Soccer goes on the road

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

Ever since Rich Manning took the reins of the U women’s soccer team six years ago, the Utes have played a three-forward system.

It’s worked quite nicely for the MWC champs.

But after assessing his players’ strengths, Manning decided — just three days before the season started — that a change was in order. Instead of playing with three forwards, the Utes (1-1-0) now use two. The new scheme gives Utah midfielders Kelly Isleib and Kiley Jones more room to, as the coach puts it, “do their thing.”

“I think the way we’re playing now helps three or four talented players on our team be comfortable and in a position to use their strongest qualities to their advantage,” Manning said.

With the field spread a little wider, left midfielder Katy Reineke is able to play more of an attacking role than she has in the past, Manning said.

“I think (the new system) allows us to be a little bit more creative and use our midfielders a little bit more,” said senior midfielder Melissa Crespo.

The Utes are still getting used to the new format, but Manning has been pleased with his team’s improvement over the first two games of the season — a win over Arizona and an overtime loss to Long Beach State.

“The defense from game one to game two started to work together better and understood their roles in the whole picture,” Manning said. “We cleaned up some of the areas that we struggled with against Arizona, and I feel like we’ll continue to get better.”

Today, the Utes will have another chance to gel in their new scheme, when they face No. 14 Colorado (1-0-1) on the road in one of the toughest tests of the Utes’ non-conference schedule.

Colorado — which made the Sweet Sixteen last year — returns eight starters.

The Utes will have to find a way to slow down Colorado forward Nikki Marshall, a member of the U.S. Under-20 team and the Big 12’s leading scorer.

“(Marshall is) one of those players where it’s not like she needs the ball a lot to score,” Manning said. “She’ll just kind of hang around, hang around, hang around — and the next thing you know, you’re like, wow, she just scored a goal.”

Manning admitted he’s stumped on how to shut Marshall down but said he has faith in the Utes’ defense, which must keep the speedy forward in front of them if they want to keep her in check.

“I think it’s really a case of just being aware at all times of where she’s at,” Manning said.

Marshall isn’t the only Nikki that the Utes have to worry about. Utah also needs to keep an eye on Nikki Keller and Alex Cousins, who are both dangerous weapons in Colorado’s attack.

“As good as (Marshall) is — and she’s excellent — we don’t want to focus all our attention on her so that someone else sneaks up,” Manning said. “I think it’s a good challenge for our defense.”

Offensively, the Utes are off to a decent start but have room for improvement.

“I like the way our forwards have played,” Manning said. “I want to see them get some more shots and create some opportunities for themselves.”

Kickoff is at 4 p.m. in Boulder, Colo.

On Sunday, the Utes play Washington State on the road. They’ll make their home-field debut Friday against Idaho State.

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Jarad Reddekopp

Lynzee Lee dives to block a shot from a teammate during practice.