Takeaways from Arkansas soccer's exhibition against John Brown

Arkansas soccer players celebrate a goal in the exhibition match against John Brown University. (Walt Beazley/University of Arkansas Athletics)

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas soccer did what it should have done against John Brown, dispatching its NAIA opponent 6-1. It went as expected: A team that many expect to compete for a national title in the fall beating lower-level competition, though the Golden Eagles finished 18-3-1 last season.

“I thought we got exactly out of this what we needed,” coach Colby Hale said.

Drawing conclusions from a match like Thursday’s can be difficult because of the gap between the sides, but there were some Razorbacks storylines to follow.

“This is earlier than we’ve played a game before, which I really liked,” Hale said. “It was good, right? Obviously, you’ve got a million things you’ve got to work on, but there’s going to be some bright spots, and it’ll give us a lot of video and things to work on.”

Transfers working into the system

Two transfers were announced in the starting 11: Ella Rogers, who joined from Xavier, and Kelsey Oyler, who joined from Gonzaga.

Oyler scored in the second quarter, giving Arkansas its third of the evening on a box-crashing header.

When evaluating their performances, it’s important to note that the Razorbacks will see higher-level opposition in the fall. That being said, there was plenty more than just Oyler’s finish to write about.

The former Zag played primarily in wide positions, be that on defense or moving into midfield. Oyler made several overlapping runs that caused problems for JBU’s defense during her time on the pitch. Her crosses were almost always delivered into dangerous areas.

Rogers was a do-it-all midfielder who showed she was adept with the ball at her feet and in progressing possession while also proving to be a capable midfielder. The former Big East Freshman of the Year was smart with her off-ball movement, knowing when to go forward and when to stay back while putting herself in the best position to get the ball, and she showed flashes of what she could do in the box with a thundering header that smacked the crossbar.

“I already feel comfortable being around this team,” Rogers said. “I feel challenged every single day, but coming out here beside my teammates, it already feels like we’re together as one.”

Perhaps her best attribute, though, was her passing. Nothing overly flashy, but she always found teammates in the right spots and hardly ever lost possession.

“I thought [Rogers] got stronger as the game went on, her and Kelsey Oyler,” Hale said. “We gave them quite a bit of minutes because we wanted them to have a chance to acclimate.”

Picking up where she left off

Razorbacks forward Ava Tankersley was SEC Forward of the Year last season after scoring 8 goals and adding 5 assists.

She scored twice Thursday — a tidy finish off a corner and a tap in off an assist from Taylor Berman. Tankersley didn’t play much — “we know what she can do,” Hale said — but she was effective in her limited minutes.

The graduate forward will be an important piece of Arkansas’ attack moving forward, as she has been since she arrived on campus. Neither of her goals Thursday were particularly highlight-reel finishes, but she showed composure on both strikes. Tankersley is good with the ball and takes players on with the dribble. Her off-ball movement creates space for herself or for her teammates to move into.

“I’ve been fortunate to play under all forwards who went professional,” Tankersley said. “I’ve just been working on my game. … Just putting in the extra work and then also getting older and growing with the program.”

None of these snippets are new or groundbreaking takeaways, but the manner and quality in which she plays makes her one of the most difficult forwards to defend in the SEC and the nation. 

Depth on display

As to be expected in an exhibition, the Razorbacks went deep into their bench.

Berman’s brace — a nice finish off a defensive error and a penalty — made her the standout performer off Arkansas’ bench. Others, such as Arizona transfer Jordan Hall, Cora Hair and Morgan Hippeli, had bright moments as well.

Thursday was a chance to give some of the younger players and transfers a shot in Arkansas’ system. The scoreline allowed the Razorbacks to do so with little risk.

Depth will be a key point of an SEC or NCAA Tournament run. Arkansas didn’t score in the second half, in part because of JBU goalkeeper Reagan Riley making several good saves, but still had lively moments.

“That’s what this is about, right? Giving them some time,” Hale said. “We wanted to make sure that we were getting some kids that we wanted experience.”