Women's Soccer

Lack of goals off corner kicks has hurt Syracuse women’s soccer

Sam Ogozalek | Staff Writer

Syracuse has scored three goals in 72 corner kick attempts this season.

Syracuse and Notre Dame were deadlocked in the 109th minute. Eva Gordon raced down the sideline before a Fighting Irish defender knocked the ball out. Syracuse had a corner kick opportunity to try and give the Orange its first ACC win.

Defender Jessica Vigna stepped up to take the corner kick for SU. She crossed the ball into the box, but no SU players were there. SU’s targets in the box positioned themselves about 15 yards from the net, and the ball sailed in front of them and rolled out of bounds. Vigna threw her hands up in disgust and hustled back to her position as the Orange went on to tie, 1-1, on Sept. 18.

Out of the 72 corners SU (8-7-3, 1-6-2 Atlantic Coast) has taken in the 2016 season, just three have resulted in goals. Syracuse has struggled to finish set pieces throughout the year. The Orange lost three straight ACC matches from Sep. 22 to Oct. 2 without a single goal — vital losses in SU’s now defunct playoff chase. Syracuse could have edged itself closer to playoff contention by executing more on its corners.

“Set pieces are fantastic scoring opportunities,” Syracuse head coach Phil Wheddon said. “It’s clear we need to be a lot more dangerous on those.”

On most corner kicks, Syracuse’s targets positioned themselves just inside the 18-yard box. When the ball was crossed, the targets would crash toward the net, hoping to gain momentum on a header.

Despite SU generally placing its crosses on target, it hasn’t worked. Wheddon said that in the ACC, which he calls the “most physical conference in the country,” Syracuse’s strategy is less effective.

“Our service in the box this year has been much better than in the past,” Wheddon said. “But teams scout us, they know who our targets are and they put their best defenders on those targets.”

Senior Maddie Iozzi and juniors Vigna and Alana O’Neill are the Orange’s designated corner kick takers. Iozzi noted defenders typically clear the ball once it gets into the box.

“Our best chance of scoring has been off of scrappy goals,” Iozzi said. “Our headers have been off frame and we need to get on the end of it.”

The trend is consistent throughout the ACC. No. 6 Duke hasn’t scored off a corner kick despite 80 attempts this season. Virginia Tech has compiled 103 corners and hasn’t scored. No. 7 Virginia has scored five on 115 corners. Clemson has had 82 corner kicks with just one goal.

Facing Pittsburgh on Oct. 16, SU hadn’t scored off a corner kick in nearly a month. Wheddon decided to change things up. His targets in the box lined up significantly closer to the goal, inside the 6-yard box. The target players were expected to win balls in the air without a running start.

“It’s just trying to give the opponent something they haven’t seen,” Wheddon said. “We’re always trying to manipulate things to have different runs in the box. We tried to change things up.”

Syracuse took five corner kicks against Pittsburgh and failed to score off any. But unlike previous games, Syracuse’s targets stayed in position and bodied the Panther’s defenders off. As a result, they were getting their heads on the ball. The next game, against Wake Forest, a Demon Deacon defender cleared the ball out of bounds. Iozzi stepped up to take the corner kick for the Orange.

Stephanie Skilton, Alex Lamontagne and Sydney Brackett positioned themselves close to the net. As Iozzi’s cross came in perfectly, Skilton muscled off her defender, leaped into the air, and headed the ball into the top right corner of the net. SU took a 1-0 lead.

“Set pieces decide games,” Wheddon said.

But the goal came too late because the only game left for Syracuse is one without playoff implications.

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