Aztec's Aspen Newland now more proactive contributing on counterattacks
AZTEC — Aspen Newland’s evolving role on the soccer pitch has stretched beyond merely locking down foes, as she’s now tasked with helping Aztec generate counterattacks.
Dating back to at least the 2019 4A state quarterfinals, the Lady Tigers defender is taking it upon herself to get involved whenever Aztec pin opponents within 15 yards of their own net.
When Newland takes the ball away in the far corners of the box, she’ll gladly cross inside and attack.
Whenever she has to drop back to retrieve the ball, Newland will stay in front of it and help set up additional chances — whether head-butting the ball forward or scoping out a teammate that may be directly in front of her.
“It allows us to get wide, it allows us to create more space. Having the ball transition into an offensive attack definitely gets the defense to widen, makes us more available,” Newland said. “Getting the ball in the air and passing it (forward) to another player is definitely helpful because it turns the game around.”
Whenever Newland obtains the ball and gets her touches, she’s making the most of it.
“I definitely encourage her to make those runs up so she can score, and I think she’s looking for it more… I think her confidence has built over the season as a player with her touches, her ball skills, her shot. She’s fine with taking a little bit more risk in that area,” Aztec coach Grace Pinckley said. “I definitely want her to be more involved. If she can take some shots, she can take some shots. She has the range. She usually takes our free kicks for us… (The offensive playmakers are) making more runs, they’re looking when she has the ball to open up the space.”
After scoring twice on three shot attempts in the 2019 state quarterfinals, that gave her the necessary incentive to take more chances.
“I think it opens up our space for everybody,” Newland said. “If there’s space there, you might as well go into it. That way, your opportunities are higher.”
Matt Hollinshead covers sports and business for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @MattH_717.
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