Perhaps no coach in any sport has less influence on their team once the contest starts than a soccer coach.
There are no team timeouts in soccer, just occasional pauses in play for injuries or penalties. The rest of the match, coaches can yell all they want at their players, but at places like South Field the fans are so loud there’s a good chance the instructions go unheard.
BYU women’s soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood is one of the best in the business, and if there’s one thing she’s learned in her 23 seasons at the helm it’s that preparation is the key.
“Soccer is a unique sport,” Rockwood said. “Once the game starts, the players have to make all the decisions in the run of play. We can yell a lot but sometimes I don’t think they can hear us at all. The fan support we get here is phenomenal and the players feed off that energy. I’d rather have them do that than try to feed off the energy of us on the sideline yelling.
“We can point some things out, but once the whistle blows, it’s on the players. We just hope we’ve done a good job preparing the players mentally, physically, tactically and technically and then they have to go out there and do it for 90 minutes.”
That preparation will be put to the ultimate test on Thursday in the Cougars home opener against defending national champion and top-ranked Stanford, the most dominant team in women’s college soccer.
The Cardinal is on a 24-match win streak after scoring ten goals in wins against UC Davis and San Francisco to open the season. Stanford last dropped a match on Aug. 25 of last season (to Florida) and has outscored its opponents 90-7 since that loss. In fact, the Cardinal have trailed for just 8:59 since the start of the 2017 season. Of the seven goals allowed over that span, none have been tallied during the run of play (only from corner kicks, free kicks or penalty kicks).
Against that kind of dominance, many teams will draw back, play conservatively and hope for a big break to win a 1-0 game. Not the Cougars. That’s never been Rockwood’s style.
“Stanford is a team that is used to having the ball all the time,” Rockwood said. “Our game plan is we want to go on attack. We want to go after them and make them have to play more defense so they can’t focus on their attack. We certainly respect Stanford and we know they have some of the best players in the country. We have to be aware of what they do and how they play, then we can try to expose what they’re doing and make them uncomfortable.”
Stanford’s all-star lineup includes the nation’s top returning scorer in sophomore Catarina Macario, who tallied 50 points and 16 goals as a freshman. Another Cardinal All-American, junior defender Tierna Davidson, will miss Thursday’s match because she is playing for the U.S. National Team in Chile.
BYU is 1-1-1 after a difficult road trip that took them to California, Nebraska and Texas. The Cougars topped Cal State Fullerton 1-0 with a penalty kick in overtime, rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie Nebraska and fell 2-0 at No. 8 Texas A&M.
“I found out we’re a really good team,” Rockwood said. “We’re further along than I anticipated and further along in our development than last year at this time, maybe most of the season. So much of it is building on the momentum that we’ve started this year. The unity on our staff and in our preparation for this season has made a big difference. The girls made a big commitment to be around most of the summer and worked hard. The positive energy and leadership on our team once we started training has really carried over.”
Though the full student body will not be on campus, the early arriving freshman class should bolster a big crowd at South Field on Thursday.
“We need to match or exceed Stanford’s energy to start the match,” BYU sophomore midfielder Mikayla Colohan said. “We need to come out hard and not fall into the pressure that we’re playing the best team. We need to just play how we know we can play and take it to them.”
Rockwood has been here before, facing a ranked team at home early in the season. Last year, BYU battled No. 1 UCLA in front of a South Field record 5,735 screaming fans before falling 1-0. Over the years, the Cougars have pulled off huge wins in these situations.
“We schedule these teams not just to see how we can do against them,” Rockwood said. “We schedule these teams to get results and to be the best. The expectation for us is to go out against Stanford and get a result. We’re not just playing Stanford to see how we’ll do. We step on the field to win every game.”