“Defense wins championships” is a common mantra in sports. However, it’s the offense that has been the driving force behind the Michigan women’s soccer team’s successful start to the season.
In Thursday night’s 3-1 victory against Central Michigan (1-4-1), Michigan continued its impressive offensive stretch. With first-half goals by sophomore forward Taylor Timko and freshman midfielder Abby Kastroll, and a second-half goal by senior Corinne Harris that sealed the win for the Wolverines, Michigan (5-2) demonstrated its ability to consistently put the ball in the back of the net at any point during a given match.
Creating a multitude of scoring opportunities has been one of Michigan’s dominant traits so far this season. The Wolverines were leading the Big Ten in shots per game (21.5), points per game (9.0), goals per game (3.17) and corner kicks per game (8.67) heading into Thursday's game. They had also outshot their opponents by a 129-39 margin, and they continued that trend by outshooting the Chippewas, 24-4. According to Timko, that is part of the game plan.
“(Michigan coach Greg Ryan) is so encouraging. He believes in every single one of our abilities,” Timko said. “Game by game, his confidence in us is becoming more evident, which plays into our confidence in ourselves. Anyone has the capability to take people on in the box, turn, take a shot or score a goal.”
Ryan echoed a similar sentiment when describing the amount of freedom he allows his players on offense and the level of trust he has in their decision-making.
“Once the ball is in their hands up there, they’re going to do what they think is best,” Ryan said. “We have a basic structure of two strikers with one normally coming underneath to receive the ball and the other trying to get in behind to create lanes for Taylor and Abby and Corinne to run through; however, once they get in, it’s their decision, and I think they’re doing really, really well.”
Timko, a potential breakout star who entered the game tied for second in the Big Ten in points (11) and goals (five), added a sixth goal with the opener in Thursday's match. As one of the catalysts behind the Wolverines’ dominant offensive performance to start the season, she credits their teamwork and selflessness for her offensive outburst.
“None of my goals would have happened without the hard work of the girls around me that comes before the final pass,” Timko said. “A lot of my goals have been off of crosses and little combinations in the box. It’s the continuous effort from the goalie to the forward that makes everything happen.”
Despite the offense’s strength in generating chances, Ryan still sees room for improvement for the team in terms of capitalizing on each of those chances.
“It’s fantastic to create so many scoring chances by taking so many shots, but we’re not finishing a high enough percentage of them,” Ryan said. “We’re focusing on improving our finishing, because it’s critical that we do better with the chances we get.”
If Michigan succeeds in making the most of the opportunities it’s producing, its offense could go from potent to unstoppable. With a match-up against No. 13 Notre Dame coming up this weekend, that transformation could pay dividends for a team still growing.