Ahead of Georgia soccer’s appearance in the SEC tournament next week, the Bulldogs have an important component of the game to improve on: set pieces. Of the eight goals conceded by the Bulldogs in the regular season, five were the direct results of set pieces in and around the box.
Set pieces occur when play is restarted after the ball goes out of bounds or a foul is committed, including corner kicks, free kicks resulting from a foul or penalty kicks taken after a foul is committed inside the box.
Opponents have taken advantage of two penalty kicks and three free kick opportunities against Georgia so far in 2020.
Set piece goals struggles are not new to the Bulldogs, either. In its 2019 campaign, Georgia gave up 76 corner kicks, two penalty kicks, and a consequential six set piece goals over the course of the regular season. Four of those conceded goals won the Bulldogs’ opponents the game.
This season, head coach Billy Lesesne stressed the importance of set pieces on the outcome of a game after the Bulldogs’ 1-0 loss to Auburn off a penalty kick.
“We've got to be better in our set piece defending,” Lesesne said. “Set pieces make such a big difference in games that are decided by one goal so I think it's really going to be important for us to win the set piece battle.”
That battle was lost only two weeks later when the Bulldogs fell to Ole Miss in a set piece riddled 4-3 loss. Despite Georgia managing to score one goal off a free kick outside of the box, Ole Miss responded with three of their own.
Defender Hale Otto took to the field for injured center back Kayla Bruster against Ole Miss. The defense was able to analyze the shortcomings of the fouls and set pieces that took place after the game to better prepare for their season finale against Missouri, which was ultimately canceled due to positive COVID-19 cases within the Georgia team.
“I think we knew that Ole Miss was really good at set pieces so giving up [fouls] that were so close to the box was where it first started, and it shouldn't have happened,” Otto said. “We need to be better at staying on our marks, staying goalside and staying tight the whole time and not letting anything pass through.”
Offensively, the Bulldogs have only been able to capitalize on one set piece opportunity in the 2020 regular season when Jessie Denney and Ashley Andersen were able to combine on a free kick to head the ball into the back of the net against the Rebels.
“I think something that our coaches preach every single day is how games are won and lost on set pieces,” said forward Mollie Belisle. “It's a goal of ours before every game like, ‘We're going to score on a set piece today,’ so it's something that we practice and we focus on. We finally executed in the game the other day.”
Georgia was unable to improve its set piece reputation after the cancellation of the regular season finale. However, the Bulldogs have the opportunity to bounce back from their loss to Ole Miss in a rematch with Auburn for their first game of the SEC tournament on Nov. 15 in Orange Beach, Alabama.
“We trust them to make those calls on the field,” said assistant coach Robert Lane. “Nobody's pointing fingers, [it’s] just a matter of making sure that we all do our job a little bit better.”