It takes a lot of work for a soccer team to play a high pressing defense and then to, upon gaining the ball, quickly transition into a possession, pass and move offense. Against UMKC the Rebels played it to perfection. They were particularly impressive attacking the Kangaroos with a confident pass-oriented game complimented by intelligent movement especially by their forwards. Those attacking players moved laterally, moved back, moved diagonally; they continually found space to threaten the UMKC goal. Even when marked, by taking defenders away from vital spaces, they often helped to create chances for runners coming from behind without even touching the ball. Most of the first half the Rebels dominated possession, field position and shot totals, but had no luck in front of goal. The Roos only produced sporadic counters which were handled easily by Rebel keeper Lukas Betz.
Often the frustrations of mounting an dominate offense that fails to produce a payoff can weaken a side’s resolve to continue to put in the work needed to score, but UNLV showed no signs of let up. Finally, at the 42-minute mark a well- aimed long ball down the Rebel left came across the goal where a couple excellent touches by Skyler Goo and Connor Ryan gave the home team a well-deserved lead at the half.
Any doubts about the Rebels second half were erased early. A series of well executed passes, this time down the Rebels right found John Lynam able to pull defenders and slip a ball to Timo Mehlich who hit the lower far corner of the UMKC goal. Not 1 minute later UNLV was at it again, this time with a more centrally located attack. Marco Gonzales assisted on a rebound that fell to quick UNLV feet and Timo hit the net again. Perseverance and solid attacking had paid off and the Rebs enjoyed a 3-0 lead.
The joy was short-lived, however. A turnover in midfield gave the visitors a counter attack and UNLV was caught wrong – footed. Kevin Kamodi took a well placed shot to the lower near post to lower the margin back to two and put a bit of a scare into fans of the Scarlet and Gray.
A team that is faced with constantly chasing the ball and seemingly never getting a chance to mount an attack can get very tired both physically and mentally. After the Kangaroos goal, they saw very little of the ball as UNLV did an excellent job of maintaining possession while mixing in a few dangerous moves to goal. Sure enough, the Roos’ Mikhail McComie was red-carded putting UMKC down to 10 players and reducing the chances of any real comeback and just to seal the game, Mehlich scored his hat trick goal on a penalty kick at 66 minutes. The rest of the game was more of the same. UNLV keeping possession, playing smart, attacking through quick passing and off-the-ball movement to get attackers into scoring areas with the ball at their feet. Only some unlucky shooting and hustling defense kept the score from mounting including a missed UNLV penalty near the end of the game.
This was clearly the Rebels best overall effort of the season considering a decent opponent and the complete domination by the home side (28 – 9 shot advantage). The team’s talent and will is becoming very apparent as their unbeaten streak is now at 4. The test will be to repeat this performance during the remaining matches. If the Rebels can continue to press successfully, get numbers around the ball and make the runs that create space along with the unselfish play on display against Kansas City, they will be a genuine threat come tournament time.
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