Analyzing the Iowa soccer team’s tactics three games into Big Ten play

The Daily Iowan takes a look at the Hawkeyes’ scheme and strategy through the first 11 matches of the season.

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Grace Smith

Iowa defender Samantha Cary gets introduced during Iowa’s first regular season home soccer game against Kansas at the Iowa Soccer Complex in Iowa City on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022. The Jayhawks defeated the Hawkeyes, 1-0. Cary played for 83 minutes.

Sam Knupp, Sports Reporter


The Iowa soccer team is now three games into its Big Ten schedule, so it’s time to look at what the Hawkeyes are doing from a tactical standpoint. 

Sitting at 3-5-3, it’s been a rough start for Iowa, but that’s not to say that head coach Dave DiIanni’s team hasn’t shown flashes of brilliance.

Let’s take a look at the Hawkeyes’ schemes on both sides of the ball to figure out what is going right and what is going wrong.

Defense

Iowa tends to be well-organized on defense, usually getting all but one player behind the ball.

At the same time, many of the goals the Hawkeyes have allowed this year have come on transitions when their defense is pulled out of shape or when there is a miscommunication.

On corner kicks, the Hawkeyes will sometimes look to defend their goal at all costs, with all 11 players in and around the box and no one forward.

The Black and Gold don’t often press, but because they’re well-organized, they don’t always need to. Instead, Iowa sits back and waits for its opponent to make a mistake and turn the ball over.

When they do press, the Hawkeyes tend to do so in a way that allows them to maintain their shape, often waiting for an opponent to make a heavy touch or an ill-advised pass before swarming to the ball.

Iowa tends to be physical on defense. Sitting second in in the Big Ten in fouls with 132, and first in yellow cards with 16, the Hawkeyes often don’t hesitate to commit tactical fouls to slow down their opponent’s attack.

Offense

Iowa tends to have fast build-up play, both in transition after forcing a turnover, and when taking over in their defensive third.

The Hawkeyes usually don’t concern themselves too much with holding possession, as they look to get the ball forward, playing a lot of through balls to create as many shots as possible.

Related: Iowa soccer’s Sara Wheaton looks to finish strong

Their fast build-up play is heavily reliant on the movement of their attacking players who generate chances with creative runs into space and in behind the defense.

Iowa’s ability to play quickly on the attack is aided by their tendency to push their outside backs forward, relying on them to make overlapping runs past their attacking teammates, allowing the Hawkeyes to outnumber defenders on the wing and get uncontested crosses into the box.

Iowa prefers to keep the ball on the ground but will sometimes create chances with searching balls into the box in hopes that an attacking player will get her head to it.

The Hawkeyes’ main pitfall on offense this season has been their lack of success in finishing scoring chances, but the opportunities have been there.

Iowa is currently tied for sixth in the Big Ten in shots with 145 but tied for eighth place with two other teams in goals with 14.

The Hawkeyes sometimes struggle to get numbers forward, leaving their attacking players on an island with limited passing options.

Whether Iowa will resolve its scoring woes will be a huge factor in determining if the Hawkeyes will be playing in the NCAA tournament.

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