The 2011 Women's World Cup drew record audiences for women's soccer, and for soccer in general on ESPN. The Illinois soccer team is hoping that some of that interest in the game will carry over to their games this fall. The Illini have a nine-game home schedule that starts on Friday August 19 when they host Paul Klee's Gonzaga Bulldogs, making it the first event of the fall sports season on the University of Illinois campus. There's also an Illini connection on the Bulldog staff, as former Illinois assistant Billy Barmes is now coaching for Gonzaga as an assistant.
I had a chance to talk with Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield earlier this week after she returned from her role as a scout for the US Women's National Team at the World Cup. Here's the podcast of that interview in case you missed in on Sportstalk earlier in the week. She indicated that there could be some pretty significant changes in style of play for the Illini this season, in part because of some of the teams she scouted at the World Cup. Rayfield was especially intrigued by the way the French team used their attacking personnel to create a myriad of scoring chances. Illinois certainly has a number of skilled scorers returning this season, including reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Vanessa DiBernardo, fellow all-Freshman team member Megan Pawloski, and the team co-leaders in assists (6), Niki Read and Marissa Mykines.
DiBernardo, along with Shayla Mutz and Julie Ewing, have been key parts of the attack this summer for the Chicago Red Stars of the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL), a league that is just one level below the WPS, and features a mix of college players, and some with professional experience. Ewing in particular has shown enough skill in finishing this summer that the Illini may look at changing her role from outside back to an outside midfielder for 2011. Ewing is third on the Red Stars with five goals this summer, and tied for third with DiBernardo with 12 points. The team has been highly successful as well, winning its division and advancing to the semifinals of the WPSL playoffs. You can see the team in action next weekend in the WPSL semifinals at Benedictine College in Lisle, IL.
The Illini report for fall workouts starting on Tuesday August 2. Their lone exhibition game is at Missouri on Friday August 12, with the regular season opener the aforementioned contest against Gonzaga on Friday August 19 at 7pm.
Next time around, I'll take a more detailed look at the Illini's 2011 schedule and attempt to predict the outcome of each game. Thanks for reading.