Column: Men’s soccer team seeing struggles in second half

JJ Bullock, Men's Soccer Reporter

Plainly stated, the Eastern men’s soccer team has not played well in the second half of its games this season. While the sample size is small, as the Panthers have competed in just four games this season, the splits between the team’s performance in the first half of games versus the second is just too glaring to ignore.

Eastern is currently 1-2-1. The two losses came at the hands of Marshall University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The win was over the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the draw was a 1-1 finish with Northern Kentucky. Win, lose or draw, all of these matches had a common denominator; Eastern either held or shared the lead with the opponent heading into halftime.

In the Panthers’ first contest against Northern Kentucky, Eastern held a 1-0 lead heading into the half, with a 5-1 favor in the shots on goal category. During the first loss to UW-Milwaukee, both teams had zero goals at the half, and Milwaukee held the advantage in shots on goal, 7-5. Against Green Bay, the Panthers had a 1-0 lead heading in to half with a 3-1 upper hand in shots on goal. In the loss to Marshall, it was 0-0 at half with Marshall leading the shots on goal column, 2-0.

Overall, in the first half of games Eastern has outscored its opponent, 2-0, and outshot them, 13-10.

However, Eastern’s 1-2-1 record doesn’t correlate with the team’s first half success. Why? Because the Panthers’ play in the second half has been the polar opposite of the first.

While Eastern was able to hold on and beat Green Bay, the Phoenix still outshot them 8-3 in the second half. Likewise in the second half, Northern Kentucky outshot the Panthers, 4-3, and outscored them, 1-0, forcing the 1-1 draw. UW-Milwaukee outshot Eastern, 5-3, and outscored them, 2-1. Marshall outshot Eastern, 6-1, and outscored them, 1-0.

Collectively, in the second half of games this year, Eastern has been outshot, 23-10, and outscored, 4-2.

Eastern director of soccer Kiki Lara commented on where the program was at in resolving this issue.

“I think we’re still getting to the bottom of it,” Lara said. “I think in the second half we have yet to really stay the course of our identity for 90 minutes. I think we do a really good job; our first halves have been our strengths, and I think our second halves we still need to find a way to get in to rhythm and come out with the same enthusiasm and identity for longer periods of time.”

Lara also indicated the team’s youth could be a factor in the second-half struggles.

“I think it’s just a young team. That it’s a mixed bag; it’s a mix of things. I think a lot of it is just credit to being a very young team that is adopting a new style and doing a very good job of adopting it,” Lara said. “And really, for me, in the last four games we have had more control and just more dominance in possession than I’ve seen in the last year and a half. So I just think it’s about finding our way and making sure it’s that way for the long haul, you know, that its sustainable. So I think that’s part of it, just being young and kind of an inexperienced group that’s kind of learning to find their way.”

Two thing that were for sure in Lara’s eyes however were that the Panthers’ troubles late in games had nothing to do with the team’s conditioning or physical standard, and that the identity of the program wasn’t changing anytime soon.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s a fatigue thing. Our men’s team is actually very fit, it’s something that we take pride in,” Lara said. “I give credit to who we’re playing against as well. There are teams that are first-half teams, second-half teams; there are teams that will make adjustments and figure things out, and we don’t change our way. We stick to the same course and stick to the same identity, and I think for a good reason. Our goal is to manipulate the opponent, and we will stick to that until we figure out how to do it for 90 minutes.”

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]