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Georgia goalkeeper Liz Brucia (16) reaches for the ball as it heads to the back of the net during the post-regulation penalty kick shoot-off. The Georgia women’s soccer team faced Duke in a preseason scrimmage on Aug. 16, 2019. The Bulldogs fell to the Blue Devils 3-1 in a penalty kick shoot-off. (Photo/Kathryn Skeean)

Last season Georgia soccer went 8-7-4 overall to finish 57th in the NCAA and No. 5 in the SEC East. During their 4-3-3 run in SEC play, the Bulldogs went on a five-win tear before losing in the first round of the conference tournament, their longest unbeaten streak since the arrival of head coach Billy Lesesne.

Overall, Georgia found success in the performances of its defensive line but faltered in both attacking and defending set pieces. Yet possession and control over the attacking third are only parts of the puzzle. Georgia soccer’s biggest weak spot in 2019 was accuracy. Of the 255 shots taken, less than half were on frame. 

Attacking ability 

Out of 255 shots taken over the course of the 2019 season, 26 found the back of the net for a 10.2% success rate. 

Against LSU, Georgia took a season-high 34 total shots, after which head coach Billy Lesesne said  “I hope we generate thirty shots each match. It shows that we’ve had good possession and led to most of the attacking in the final third.” 

Reagan Glisson led the 2018 season in goals scored with seven total, then scored the second-most in 2019, behind freshman Chloe Chapman. 

The forward announced her departure from the Georgia soccer program in February to transfer to Oklahoma University’s soccer team for her final year of eligibility. 

Georgia looks to add to its young attacking threat with a 2020 recruiting class skewed toward offense.

Madison Haugen, a forward from Cumming, Georgia, showed strong scoring potential. While leading her team to the state championship finals in 2019, she set a school record of 33 goals and 15 assists in one season, including six hat tricks. Georgia will also add Taylor Rish, who scored over 60 goals in three high school seasons and was also the leading scorer on her club team. 

Set piece weakness

Although Georgia soccer’s defense found consistency 2019, the back line faltered when it came to defending set pieces in front of the goal, including free kicks, penalty kicks and corner kicks. Georgia conceded 76 corner kicks and two penalty kick opportunities in the 2019 season. 

Of the 16 goals scored against Georgia in 2019, six of them resulted from set piece opportunities, including four game-winning goals. 

Georgia recorded four double overtime ties last season. Aside from its scoreless draw with Belmont at the beginning of the season, the remainder of Georgia’s 110-minute games were against SEC opponents. 

According to NCAA rules, the sudden victory regulation applies in both periods of overtime, which Georgia capitalized on only once in 2019 during their 1-0 defeat of Mississippi State. Georgia eventually scored in the 109th minute of play. 

The sixth set piece goal occurred after Georgia thought it was in the clear. Goalkeeper Emory Wegener blocked a penalty kick shot by South Carolina, however the Gamecocks reached the ball first and sent it to the back of the net. 

Set pieces in or around the eighteen-yard box can come from a number of actions: a foul, a deflection out of bounds for a corner kick or even an accidental handball. 

Georgia defenders or goalkeepers are not always at fault for goals scored or the circumstances in which set pieces are awarded. 

However, where the Bulldogs faltered last season was in ensuring the ball is cleared out of the box once the set piece play is taken. 

As it was in 2019, defending set piece plays in 2020 will prove to be a learning process. Goalkeeper recruit Lauren Swoopes has the potential to compete with junior Wegener and senior Liz Brucia for playing time and possibly change the way Georgia defends set pieces in the box if she can earn time in the net. 

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