It's make or break time for Illinois soccer

It's make or break time for Illinois soccer

Scoring surge

Illinois started the season with a resurgent offense. After scoring just 13 goals in 2017, the Illini tied that mark five matches in and topped it the next time out.

Still led by senior Katie Murray with five goals, scoring has dipped in Big Ten play with five goals in seven matches.

"One of the things about technology and all of this wonderful video is by the time you get into the Big Ten seasons everybody knows everybody," Illinois coach Janet Rayfield said. "If you look across the Big Ten, there's a lot of shutouts and a lot of one-goal wins. We have to continue to be relentless and continue to find different ways."

Rayfield has seen areas where her team can be more productive offensively in restart moments like free kicks, corner kicks and throw ins. The Illini's younger players could also expand their offensive repertoire.

"This is also the seasoning of some of our young players that have to get a little more sophisticated because you do get seen on video," Rayfield said. "What you do gets to be well known."

Controlling destiny

Illinois' postseason fate — the top eight teams make the Big Ten tournament — is largely in its own hands. The Illini enter today's match in a three-way tie for seventh with Indiana and Michigan. Purdue currently sits in 13th place.

"I think the best thing for us right now is we play three teams that sit below us in the standings, which puts us in control of being eligible for postseason play," Rayfield said.

The other two teams are the Hoosiers, who play in Champaign at 1 p.m. Sunday, and an Oct. 18 date at Northwestern. The Illini's remaining match is its regular season finale at fourth-place Nebraska on Oct. 21.

"In this moment right now, we know we still control our own destiny," Rayfield continued. "We talk a little bit about looking through the telescope and knowing what you want but looking in the microscope and taking care of what's going on today. We'll take a look through that telescope (and see) we still could finish probably in the top four in the Big Ten because there's so many points left on the table."

Down to the wire

The Illini's three-way tie for seventh in the Big Ten isn't the only logjam in the standings. The gap between first-place Rutgers, which is 5-0-2 in conference, and Iowa, Northwestern and Maryland — all tied for 10th at 2-4-1 — is only 10 points. Those three teams in 10th are significantly closer — just two points behind Illinois, Indiana and Michigan — to the conference tournament cut line.

"It's been probably one of the tightest races in the Big Ten we've seen in a while in terms of results," Rayfield said.

Rayfield pointed to coaching in the Big Ten the past few seasons as a reason for parity, but it's not the only one. Early recruiting and all the information teams have on each other have also been factors.

"All of those things put together means there's a lot of parity in this league," Rayfield said. "Being focused in the moment and doing the best you can on the day is so important in trying to make it through this league. Soccer is a game where one goal can make a huge difference. It's little tiny things on the day that can make a difference."

Sections (3):Illini Sports, Sports, Soccer