WKU’s attack sputtering as conference play looms

WKU sophomore Chandler Backes (5) attempts to head the ball during WKU’s game verses Vanderbilt on Friday Sept. 8 at the WKU Soccer Complex.

Tyler Eaton

The Lady Toppers soccer team comes into conference play with a 3-4 record, but that record could much easily be two or three wins better if it weren’t for an alarming trend.

On the season, WKU has an overall goal differential of +1, outscoring its non-conference opponents 8-7 in seven games. However, in the first half of games, the Lady Toppers are being outscored 4-2.

Over a weekend homestand featuring a Friday night game with Vanderbilt and a Sunday afternoon game against Samford, the Lady Toppers surrendered the deciding goal of each game within the first seven minutes of the match.

The goal allowed against Vanderbilt came off a loose ball following a corner at the 6:09 mark. The goal scored by Samford was eerily similar, being put in by a header off a corner only 10 seconds earlier, at the 5:59 mark.

The Lady Toppers are 0-3 on the season when the opponent scores first. On the other hand, WKU is 3-1 when they net the first goal of the match.

The Lady Toppers’ defense has been the backbone of the team while the offense has sputtered out of the gates, holding the opposition to one goal or less in five matches. Despite not allowing more than two goals in a match, WKU has fallen to 1-4 in games in which the opposing team has scored at least one goal itself.

WKU had only been shut out once heading into this weekend’s pair of home games, but after failing to score against both Vandy and Samford, the Lady Toppers have been shut out in three of seven games, producing more than one goal only twice.

This lack of offensive production early in matches cannot carry over if the Lady Toppers are looking to replicate last season’s success in conference play, which saw WKU go 7-3 against Conference USA opponents.

This does not at all mean that an offensive resurgence won’t occur. While the Lady Toppers did fail to score in these last two losses, they outscored Evansville and UT Martin 5-1 in their previous two games, winning both games. This included a four goal outburst against Evansville on Sept. 3.

Moving forward into conference play, continued progress from the attack would not be surprising, especially considering the talent behind the feet of young starting forwards Chandler Backes and Tally Bishop.

Backes, a sophomore from Carmel, Indiana, has scored 14 goals in only 26 career matches, already putting her within one goal of being in a tie for 10th on the program’s all-time scoring list. Her starting mate up front, Nashville native Bishop, is only a freshman, creating a young but ripe with potential starting frontline.

While these last home games have seen the offense fail to put the pieces together, particularly early in matches, look for this trend to end as conference play begins.

Reporter Tyler Eaton can be reached at 270-776-6797 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @tyler_eaton1022.