Syracuse wingin’ it as ACC play arrives
Ally Moreo | Photo Editor
A standard NCAA soccer field is 75 yards wide, and Syracuse wants to use every inch.
For the first time in her career, senior forward Eva Gordon is playing wingback. It’s a position that forces players to run 80 yards downfield to stack the offensive box with four or five bodies, then rush back the same distance to provide support on defense.
“It’s been around for a long, long time,” said SU head coach Phil Wheddon. “But you have to be brave enough to run it and you have to have the personnel … it’s not a fun position to play sometimes, but we have four or five people who can do it.”
Gordon, Alex Lamontagne and Alana O’Neill are the three main wingbacks for SU. Clarke Brown comes in off the bench and occasionally Sydney Brackett will slide over from forward. Wheddon decided to implement a new 3-5-2 system because of the speed and athleticism of that Orange. By utilizing those five at wingback, he believes the Syracuse (5-2-1) will force opponents to adjust.
On Sunday, Wheddon’s vision came together in the 60th minute against Harvard. Lamontagne roamed deep in the defensive end, while at midfield Kate Hostage recovered possession for Syracuse. Hostage dribbled around the defender but instead of attacking the box in a straight line, she passed left to Brown, the wingback.
Three Crimson defenders stood along the top of the box to defend the net. When Brown charged from the left end, the defense shifted over. Meanwhile, Lamontagne sprinted 60 yards upfield as a trailer. Brown centered the ball to Opal Curless at the top of the box who turned around, awaiting Lamontagne.
The defense shifted to the center of the field to adjust and, instantly, Lamontagne appeared in the box on the right wing. No one covered her. Curless fed Lamontagne as she cut behind the defense. Lamontagne shot from point-blank range, placing the ball a few feet wide of the net as the crowd gasped at the ease of the chance.
“In attack, (wingbacks) provide immediate width, so we stretch the other team,” Wheddon said. “Their number one responsibility is to provide width to us. Defensively, if we need to, we can have five at the back, which is great as well.”
Wings with a defensive background support the back line of Jessica Vigna, Taylor Bennett and Shannon Aviza. The system leaves the defense short-handed, but the effectiveness of Aviza gives Wheddon faith in his team’s ability to protect the net anyway.
Vigna plays in front of senior goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan, who directs traffic whenever the game shifts back into their end. The pair aims to position themselves correctly, field the ball and then the support of a defensive-oriented wing, like O’Neill, allows the Orange to quickly push in transition.
“We have really talented people on the outside and a really talented back three,” O’Neill said. “If we didn’t have such strong defenders we wouldn’t be able to play a back three.”
Gordon said she focuses on the team’s back three, but playing from the back helps her jumpstart the “creative and fun” offensive aspect of the game.
From the sideline, Wheddon said he sees more offensive sophistication, where the team displays more to its identity. Hostage’s deke in the Harvard game is part of a trend of through balls and floaters over the defense, “passes that we haven’t seen before.”
On defense, rotation will be Syracuse’s key against ACC teams. SU has allowed two more goals than last year at this point, but only three total against two ranked opponents. Last season, the Orange didn’t play any in its nonconference schedule.
“The rotation of our wingbacks tucking in, making four in the back is critical,” Wheddon said. “I feel like we’re getting better and better in that, and as we move forward … we’re going to have to make sure our timing is very good on that.”
Gordon knows that ACC teams will push to expose SU’s back end, which is where communication comes into play.
“That’s something I personally excel in,” Brosnan said, taking responsibility for defensive organization.
Vigna expressed concern over close shots and offenses playing balls between the Orange’s backline. If ACC teams get three or four of those chances, Vigna said, they’ll likely score a goal or two.
Syracuse is hoping to counteract its diminished defensive numbers with its athletic personnel. More bodies on offense will leave the Orange wingbacks with a heavy burden on getting back, but the team feels they’re tailor-made to do just that.
“The coaches do a really good job picking a formation that fits and suits the girls here in our athletic strengths,” Gordon said. “I think it’s only going to benefit us in the ACC. … I think we’re just as athletic, if not more so, than any other ACC team right now.”
Published on September 13, 2017 at 12:14 am
Contact Bobby: firstname.lastname@example.org