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Women’s Soccer: Deep midfield keeps players fresh and defenses guessing

Fran Tolan | Friday, December 7, 2007

An adidas advertisement featuring former French superstar Zinedine Zidane once proclaimed, “If you own the midfield, you own the game.”

In their run to the College Cup semifinals this season, the Irish have certainly owned the midfield, albeit somewhat unconventionally. The unit includes six players that play regularly even though only three normally appear at any one time.

“Since we play three centrally, its great to have five or six players that you can interchange in there and keep things a little bit more fresh,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said.

In defeating Duke 3-2 last Friday, the Irish shut down one of the most formidable midfield units in the nation and controlled the possession showdown in the central third of the field.

“That’s the one part of Duke we were really concerned with because they’re very quick in the midfield,” Waldrum said. “We really felt like we had to win the battle in midfield and I thought we did a great job of that.”

The Irish lost star midfielders Jen Buczkowski and Jill Krivacek to graduation last year but Waldrum said the 2007 squad has filled their shoes admirably.

Also, Waldrum said this year’s depth has allowed the team to better utilize senior captain Amanda Cinalli’s playmaking ability.

“Last year we played so much with having [Buczkowski] and [Kriacek] in there consistently all the time,” Waldrum said. “This year has been great because we’ve had the flexibility to move Amanda [Cinalli] back into the midfield.”

The Irish have not replaced Krivacek and Buczkowski with other superstars. Instead, have employed an effective platoon that allows them to exploit matchup problems against their opponents.

Waldrum said the versatility of senior Ashley Jones, junior Rebecca Mendoza and sophomore Courtney Rosen allows the Irish to constantly create mismatches.

“Those three players are very interchangeable,” Waldrum said. “It gives us a chance to see what the opponent has to try to match up.”

Waldrum said sophomore defensive midfielder Amanda Clark allows the other midfielders to use their creativity on offense.

“She’s such a good ball-winner for us in the midfield defensively that you can allow those other players to use their creative play,” Waldrum said.

But despite the midfielders”playmaking prowess, the Irish forward unit garners most of the attention from opponents and fans. The defenders, meanwhile, have been lauded for their rapid improvement since the beginning of the season. But the midfielders do not mind the lack of praise.

“I don’t feel like we get lost in the mix. I think all of us just want to win and we’re all out there for the team,” Jones said. “I don’t think it really bothers us that we’re not really mentioned very much in the papers or that kind of thing.”

An appearance in the Duke game put Jones in second place in NCAA history with 104 consecutive games played. Jones said she is simply happy to be part of a winning team.

“[The streak] is exciting but it’s not something I really focus on,” Jones said. “I’m just having a great time being able to contribute every single game.”

Like the rest of the midfield unit, Jones does not mind splitting playing time with her teammates as long as the Irish are having success.

“Sometimes it is frustrating but I know we’d all give up minutes if our team could win the national championship,” Jones said.

Waldrum said he appreciates the unselfishness of the midfielders.

“Sometimes I know they don’t play as much as they’d like in a certain game because they all want 90 minutes and that’s great,” Waldrum said. “But I also think they understand and buy into the fact that in this moment, at this game, because of that matchup, this one works best.”