It’s no secret the 2014 LSU soccer team is one of the youngest squads coach Brian Lee has sent onto the pitch during his 10 years with the program. Of the 21 players to see action through the Tigers’ first four games, 14 have been underclassmen, including eight freshmen.
But the club’s overall youth and inexperience isn’t a factor among LSU’s midfielders.
The Tigers’ midfield unit boasts several players who have extensive experience at both the collegiate and international levels. With the plethora of youth that fills the rest of the roster, much of LSU’s success this season will depend on the group’s ability to effectively manage the attack while providing extra reassurance for the squad’s young defensive back line and goalkeeper.
But Lee isn’t worried about how his experienced group will handle the task.
“I think they feel a great responsibility to the team, not so much pressure,” Lee said. “They’re older, veteran players who have a lot of games under their belts who are leaders on the team. They’re also kids who you’d want to take that responsibility.”
A strong midfield is nothing new to those who’ve followed the LSU soccer program since Lee took over. Of the 20 players who garnered first-team or second-team All-Southeastern Conference honors, 13 were midfielders.
But the midfield unit Lee has pieced together this season may be his strongest yet.
“We are all very talented, and I’m just happy to have the opportunity to be on the field because any of the girls that are on the bench could be in my spot,” said junior midfielder Fernanda Pina.
Pina’s claim isn’t far off the mark. Three of the squad’s midfielders — Pina along with sophomore Emma Fletcher and junior Natalia Gomez-Junco — have competed on the international level.
Fletcher, an All-SEC midfielder who led the league with 12 assists during her freshman campaign, spent her summer participating in the FIFA under-20 Women’s World Cup as a part of the Canadian national team.
Gomez-Junco and Pina also have spent time in the international spotlight as members of the Mexican national team in 2010 and 2012, and their deep-rooted chemistry has led to a combined three goals and four assists through the season’s first four matches.
But Lee has more than international talent roaming the middle of the field for the Tigers.
Senior midfielder Alex Arlitt has consistently been hailed as the club’s most versatile player whose impact in a match is felt on both sides of the field. Junior Heather Magee is another midfielder who Lee has thrust into the action from the moment she stepped on campus, having missed only one game of her Tiger career.
But the Tigers’ midfield took a major hit when Arlitt, the team’s only senior, went down with an apparent left ankle injury against Northwestern State last Friday, and it’s still undetermined when she’ll make her return to the Tigers’ lineup.
Her absence has quickly thrown others, like Magee and freshman midfielder Christyna Pitre, into key leadership roles in the middle of the field.
“We’ve really had to just step up, Christyna and I both, and be big leaders on the field to communicate what coach [Lee] is trying to tell us,” Magee said.
LSU’s midfield will be put to the test when the squad travels to Fort Worth, Texas, for its first road match of the season against TCU on Friday. Gomez-Junco said the Tigers’ ability to adequately fill Arlitt’s spot shows just how deep of a unit they have.
“Alex is a great help with her leadership and skill, but we’ve been able to cover that spot well,” Gomez-Junco said. “Now we know we can count on a big roster. Not just when we have injuries but when everyone’s healthy so we can have a good rotation.”
You can reach David Gray on Twitter @dgray_TDR.