Anemic offense and injuries doom Nebraska soccer’s 2019 campaign

Oct. 11 was supposed to be a season-changing day for the Nebraska soccer program.

The Huskers had just defeated a quality Big Ten opponent in Maryland, had scored multiple goals in a game for the third time in 14 games and had improved their conference record to 3-4, putting Nebraska in the mix for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament with four games left to go.

Nebraska entered the Maryland match with a 3-8-2 record, but had been plagued by a difficult non-conference schedule and inconsistent play. Energy around the team was high following the match and many felt that the victory against Maryland could mark the turning point of a frustrating season.

Instead, it was the last game Nebraska won in 2019.

A season that started with so much anticipation with the return of 18 of 23 letterwinners—most notably all-Big Ten senior defender Sinclaire Miramontez—ended with disappointment and a team that was better than its final record indicated. 

The main factor that contributed to a below-average season was a historically bad Nebraska offense. 

Nebraska scored 12 goals in 2019. Not only was that mark tied for 303rd out of 335 Division I teams, it also set the mark for the fewest goals scored in head coach John Walker’s 26-year Nebraska tenure. The Huskers’ previous low was 17 goals, set in 2015.

Additionally, the Huskers ranked near the bottom of Division I in goals per game, shot attempts per game and shot attempts on goal per game. Senior midfielder Meg Brandt was Nebraska’s most dynamic offensive player by a mile, totaling three goals, 36 shots and 21 shots on goal.

After Brandt, Miramontez was Nebraska’s second-best offensive player. A center back having the second-most goals and shots on the season is a huge testament to Nebraska’s lack of offensive prowess and depth.

The 2019 Huskers were a senior-led team, and senior forward Savanah Uveges missing two-thirds of the season due to injuries was a key factor in Nebraska’s attack being so limited. Uveges, a 2019 preseason Big Ten Honors List selection and an eight-goal scorer in 2018, is a dynamic attacking threat that breaks down defenses, and her presence was sorely missed.

Uveges’ absence left a gigantic void in Nebraska’s offense, and the Huskers were unable to fill it as the season progressed. Redshirt freshman Adriana Maldonado and freshman forwards Emma Marcus and Marissa Popoola all appeared in over 16 games, but combined for only one goal this season.

Brandt and sophomore midfielder Dakota Chan (two goals) carried the offensive load for Nebraska but like Uveges, Chan missed the final eight games of the season. 

Besides the lack of offensive production, one of the most interesting things about Nebraska’s season was the fact that the Huskers, on average, outshot opponents by about half a shot per game (10.4 to 9.8). However, Nebraska managed just 70 shots on target—meaning it failed to create quality chances.

Despite Nebraska’s offensive struggles, its defense kept it in almost all of this season’s matches. The Husker back line gave up 24 goals in 18 games, good for a 1.342 goals against average—the 176th-best mark in the country. While that number may not seem great, the Huskers outperformed Big Ten Tournament qualifier Maryland defensively.

So while Nebraska’s defense wasn’t elite, it was good enough to compete in the Big Ten. Miramontez, sophomore defender Olivia Brown, junior defender Grace Brown and freshman defender Mila Gretzky all performed admirably throughout the season. The Husker defense allowed more than two goals in a game just twice on the season, with those games coming against Michigan and Kansas, both of which are now ranked. 

No defense is complete without a strong goalkeeper, and senior Aubrei Corder filled that role and more during her final season in Lincoln. Corder, a four-year starter, posted 62 saves in 2019—the second-highest mark of her career. In addition, Corder set school records in career minutes played, games started in goal and games played in goal in 2019.

With a solid defense and goal-challenged attack, the defense had to play a perfect game in order to obtain positive results. While Miramontez and the back line had a great season, they repeatedly made critical errors that ended up costing Nebraska games.

Take the Clemson match early in the season for example. After Clemson went down a player due to a red card early in the first half, Nebraska failed to take advantage of the extra player and was countered twice, leading to a 2-0 defeat. 

Or the Purdue match, where the Huskers played a solid game on both ends of the field, but were unable to put any chances away on the offensive end. An errant Gretzky back-pass led to the only goal of the game in a 1-0 loss.

There were plenty more of these examples throughout Nebraska’s season, and at the end of the day, the Huskers could never consistently get the offense and defense to click in the same game. Inconsistency doomed their season, and the result was a below-average team with far too much talent to be as bad as they were.

Now, Nebraska is faced with questions at every position moving forward. Corder will be graduating, leaving a hole at goalkeeper. Miramontez’s distribution and leadership will be sorely missed on the back line. A new wave of Husker midfielders will need to step up after Brandt and senior Brenna Ochoa’s dynamic play during their time in Lincoln. And lastly, the Huskers need to find an answer at forward.

While solving these problems isn’t impossible, it might mean that next year will be a year of transition with several new faces in key positions. The Huskers have talented underclassmen, though, and it will be up to Walker and the rest of the coaching staff to right the ship and guide Nebraska to a successful 2020 season.