It was a comprehensive offensive outing and one of the best performances this season for Penn State, according to the players and coach Erica Dambach, against a defensive-minded Northwestern team in the final regular season game at Jeffrey Field.
Out of all the players, it was Payton Linnehan who was the stand-out performer by getting on the score sheet twice.
Linnehan reprised her winger role, working her technical dribbling in close spaces while stretching the Wildcats defense out thin.
With Kerry Abello also posing as a threat on the other flank, Northwestern simply struggled to deal with the constant pressure brought upon by Dambach’s squad offensively and in high press situations.
“I feel like it's starting to really come together,” Dambach said. “Really special group as you know, just to see the smiles on their faces and the pride that they have in this program and they deserve everything and they've given so much to this program. I'm really proud of them.”
Linnehan stood out in her ability to make deep runs and her positioning.
In the first goal, she was able to time a run off a long through pass from Sam Coffey. In a move that saw Linnehan drifting more toward central than her usual position, she was able to pinpoint her run to avoid the offside call and put herself at a positional advantage among two defenders.
In her first goal, Linnehan made a run between two defenders to get to Sam Coffey’s through ball. She ran into a more central lane than what she usually occupies and timed her run to a tee to avoid the offside call while also put herself at an advantageous position over the defenders.
Linnehan then showed her growing composure in the box.
After controlling the ball and being forced to her weaker left foot, she was still able to find the opening with the keeper approaching and slotted a high shot over Mackenzie Wood to open the score.
“Composure is a big part of it,” Linnehan said. “I’ve definitely gotten more comfortable finishing and I still have a lot of work to do, but putting in all those chances, it just gives me more confidence.”
“Hopefully I can just continue to put them away.”
The second goal came from Linnehan’s diligence and positioning. She presented herself as the short corner option initially for Coffey near the sideline, but as the ball was cleared, she found open grass at the left side of the box and that’s where she found her second goal off the rebound.
Linnehan also had a few opportunities for her maiden hattrick, but some of those chances leaned more toward the 50-50 category.
The match also saw her playing a more diversified role than usual. A few more runs toward the center of the pitch was the telltale sign of that, but she was also responsible for tracking back and sometimes bringing the ball forward from the back, a role where she has the technical capabilities to fulfill.
Linnehan still preserved her impressive wing play, with a few of her patented oohs and aahs-inducing play that saw her burst down the wings to provide service to the middle.
Apart from Linnehan’s performance, Coffey was the other standout player against Northwestern. She provided two assists in the game to Linnehan and Ally Schlegel, one from open play and one from a set piece. She also contributed the bulk of Penn State’s most dangerous opportunities using her vision to find her teammates on the run, much akin to a quarterback in football.
“I love dropping deep, I love getting high and I think the flexibility of my role in the midfield is really fun,” Coffey said. “You know, being able to do those things like distribute and then also getting in closer to the goal.”
As Penn State continued to find its groove while, in somewhat of a cliché, peaking at the right time, it will look to cut down on some of the careless play. However, the team is enjoying the five-game win streak it is on to say the least.
“I think there is a general feeling of like, this is what we went through all that for, and I honestly wouldn't change any of it because I think I truly believe it prepared us for what we're about to do and what we're about to start,” Coffey said.
“I don't care if we're losing games in the beginning of the year because we're winning at the right time, and we're peaking right now and we're playing our best soccer,” Coffey said.