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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Missouri’s best start spurned by late energy

Missouri soccer’s late-game muscle has led to the program’s best start in school history.

Cait Campbell/Graphic Designer
Cait Campbell/Graphic Designer

Sept. 24, 2012

Among the many mottos the Missouri women’s soccer team beats its drums to this season, the team might start thinking about adding another one: Better late than never.

The Tigers have won three games this season in the second half, including in the 2-1 win over Ole Miss this weekend.

“I said (to the players), ‘Let’s not do this too many times or I’ll have a heart attack,’” coach Bryan Blitz said after the game Friday.

Missouri went into the locker room after one half against the Rebels down 1-0. But two goals in the second half ensured the win for the Tigers.

“We’re a second-half team,” Blitz said. “But we talked about after the game that we can’t rely on the second half because we are going to find a team who can put the game away. We have to be able to start quicker.”

California almost did just that against Missouri on Aug. 26 in Berkeley, Calif. The Golden Bears came out strong and went up 1-0 going into halftime. Missouri scored three goals in the second half, though, beating the Bears 3-2. The go-ahead goal happened with 15 minutes left in the game.

Missouri was tied with South Carolina for 88 minutes before a goal in the second half put the Tigers up 1-0. Missouri also took 14 shots in the later frame, compared to the three shots the team took in the first half of that game.

On paper, the Tigers second-half success can be found in the number of shots taken. In seven of 10 games, Missouri has registered more shots in the second half.

Blitz said he attributes the success to what happens inside the locker room.

“I think they’re coachable, so at halftime, they are able to make the adjustments,” Blitz said. “I think they are able to stay even-keeled and not panic. … But there’s so much maturity on our team that they don’t flip at halftime. They know that in soccer, you can struggle in the first half and have a better second half.”

The energy in the locker room translates into the second half, senior midfielder Haley Krentz said.

“We were just more hungry in the second half,” Krentz said after the Ole Miss game. “It was a whole team effort. Everyone just focused more. We took what our coaches said to us at halftime.”

Even the Missouri defense turns its energy up in the later parts of the game. In the last six games, the Tigers have only allowed one goal in the second half.

The players, though, see the second-half success as a warning.

“It’s great that we can come back in the second half,” Krentz said. “But we’re not going to be able to do that for every game. We need to figure out what gets us going in the second half and use that to get us going for both halves of the game.”

Redshirt freshman midfielder Lauren Flynn said she felt similarly.

“We don’t know,” Flynn said of the late-game heat. “We’re trying to fix that so we don’t have to play down all the time or worry about it. If we could just come out strong in the first half, it would be a much easier game.”

Against Vanderbilt this weekend, Missouri demonstrated it could come out and play strong in the first half. The Tigers were up 1-0 by halftime and then scored another goal in the second half.

“We said (going into the game), ‘Let’s play a great (second) half when we’re up 1-0,'” Blitz said. “I think our kids took that challenge.”

Whether second-half comebacks will be an issue for the rest of the season has yet to be seen.

During the program’s best start in history with an 8-1 overall record, the team is simply just trying to learn and play its hardest, Krentz said.

“We’re just kind of taking it game by game,” Krentz said. “We’re trying to show them what Mizzou soccer is all about. We’re learning from each game and taking the lessons that we’ve learned and using that to our advantage.”

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