The art of a soccer set piece

The set piece in soccer—free and corner kicks—is hard to equate to any other situation in sports.

It is kind of like an inbounds pass in basketball in that it always follows a stoppage in play and often results in a scoring opportunity for the executing team. But in basketball, how often do you hear the PA announcer excite fans by stating that their team gets to inbound the basketball from the baseline? You don’t. Yet in soccer, perhaps only a penalty kick electrifies fans more than a free or corner kick.

It happens sparingly enough in soccer that it claims extra attention from the offense, defense, coaches and fans.
“Lauren Thut, Becky Ryan, (Julia) Victor…they are always practicing them,” Marquette senior midfielder Michelle Compty said.

In a game as fluid and unpredictable as soccer, set pieces are one of the few things teams can control, so it makes sense that coach Markus Roeders and his Golden Eagles practice them so much. Another reason to practice set pieces: Katie Kelly graduated in the spring.

Kelly, a former Marquette defender who was known for her accuracy on those set pieces, took the majority of the team’s free and corner kicks last season. In 2008, the then-senior played 2,015 total minutes, second on the team behind fellow defender Shannon Cusick (2,097 minutes) and 448 minutes ahead of the third place Rosie Malone-Povolny (1,567). Thus, having been on the field to take so many of those kicks, there weren’t many more set pieces to go around.

With Kelly now gone, it is up to other Golden Eagles to fill that corner-kicking void. And Roeders has not found his new Katie Kelly yet this season. He knows his players are willing — now it’s finding out how to execute.

“I think we try to mix it up,” Roeders said. “You can’t always predict who’s going to be on the field. And we have five or six players who can take those types of kicks.

“It really depends a little bit on where they are on the field.”

But if there is one player who appears to have taken the leading role when it comes to set pieces, it is junior defender Lauren Thut.

“I think Lauren Thut has really come along in her own right,” Roeders said. “She’s kind of stepped in as a junior now, and she kind of knows what to do.”

Knowing what to do is one thing, but putting that skill into words is a completely different story.

“You just need somebody who can drive the ball in,” Thut said. “I can kick the ball far, I guess.”

Thut may not be able to express just what it is that allows her to place the ball right on a teammate’s head from 30 yards away, but as long as she keeps doing it successfully, she won’t need to.

And that void left by the departure of Kelly? Roeders is confident things will fall into place for the Golden Eagles.

“That’s kind of like the beauty of the program,” Roeders said. “We’ve always had people…where they stepped up and somebody else stepped in.”