In the Soccer 101 series, I interviewed four outstanding college players – each one was named to their All-Conference team – to get an inside look at what it takes to play their positions: goalie, defender, midfielder, and forward.
We conclude our Soccer 101 series with a look at the forward position, with the help of Ashley Nagy of the Georgia State University women’s soccer team.
Ashley’s credentials are impressive. As a sophomore at GSU, she played in all 17 games last year, totaling 19 points on eight goals and three assists, which earned her a spot on the All-Sun Belt Conference first team. Ashley’s successful off the pitch as well, having made the GSU Dean’s List as a finance major.
Prior to scoring goals for the Panthers, Ashley lit it up for Union Grove High School in McDonough, GA, where she set the school record for most goals, assists and points in 2010. Ashley was a multiple time all-county first team and all-region first team honoree, and the 4A Player of the Year in 2011.
10Soccer: In positioning yourself on the field as a forward, are you reacting to the defense or are you reacting to where the ball is?
Ashley: It’s a little bit of both. If we have the ball in the final third, then I’m definitely reacting more to what our players are doing with the ball. If I see a player taking it to the corner, I know they’re about to cross it, so I’m going to get into the 18 yard box, try to see if I can finish their cross. Or a midfielder’s dribbling straight at me — I’m just going to get out of their way, while they just take it to the goal. And, I’ll just try to follow up their shot if the goalie defends it or deflects it off.
10Soccer: In getting out of their way, though, you must have an idea. You’re not just going to run to the sideline. So, how do you get out of the way, but still be in a good offensive position?
Ashley: Say I’m facing them, but my back’s to the goal, and obviously they’re dribbling for it. I’m going to spin out and then face the goal. Run next to them, basically, and hopefully take a defender with me, so it clears space for them. I’m not just going to take off for the corner flag.
10Soccer: In the situation you just described, a midfielder going forward. Are you going back to that player’s position to try to fill that gap?
Ashley: Sometimes, yes. A lot of times, the forward will — we call it “check to them” — go towards them to get the ball. Let’s say I just played it back to the midfielder, and then they play it long to somebody. That midfielder might take my spot, while I fill into their spot. I just kind of switch positions.
10Soccer: If it’s late in a game and your team has a lead, are you going to cheat back on defense a little more? At that point you’re probably not worried about scoring another goal.
Ashley: Definitely. If we had a one goal lead and we were playing a 4-3-3, so we have three up top, we would probably just take the two wide ones and just push them back a little bit, so we’re playing 4-5-1 now. Just to give us more numbers, and then the one girl who’s up top is just going to take the ball to the corner flag whenever she can.
10Soccer: You had eight goals, three assists, and 57 shots last year, which were the most shots on the team. Is the offense designed to give you a lot of opportunities?
Ashley: We played a lot more attacking players this year than we ever have before. We played three attacking players, so that’s probably the main thing. We were basically going three a lot, as opposed to one. That helped create a lot of shots.
10Soccer: How do you develop the understanding of knowing where your teammates are going to be?
Ashley: It’s a lot of talk. If I want the ball at my feet, I’ll just check and yell for the ball. I’ll just call for it here. But, if I’m trying to get it ahead of me, I’ll probably point. If I’m sprinting, they’ll know that I’m trying to get it in front of me, not to just drill it at me. So, it just depends. You can look at body language, and talking definitely helps a lot.
10Soccer: Talk about what you do on set plays. Let’s start with free kicks.
Ashley: We’re looking for the ball to be lofted — so that it goes right over the defenders. We’re going to look to head it on, so we’re trying to get away from our defender that’s marking us during the free kick and just try to get in behind them and head it in.
And then, if we were trying to shoot [directly off the free kick], it’s similar to a midfielder coming at me. We’re just trying to spin off and get the ball if the shot gets blocked.
10Soccer: For that free kick where it’s close enough to take a shot on goal, is a forward typically taking that shot?
Ashley: Well, on our team, no. It just never happened to be. We had a defender that had a really good kick, so she took most of them. Occasionally, we’d have a midfielder take it. So, none of us forwards ever took it. But, on a lot of teams, it probably could be a forward.
10Soccer: What’s your typical role on a corner kick? Are you in front of the net?
Ashley: Yeah, same run every time. I just run straight to front post. For our corners, we have 3 people that stand at the corner of the box. I run front post. The other 2 players basically cross; one goes middle and one goes far. I’m typically looking for a ball that’s driven in, that I can just get a toe on it to flick it into the goal. If the ball is lofted, they can head it in. And we have a girl who just stands in front of the keeper to try to distract her.
We’ll sometimes have a player take a short corner, so she’ll play it short, and then either take it in and take a shot, or cross it from a different angle. We have a lot of options for corners.
10Soccer: When I talked with Lewis Sharpe about goalkeeping I asked him if he got nervous on penalty kicks. He said that he did not. He said all the pressure is on the shooter.
Ashley: I would agree with that, yeah. You kind of get psyched out, because it’s just you and the goalie. It should be the easiest kick in the world, but… it’s not.
10Soccer: Do you have a penalty kick that you like to use, no matter what? Or do you take into account scouting reports where you know something about the goalie?
Ashley: If the team has already had a PK taken against them, we’ll look and see which side the goalie went the previous time, but you never really know. For me, I usually just go for the same side.
10Soccer: I assume there are times when the other team says, “Ashley’s their go-to person, so we’re sticking our best defender on her to mark Ashley all day.”
Ashley: When there’s a situation like that, we have enough players besides me that can do well. So, typically, I would look to just do quick, one-touch passes. If I knew there was always someone on me, I would just pass it back and then hope to get behind the defender. So, in a game like that, I wouldn’t be able to just have someone play me the ball and then me turn, because they’re [the defender] going to get it every time, because they’re right there.
You have to rely on other players a little more, and I would have to play quicker. It wouldn’t be a big deal. Just small changes.
10Soccer: What do you do differently if the ball’s in the air versus at your feet?
Ashley: Typically, if the ball’s in the air and it’s neck down, I’ll try to settle it and clean it up. We want the ball to stay on the ground as much as possible, so I’ll just try to touch it to the ground and then pass. But, if it’s at my head level, I’ll probably flick it on and hope that there’s another player running on to that.
It’s a good way to get behind the defense, because the defense is going to try to win the header, too. So, if I win it and get it behind them, if we have a player running on, that’s a good option. But, for the most part, we would just try to settle it and then play the ball on the ground.
10Soccer: The plays the team runs when you’re on offense — does that come from having played together and practiced together so much you just know where each other is going to be?
Ashley: It’s not like we run plays, like this is what we’re going to do if we’re in this scenario. It’s not like that at all. Every play is completely different. You can’t really plan anything, because you never know what they defender’s going to be doing, or what you might do. You’ll pretty much know where your teammates are, and we’re screaming for the ball anyway, so you can’t really miss us. You just get a feel for what your teammates like.
10Soccer: Is part of that getting a feel for how the defense is playing as the game progresses?
Ashley: Yes. Let’s say you have a defense that likes to step high. We call it “shrink the field.” We’re going to look to play it in behind them, because that’s where all the space is. But, if we have a defense that is giving us all the time in the world, we’re going try to pass it around them to get to the goal.
10Soccer: Forwards are the subjects of offside traps. Is that just a matter of keeping track out of the corner of your eye on where the defense is?
Ashley: We never really have an issue with offside traps. It’s never really been difficult for me, because you see where the last defender is; you just make sure. You’re never really going to be floating out there in an offside position. If you pay attention, it’s not going to hurt you too badly.
10Soccer: I’m sure you made that sound a lot easier than it is.You’re watching the ball; you’re watching the defense, you’re watching the goalie…
Ashley: Yeah, there’s probably a lot more to it than it seems, but after playing a while, you just kind of get the hang of it.
10Soccer: What’s the hardest part of being a forward?
Ashley: The hardest part would probably be the easiest shots. You’re one-on-one with the goalie. It’s probably one of the hardest things. It should be the easiest thing in the world, because it’s a tiny girl in front of a huge goal. All day, I’d rather just get the hard goals than get one handed to me, because I feel like those are just the hardest. I don’t know if it’s too much time to think, or too much pressure on you.
10Soccer: What else is there about playing forward that you think fans don’t understand from sitting up in the stands?
Ashley: I think forwards often get a rep for being lazy, because we don’t necessarily defend as much. We do a lot more work than people realize, because on every play going forward, we’re there. You’ll see us run back a lot to help our teammates defend, but it doesn’t get as much recognition as it probably should.
I want to thank Ashely and Stephen McGill from Georgia State University, and Kelsey Griswold and Lewis Sharpe from Georgia Gwinnett College for being our instructors for Soccer 101. I really appreciate them taking time out of their schedules to share their knowledge with our readers. They are outstanding soccer players, and great ambassadors for their teams and schools. I really enjoyed talking with them. I also want to thank GSU’s Matt Arsenault and GGC’s Ned Colegrove for their help in setting up the Soccer 101 interviews. GB