Missouri sees offensive improvement after early season struggles

Tigers find offensive style as they head down the final stretch of the season.
Missouri Tigers midfield Savannah Trujillo (20) dribbles the ball around a defender at the Audrey J. Walton Soccer Stadium. Trujillo is the overall leading goal scorer this season with four goals. Courtesy of MU Athletics

Two weeks ago, the Missouri soccer team was in dire straits.

The team had just come off being shut out in two straight games and were heading to Lexington, Kentucky to face the for a Southeastern Conference matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats. The Tigers had not scored in the last 204 minutes they were on the field.

Missouri took the field in the pouring rain against the Wildcats, who had tripled their overall goal total at that point of the season, 24-8. Then, in the 13th minute, there was a glimpse of hope for the Tigers.

Sophomore forward Savannah Trujillo twisted away from a defender inside the 18-yard box and then unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot into the back of the net.

Just moments later, junior forward Jessica Johnson stunned the Wildcats as she dribbled past the Kentucky goalkeeper and scored an easy goal to put Missouri up 2-0.

The Tigers eventually won the match 3-1. Since their demolishing of the Wildcats, the Missouri offense has regained its confidence. The Tigers have scored eight goals in their past five games.

“We just really wanted to come out strong because we wanted to bounce back,” Trujillo said. “We had kind of been struggling on offense all year but that game really picked it up.”

Trujillo has been a major part of Missouri’s offensive success over the past weeks, scoring two goals in the five games. She is also the Tigers’ overall leading goal scorer this season with four goals.

Trujillo attributes her success this season to a change in the mentality that she has played with in the past.

“I kind of just have to keep that mentality of going to goal, taking that shot, being risky because in years past, I’ve given up the ball for some easy pass (so) someone else can get a shot,” Trujillo said. “This time, I’ve kind of just got the mentality that it’s my time and I’ve got to shoot and people trust me with the ball at my feet, so I might as well take a shot over someone else if I’m feeling it.”

For Missouri coach Bryan Blitz, Trujillo’s success has come from working to get high percentage shots inside the 18-yard box.

“She was actually getting in the box but that’s the hardest part,” Blitz said. “If you look at the goal she scored against Kentucky and even the first goal she scored against Mississippi State, they were all inside the box. A lot of times, she has been settling outside.”

As a team, the Tigers have been trying to gain more high percentage shots from inside the box to improve their scoring. Their attempts have been successful, as all eight goals in the past five games have been scored from inside the 18-yard box.

Blitz is proud of his team for being effective through the change in style, as past Missouri teams have relied on their speed to catch their opposition on the counter attack.

“We are a little bit more composed than we have been in the past,” Blitz said. “I think we had been settling a lot. We took what they gave us but we needed to be composed and move the ball around. It’s almost like a zone in basketball. You’ve got to move the ball around and we would just launch it like in basketball and take a long shot.”

The change in style has allowed more Tiger players to become involved in the attack. Over the course of the season, 10 Missouri players have been able to score at least one goal.

“Our depth is amazing,” Trujillo said. “We take pride in coming off the bench and making a difference, making an impact. It just goes to show that anyone coming off the bench can score, anyone that starts can come out and score.”

Missouri has four games left in the season before entering the SEC championships and then, in all likelihood, an NCAA tournament berth. The team is hoping to continue on their goal scoring streak and even improve upon it.

“We still have time to go up,” Trujillo said. “Right now we really want to win as many as possible but we still have the tournament to get to and that’s really the main goal: to get to the tournament and see what happens from there.”

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