Soccer team no longer seen as a dark horse

With a high-pressure system, MU's soccer team hopes to replicate success.
Missouri junior forward Michelle Collins is pushed away by Illinois senior defender Jamie Alvis during Saturday's 2-1 loss at Walton Stadium. The Tigers hope to rebound tonight against Auburn.

The secret is out.

Missouri's soccer team can no longer sneak up on teams and surprise them. After a 2007 campaign in which MU was ranked as highly as fifth in the nation, the college soccer world now knows about the Tigers.

They know about MU's 3-4-3 formation, which traps teams when they have the ball near their own goal.

They know about junior forward Kristin Andrighetto, senior midfielder Mo Redmond and junior midfielder Meghan Pfeiffer, who were all named to the preseason All-Big 12 team.

And coach Bryan Blitz, the 2007 Big 12 Coach of the Year, knows that duplicating last year's success won't be easy.

"I think the Illinois game (a season-opening 2-1 MU loss) was a good example," Blitz said. "We're going to have to really earn everything."

The Tigers have the greatest depth at forward. Andrighetto, junior Michelle Collins and sophomore Alysha Bonnick combined for 37 of MU's 53 goals last season. They should continue as the focal point of MU's attack this year.

In MU's system, as soon as the opposition possesses the ball near its own goal, MU's forwards apply pressure and try to regain possession.

"If you're a great forward, but you can't defend, you can't play in our system," Blitz said. "You've got to do the dirty work."

If the forward press is broken, a second wave, usually three midfielders, must stop the ball.

"It's a very high-risk, high-reward system," Blitz said. "It suits our personnel."

He rotates 12 players at six forward and midfield positions to keep everyone fresh. The system also places great pressure on Missouri's three defenders.

"I think they love the challenge," Blitz said. "They have to really communicate."

Junior Tasha Dittamore earned the starting goalkeeper spot, at least for now. After splitting time with senior Mallory Forst last year, Dittamore played the entire game against No. 18 Illinois.

"It's like they're polar opposites," Blitz said. "Tasha's good dealing with crosses. Tasha's good one-on-one. But her strength isn't her distribution."

Last season MU's defenders were hesitant to play the ball back to Dittamore, but Blitz said Dittamore has improved her footwork and distribution of the ball. Forst, who also plays the midfield, is still competing for time in the net.

"She's realizing now, 'Hey, it's my senior year. I really want to continue (playing goalie),'" Blitz said. "She'll fight for the job, no doubt about it."

Senior Lindsay McCoy, a starter at left back last year, underwent hip surgery in the spring. Blitz said she's at about 95 percent of full strength, but senior Janelle Cordia and freshman Mallory Stipetich are seeing more time in the back.

Redmond and Pfeiffer anchor MU's midfield. After a knee injury sidelined her for the final 15 games last year, junior Bree Thornton has solidified the right wing position.

MU was projected to finish third in the Big 12, but with MU's pressure formation in its second year, Dittamore has higher expectations.

"It's rough and everybody goes in hard all the time," she said. "It's a tough conference, but there's no reason we shouldn't be able to come in and win it."

 

 

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