Even with his team undefeated, coach Seamus O’Connor couldn’t help but look ahead.
“We’re in one of the toughest conferences in the country,” O’Connor said. “Long term, how we play in conference is what we’re looking at.”
After beginning the season undefeated through four games, a sudden shift in offensive strategy led to a nonexistent scoring attack in the Owls’ first defeat of the year to Marshall on Friday, Sept. 6.
“I’m going to put the blame fully with me,” O’Connor said, “I tweaked the formation a little bit and it didn’t work. It’s a coaching decision. I’m going to have the restless night of sleep over it.”
Temple entered Friday’s home opening game riding a four game winning streak, the best start in school history.
Since being appointed head coach this summer, O’Connor has spoken about the Owls adopting an aggressive style of soccer, pushing the ball and taking risks. Temple played well under this philosophy in the first two games of the season, outscoring New Jersey Institute of Technology and Delaware State by a combined score of 6-0.
But in the next two games against Mount St. Mary’s and Loyola Maryland, Temple goals did not come as frequently. The Owls defeated both teams 1-0, with the goal against Loyola Maryland coming from a difficult double-overtime free kick from sophomore defender Erin Lafferty to win the game.
Despite winning all four games, O’Connor saw the recent struggles on offense and was confronted with a difficult decision.
“As coaches, you always have that dilemma,” O’Connor said. “We weren’t scoring enough, so do you keep doing what you’re doing until it doesn’t work or change it?”
With games against strong American Athletic Conference opponents looming, O’Connor said he believed a change in strategy was necessary to compete. O’Connor said he thought the team’s current strategy of pushing players down the field was effective against weaker opponents, but may not be as effective on strong competition.
O’Connor’s hope, through the change in strategy, was to have his players control possessions for longer periods of time and still incorporate the running style of offense. The result was the Temple players running less, which allowed Marshall to beat them downfield and lose balls.
“Our focus was more on possessing the ball, as opposed to going forward,” O’Connor said. “I have to show the girls how to move from being just a possession team to a team that creates chances on the attacking end of the field. We ended up with too many players behind the ball and not enough players getting into the attack. When you don’t have that, you won’t get the chances that you want.”
In the 1-0 loss to Marshall, chances came few and far between for the Owls. Temple managed to take four shots in 90 minutes of play compared to Marshall’s 19 shots. In Temple’s four game winning streak, the Owls’ offense averaged 14 shots per game.
“Nobody wants to lose,” senior defender Karly O’Toole said. “Nobody wants to lose their home opener, [but sometimes] you’re going to lose. We’re not going to go undefeated all season. We just couldn’t piece it together [against Marshall].”
O’Connor plans to revert back to the team’s original method of gameplay, remorseful that his coaching decision may have been responsible for ending a historic run for the Owls.
“I completely set the team up wrong,” O’Connor said. “We were better the other way we played. The change isn’t hard. We just go back to what we were doing before. We were getting more players forward. We were getting more shots.”
Although Temple’s original style of play helped it to 4-0 start, O’Connor voiced his concern regarding gauging the team’s success through non-conference victories as opposed to conference victories. “It’s so hard to balance setting the team up for short-term goals versus long-term goals,” O’Connor said. “It would be very hard for me to have a style of soccer for out of conference and a style of soccer for in conference.”
Since Friday’s game against the Thundering Herd, Temple has returned to its previous strategy and recorded 26 shots in a loss to the Rider Broncs on Sunday.
“We’re trying to play a style of soccer that will help us in conference, but out of conference, it’s [about us] trying to teach them how to get the goals,” O’Connor added. “It’s a process.”
Brien Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BErick1123.