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WSOC: Flyer Flame-Out in 2-0 Defeat to Xavier
WSOC: Flyer Flame-Out in 2-0 Defeat to Xavier
C.M. Rieman
Published by Chris R
09-14-2018
Cool WSOC: Flyer Flame-Out in 2-0 Defeat to Xavier

DAYTON (OH) -- Dayton played a poor first half and a 2nd half course correction never materialized as the Xavier Musketeers scored shortly after intermission and seconds before the final whistle to secure the 2-0 victory on Thursday evening at Baujan Field. Dayton falls to 4-3-1 (0-0-0) as they put to bed the non-conference portion of the 2018 schedule. Xavier improves to 5-4-0 (0-0-0).

The opening whistle was a great indication of things to come as Dayton had trouble gaining any sort of traction in the opening minutes of play. Slow to the ball, soft on tackles, inept on 50/50 challenges, and unable to make easy passes to open teammates, Xavier capitalized on endless UD miscues to push forward and find open space in their offensive half of the field.

With execution severely lacking, the effort was mostly AWOL as well. The Muskies didn't have to work very hard to secure balls in the midfield and find open space down the middle or along the touch lines. The Flyers focused on defense and threw numbers in the back to keep XU off the scoreboard, but too often the lack of presence in the midfield allowed Xavier to win possession without much of a fight. When UD did have players in position to make plays in the central third, their off-the-ball movement and physical urgency to make their presence impact the game was largely absent. Whether UD gave XU too much respect is an interesting debate, but its unlikely any game plan would have changed much.

Perhaps most frustrating was Dayton's inability to do the basics in the first 45 minutes. Simple traps routinely got loose, 10yd passes to feet were 5yds away from intended targets, long balls to weak-side players were 20yds short, and everyone played with their eyes down and unable to get teammates involved. Time and again UD had spots to move the ball forward but Dayton chose the more difficult pass or touch of the ball rather than the simple solution directly in front of them. What should have taken one or two touches took five or six. Unable to see those opportunities would ultimately result in 10 field players playing as 10 individual pieces rather than a cohesive unit.

Still, Dayton had a couple first-half chances to get on the scoreboard. A Nadia Pestell cross from the left side squirted to the far post, but UD couldn't deflect it in from point-blank range. A number of free kicks and corner kicks gave the Flyers additional chances with long balls in the box, but the willingness to fight for a header was rarely there as Xavier won 90% of the aerial battles when it counted.

Defensively, UD did just enough to keep the Muskies off the scoreboard despite having to chase the ball for long stretches -- especially when unable to provide much of a defensive resistance near the center circle. That put additional pressure on the Flyers to make defensive stands close to their own goal box rather than perform the preventive maintenance closer to midfield. Nonetheless, the first 45 minutes remained scoreless.

XU outshot UD 9-6 while the Flyers won the battle of corner kicks 3-2.

Fans hoping the 2nd half would provide an awakening were disappointed however as the same product that left the field for intermission returned for the restart. Lack of focus on all phases doomed Dayton's chances to get anything going offensively. On only a handful of occasions could UD manufacture enough sustained possession to put three or more accurate passes together without getting dispossessed. As the 2nd half continued, Xavier continued to capitalize on all of those Flyer mistakes despite bumping up against five Dayton defenders bunkering in the final third of the pitch. XU placed several through-balls behind the Flyer back line that required GK Kaelyn Johns to exit her box and clean up the danger. But Johns' service out of the box was shaky at times too.

Lack of ball pressure on a Muskie attacking player in the defensive third ultimately cost Dayton in the 49th minute -- and proved to be the eventual game-winner. Loose marking gave Samantha Dewey time to take several touches of the ball, culminating on a shot to the far post from 20yds out that beat Johns far-side and put Xavier up 1-0. While Johns may have done better to get a hand on it and deflect it outside the post, most of the damage had already been done due to poor marking.

The last 40 minutes of the match was mostly a train wreck. The Flyers couldn't walk and chew gum for extended periods and appeared overwhelmed -- not just by their opponent -- but by college soccer in general. Most of the service went from the backs to the forwards without anyone in the midfield to take charge and demand the rock with off-the-ball runs into free space. With extra defenders in the back line, even service to the forwards resulted in easy Xavier pickoffs as the Muskies enjoyed a numbers advantage of their own.

With about 15 minutes remaining, Head Coach Eric Golz returned to three defenders in the back in an effort to get more players forward and somehow tie the match up. Despite the change, nothing changed. Dayton was still as inept as they ever were in the central third with no one willing or able to be a possession midfielder capable of providing through-ball service to the outside backs and wings. In short, there was too much standing around and too much ball-watching all night -- not just from the mids but the forwards as well.

The only offensive bright spots occurred when UD used Nadia Pestell out of the back, serving her balls to carry forward up the left touch line. When she was able to cross balls into the box, Dayton had their best scoring chances of the night. When they forgot about her and she stopped getting touches, the UD offense went in reverse. Disappointingly, Pestell was largely abandoned in the 2nd half and never impacted the game -- or more specifically was never allowed to.

Dayton earned a few more dead-ball chances to throw long service into the box, but couldn't win much of anything in the air. The Muskies were not a tall team so it mostly came down to lack of chutzpah. The Flyers also took four corner kicks in the final 45 minutes -- two of them so poorly taken they never entered the field of play.

Xavier capped off the night with a garbage goal directly in front of the Flyer box with three seconds remaining in the match to make the final score 2-0. That goal was a microcosm of the match and emblematic of the apathy and indifference that plagued the Flyers over 90 minutes of play.

XU outshot UD 14-12 including a commanding 9-2 windfall on frame. Corner kicks were 7-3 in favor of the Flyers.

Tactically, technically, physically, and emotionally, the Flyers were absent all evening. Considering it was a game against UD's former A10 rivals and arch nemesis, the lack of passion and urgency was shocking to digest -- especially given Dayton's gritty performance just days prior in a 0-0 tie vs Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles are infinitely more talented than the Muskies too.

The rollercoaster performances and lack of consistency is perhaps something fans should expect. This remains a team with stark talent deficiencies in key areas, is young and inexperienced, and still learning how not to lose before they master how to win. Part of that maturation process is developing a mentality that guarantees there are no days off and plays off when it comes to effort and emotional collateral in all outcomes. The Flyers are still a major work in progress in this area and may take the rest of the season to figure it out.

It's not the job of Golz or his assistants however to cajole that passion and intensity out of the players. The staff is being paid to whiteboard and recruit. It should be a given that you play hard and invest in each and every outcome -- no matter the level of execution.
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