The members of the Michigan women’s soccer team defense corps have gotten used to saving each other’s butts.
And it’s not about winning or losing — it’s all about the zone defensive system new Michigan coach Greg Ryan has brought with him.
“Whoever is putting pressure on the ball has someone right there to help them,” Ryan said. “(Last year) they played a lot of man-to-man, and they were just all over the place. We are much more organized, we stay together, and so far it’s working well.”
The defense lost two veteran of last season’s veteran starters to graduation, but Ryan said he thinks the defense has adjusted well. According to Ryan, the defense made the transition in “record time.”
“This year, everyone on the backline has been playing with passion, and with heart, and just really fighting — not just fighting for themselves, but for everybody else,” senior defender Skylar Andrews said.
Ryan brought the zone defense with him from the U.S. Women’s national team, which also used it.
Knowing the defensive scheme is just the beginning. The Wolverines must play together, rather than focusing on their own assignments, like in man-to-man.
The ultimate goals of what Ryan preaches in practice are simple: limit the opponents’ shots to outside the goal box, stay compact in the box, and don’t let the offense penetrate the defensive line.
To accomplish this every game, Ryan needs a leader on the field to keep the whole team thinking defensively. He has found that rock in Andrews.
“With younger players, you need to be there to back them up,” she said. “Whether it’s that vocal support or that physical support, (they get comfort) in them knowing that if they get beat, then you’re there.”
Sophomore defender Jackie Carron has also been a key player on defense. Andrews provides the smart veteran leadership, while Carron provides extra support for her teammates.
“If we have a tough matchup for somebody, we put Jackie Carron on that side of the field,” Ryan said.
The team gave up just 1.2 goals per game playing in a man-to-man scheme last season, but the Wolverines finished the season with a 3-9-6 record. So far this season, the team is giving up more goals per game (1.75) but that stat doesn’t worry the players.
Without their 7-0 loss to Notre Dame to start the year, they have held the opponent to one goal or less seven out of 11 games with an average of 1.27 goals per game.
The Wolverines (3-5-4) already have as many wins as they had last season, and they are improving to the point where Ryan is pleased with the play of his defense.
The Wolverines will take their zone defense to a new field this weekend. For the first time this year, they will be playing a home game in Ann Arbor, at the new soccer field west of the tennis complex on South State Street.
The women’s and men’s team will play sparingly at the new field, because little else other than the field is ready to use as construction of the site continues.
“I can’t wait,” Andrews said. “It’s a new field. I’m so excited about the program’s future.”
Ryan sees a parallel in the future of the field and the program.
“You start to have some bigger crowds out here,” Ryan said. “Down the road, it’s a fantastic opportunity for the University of Michigan.”