UL’s soccer team took a win and managed a draw in its two-match trek to Illinois last weekend, and that was cause for celebration.
But the Ragin’ Cajuns’ best road trip in two years provided several other high points for first-year coach Lance Key heading into Thursday’s home opener.
“We showed some great resilience after a couple of poor results on paper the previous weekend,” said Key, whose squad hosts the Southern Jaguars (0-2) at 7 p.m. in one of only seven home matches this season. “I didn’t know how we’d respond to that, and we had some spells when we weren’t pushing the tempo and establishing rhythm. But we went on the road and got points, so you can take something from that.”
The Cajuns scored in the final five seconds in a 4-4 draw at Northern Illinois last Friday, and two days later rolled to a 2-0 win over Chicago State in which UL outshot the hosts 23-11 and had 11 shots on goal.
Those numbers qualify as an offensive explosion compared to the Cajun output during their struggling 3-12-3 campaign last season. As a team, UL scored only 10 goals in 18 matches in 2018, and never more than one goal in a match. All three of UL’s wins last year were of the 1-0 variety, and they were outscored 36-10 for the season.
“I can’t speak to the philosophy in the past,” Key said, “but if you score, you put yourself in position to win. We have to be able to dictate the rhythm of the game, especially with transitioning to a new staff and a new direction. The game’s played with a ball, so let’s have the ball and be focused on that, and when we have the ball let’s be purposeful with it.”
The Cajuns managed just over nine shots per game last year. In the two Illinois games they totaled 35 including 19 shots on goal, and even with the two season-opening losses in Lamar’s Cardinal Classic they’re averaging 13 shots per game and that number has increased in each of the last three matches.
The increase in offensive production was a key in both matches, especially Sunday when UL took its first win since Sept. 28 of last season and its first road win since mid-September in 2017.
“Chicago State is very international-heavy with some talented players on the individual level,” said Key, who took over the Cajun program after 12 years of runaway success at Trinity (Texas) where his teams went 210-21-16. “There were spells when they caused problems but we managed the game from start to finish. We hit posts three or four times so we could have gone further in the score line.
“But we had a clean sheet on Sunday. We went three matches averaging four goals a game against and that makes it hard to win a game. If you pitch shutouts you have a much better chance.”
Senior Mackenzie Lee, who has played all 380 minutes in goal this season, posted her fifth career shutout Sunday. On the other end, six different Cajuns scored the weekend’s six goals including a second goal this year for freshman Karleen Bedre. Last year only one Cajun player, now-junior Una Einarsdottir, managed to score two goals in the entire season. Einarsdottir shares the team lead in shots (10) through four matches with freshman Rachel Sutter, after getting off only 15 last season.
“The first weekend, Karleen played quite a bit up top, and we brought her back to midfield this past week,” Key said. “That was a big help in generating more quality opportunities in the final third. She brought us something different and the result was six in the back of the net.
“We’re going to look to put Rachel, who’s a wide attacking player, up top more and let her run and stretch the defense and create.”
UL and Southern haven’t played since a 1-1 tie in 2013 after the Cajuns took a 7-0 win early in the 2012 season. UL is 15-0-1 all-time against current SWAC members. The Jaguars are coming off road losses at McNeese (4-1) and Stephen F. Austin (6-0) to open the season and were outshot 66-6 in those two matches.