell said. “I’d like for them to have balance as a team by cutting across the field, making diagonal runs and movement, so we’ve got to work on the rhythms of our runs.”

With quality in the midfield, he believes that will work. He said the other thing he wants to see is for the club to build possession out of the back. And though it wasn’t an optimal first day, he’ll most certainly take the win.

“I think both teams were a bit similar in the way they played,” Howell said. “They were both rusty. Both teams had some chances. Both teams did some goofy stuff, but overall, it was a rough first day.”