The Terrapins women’s soccer team was repelling a North Carolina attack that features two of the ACC’s top 15 scorers for most of Sunday’s match. Then, in the 58th minute, with the game tied 1-1, Terps defender Shade Pratt, standing near the team’s penalty box, received a back pass from midfielder Sarah Fichtner.
Pratt dribbled forward, trying to elude Tar Heels midfielder Crystal Dunn, but Dunn stole the ball from the junior. Seconds later, Dunn assisted forward Kealia Ohai on the decisive goal in the Terps’ 3-1 loss.
It was a familiar story for the Terps, whose turnovers in their defensive half have led to opponents’ goals in three of the last four games.
“They are changing the momentum of games; they are changing the complexion of games,” coach Jonathan Morgan said. “Kids are making unnecessary mistakes.”
Before Ohai’s goal, the Terps were keeping North Carolina from dominating on offense. Even when the Tar Heels first scored, it didn’t appear to be because of a defensive breakdown. A shot from outside the box hit Terps defender Erika Nelson’s left hand before she could move out of the way.
After the second tally, Morgan said the Terps were forced to change their game plan as they searched for a second goal. With the Terps pushing more players forward, UNC added an insurance goal in the 73rd minute.
The Terps have conceded nine goals in the past four matches, and five started with giveaways in the defensive half. The Terps are 1-3 in those matches.
In each of the three losses, a Terps giveaway has resulted in the opponent’s game-winning goal. The mistakes range from misplaced passes to defenders holding onto the ball too long, like Pratt did Sunday.
Defenders aren’t the only ones who have committed these costly mistakes. Midfielder Kristen Schmidbauer’s intercepted pass led to a Virginia goal Sept. 29 in a 1-0 loss. Central defenders, however, have been the primary culprits.
Four games ago, at the beginning of this stretch, Morgan said his team gifted Notre Dame three goals in a 5-0 blowout.
Schmidbauer’s wayward pass against Virginia and Pratt’s turnover Sunday also led to goals.
“It’s really disappointing right now,” Morgan said. “We are addressing trying to be clean at the back. The only thing we can do is coach them and eliminate those mistakes at the back.”
Defenders in Morgan’s system have to balance beginning attacking movements with passes to midfielders and their role as the last line of defense between opponents’ forwards and goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands.
Morgan wants his team to possess the ball better, especially against conference opponents. Sunday, he said the Terps had a difficult time keeping possession throughout the match. Still, there are times when Morgan just wants his defenders to boom the ball forward to release pressure.
Defender Megan Gibbons, a redshirt senior, understands after five years that miscues will happen during a season, and with the ACC tournament less than a month away, the Terps must learn from their missteps to avoid repeating Sunday’s struggles.
“People make mistakes,” Gibbons said. “We just have to keep going forward and know when to play safe and kick it out and when to go forward.”