From the time Marlon LeBlanc stepped on campus through the year WVU played out its existence in the Big East, the Mountaineers were 4-1-1 against UConn, which has the best program in the conference. WVU outscored the Huskies 7-2 with five clean sheets, that after scoring seven goals total and going 1-11-2 to start the series.
Now, some of that was talent. The Mountaineers didn’t have a lot when they were losing and they got a lot better toward the end of the regime to precede LeBlanc’s and then immediately after LeBlanc arrived.
But a more interesting explanation is that WVU made use of very sharp, very popular technology: Prozone.
It is to soccer what Data Volley is to volleyball and GameChanger is to basketball, but it might be more prolific and it’s definitely more quintessential.
It made a believer of LeBlanc when he was at Penn State and the Nittany Lions had to watch, track and code games themselves, but times have changed. LeBlanc, who first raised money on his own to have Prozone at WVU, later convinced most of the Big East to subscribe and now has Prozone included in his budget, simply subscribes to the service now and uploads matches to a server in Leeds, England. There, it’s coded for WVU and within a day or two available for download back in campus.
It gives you statistics and measurements for everything and it’s all completely searchable and sortable so that you can gather and present evidence like so.
And if you don’t believe in the methods or the numbers, witness how they pushed the Mountaineers past UConn so many times.
“UConn made a lot of passes that didn’t go anywhere,” LeBlanc said. “You could see it on (Prozone). A lot of their action happened in the back. What they typically did was wait for the other team to come out and then exploit them. What we did was say, ‘Guys, here’s where UConn wants to play. We want to keep them in front of us and let them play all day in that area.’ “
The Mountaineers would maintain a distance from the UConn defenders and never intrude beyond 30-or-so yards out from the goal. That kept the Huskies from getting into the midfield and finding and facilitating “individual playmakers who would absolutely destroy you when you got the ball,” LeBlanc said.
WVU further isolated one of UConn’s four defenders in the back. Of the two defenders in the middle, the one on the left (the left center back) didn’t like having the ball and was right-footed. When the ball went to him, WVU reacted by focusing their attention to its right side.
“Typically their left back and left center back would link up and the left back would work that sideline all game long,” LeBlanc said. “When the ball got to the left center back, you could see he almost always found the center midfielder and the center midfielder would then play it out to the left back.”
By maintaining the distance from the goal, WVU took away the left center back’s pass to the center midfielder and forced a pass to the left back.
“He was so bad with the ball and the passes were so sloppy that we squeezed and pressed him and totally eliminated the way they wanted to play,” LeBlanc said.