Rutgers's defense adjusting to Big Ten offensive schemes
From Sunday’s game against Wisconsin, it’s clear that the Rutgers women’s soccer team’s greatest strength and weakness is its defense. As one of the best defense systems in the nation, there were moments where the No. 13 Scarlet Knights (7-1-1, 1-1-0) absolutely shined, and at other times, they left huge gaps for the Badgers (6-2-1, 2-0-0) to sweep in.
What’s interesting about Rutgers’ defensive system is its versatility. All the players are extremely skillful, have the speed to catch breakaways and, collectively, share a vast amount of experience on the Big Ten field. The one thing they struggled with against Wisconsin was intercepting the ball and finding an opening to take possession before the Badgers had a chance to shoot.
The Defensive Starting Lineup
Competing for Jamaica in its first appearance in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup over the summer, senior back Chantelle Swaby offers international experience like no other. There, she was thrown in as a midfielder and quickly adapted to her position on the team.
This season, the New Hartford, Connecticut native started until she was pulled off of the field from an injury on Sept. 5 against Hofstra. Her next appearance wouldn’t be for another two weeks at Rutgers’ Big Ten opener against Minnesota. Swaby was back at full capacity on Sunday, and it was clear that she took the lead on defense for the Knights.
A double threat on both sides of the field, fellow senior back Tiernny Wiltshire has found herself working best in defensive mode. Wiltshire has great control of the ball and is an aggressive defensive player, who plays like she’s a forward. During the Wisconsin match, Wiltshire had a chance early on to score with a breakaway run from the back of the field.
Showing a lot of promise for the Big Ten season is senior back Amanda Visco. After this weekend’s game, she seems to be growing in confidence of what she’s capable of. Her greatest strength is knowing where to be at the right time — whether that be in the position to head the ball for a corner kick or sliding across the grass to defend the ball.
Being the youngest of the Rutgers’ starters, true freshman back Allison Lynch is still finding her place in the defensive lineup. She has the endurance of a cross country runner and the speed needed when racing for the ball. The Bridgewater, New Jersey native is a great asset that is still learning the ropes and looking for a breakthrough performance in the conference season.
Individually, the Knights’ defense is great, but working together when the ball is in their half has room for improvement. There isn’t much time for massive improvements because the conference season is already underway. The hope is that through each Big Ten game, Rutgers gets more accustomed to competition in all aspects.
As head coach Mike O’Neill said after playing Wisconsin, the Knights’ greatest defensive strategy is taking possession of the ball.
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