espnW Soccer Player Of The Week: Texas' Abby Smith
When it's suggested that a goalkeeper is good enough to win a game for a team, it's usually shorthand for a slightly longer formula. An outstanding keeper, in organizing her back line, marshaling her resources on set pieces and saving shots otherwise bound for goal, is good enough to give her teammates the opportunity to score the goals that win games.
University of Texas goalkeeper Abby Smith can do all of that. But as she proved again this past week in the biggest of moments, Smith can actually win a game, or at least points, for her team, which seems like a pretty good reason to make her the espnW national player of the week.
In a week in which many teams played just a single game instead of the typical two, few made better use of that lone opportunity than Texas. Again residing in at least the same neighborhood as the NCAA tournament bubble after missing out on the postseason a season ago, the Longhorns added a new first line on its résumé with a 2-1 double-overtime win at No. 17 Texas Tech.
Although rarely separated by more than a few yards, opposing coaches often come away with distinctly different impressions of the game. This was not one of those games.
"I don't think we have ever battered Texas like we did tonight," Texas Tech coach Tom Stone said after his team piled up 18 shots and 12 corner kicks on its home field. "The game wasn't even close in terms of play. But give Texas credit; they held in and bent but didn't break. And when they got their one chance at the end of the game, they executed it well."
Limited to 10 shots before the one Jasmine Hart slotted home with less than 30 seconds to play in the second and final overtime period, Texas did not disagree with the assessment.
"For all intents and purposes, we stole one tonight" Texas coach Angela Kelly said.
Against that run of play, Smith was, as she so often is, one of most important reasons Texas didn't lose a game that could have scuttled its season. The Red Raiders got one shot past Smith, All-American and Canadian international Janine Beckie putting her team in front in the 27th minute, but that was it. Smith made 10 saves and held the fort against those corner kicks.
Yet as the game reached its final 30 seconds, Texas would have had to settle for a draw had Smith not taken matters into her own hands -- and then her own feet. After corralling a ball on her own end line, Smith waited for her teammates to push forward, then booted a ball that carried deep into Texas Tech's half, where Lindsey Meyer headed it on into Hart's path.
Hart got the goal. Meyer and Smith got the assists.
This is not a new phenomenon. Smith ranks fifth on the Longhorns in points this season, partly a reflection of an offense that has struggled to produce goals but also a reflection of a remarkable individual talent, one of the goalkeepers mentioned recently by United States national team coach Jill Ellis as part of the next generation at the position (all three U.S. keepers from the World Cup are 27 or older). She has nine shots this season and memorably provided the game-winning goal in a 1-0 decision against Miami in August, booming another goal kick down field that needed no assistance to find the back of the net for her third career goal.
Smith usually gives the Longhorns a chance to win. In Lubbock, she made sure they did.