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Wingers Lead The Way For Penn State Women’s Soccer

Many of soccer’s most exciting, skillful, and beloved players spend their careers as wingers.

The best wingers, also known as outside midfielders, are incredibly skilled and fast artists who can leave a defender spinning before serving a cross or firing a shot from a distance. Good examples of these players include Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar. They make the game fun. And when it comes to creativity, speed, and joy on the outside of the field, few in the Big Ten can match the quality of Penn State women’s soccer’s Kerry Abello and Payton Linnehan.

Abello and Linnehan have scored seven and five goals, respectively, this season for the Nittany Lions. Abello has provided three assists to Linnehan’s one. Lately, they’ve provided the attacking spark that’s driven their side to a seven-game unbeaten run that began a month ago. They have scored or assisted at least one goal in all but one of those wins, and as the Nittany Lions progress in the Big Ten Tournament and the College Cup looms, their continued form will be crucial.

Despite their mirror-image positions — Abello plays on the left while Linnehan lines up on the right — the pair have entirely different styles of play that lead to the same devastating result — usually a goal.

Abello has been Penn State’s dribbling master for the past two years and occasionally plays left-back on defense. When she dribbles, she’s almost unstoppable, leaving at least one defender spinning before scoring or playing across. Her flair is undeniable.

“That has always been a part of my game,” she said. “Going one-v-one is by far my favorite thing to do in soccer…That is my bread and butter and the most excited I get during a game.”

Her standout moment this year came against Rutgers when she scored two signature goals in a match that eventually ended in a loss for the Nittany Lions.

Across from Abello is Linnehan, a freshman. She’s been one of head coach Erica Dambach’s first-choice midfielders since the season began, and after struggling to score her first goal for the Nittany Lions, has blossomed into one of their most potent attacking threats. Whereas Abello takes on defenders, spinning them around with a move to beat them, Linnehan is more apt to find space with her blistering speed. She also isn’t afraid to shoot from distance, as she proved last Sunday against Iowa.

“I’ve gotten more comfortable finishing, and I still have a lot of work to do,” she said after her two-goal performance against Northwestern. “Putting away those chances, it just gives you more confidence.”

Even with less than a season under her belt, Linnehan has all the makings of a legendary attacker for Penn State. She and Sam Coffey have formed a noticeable partnership going forward where Linnehan is the favorite target of the junior midfielder’s long through-passes.

But having an established player like Abello, who plays the same position, to learn from has been crucial to her adjustment to the collegiate game.

“Getting to know (Abello) as a player is very important because she likes to go to the endline and get those crosses in, and I’m trying to get on the end of them,” Linnehan said. “I can also learn from her on my side, I can learn how to take people on and get to the endline and provide for other people on our team. I think she’s a very good role model to have, as somebody who plays my position.”

Thanks, in part, to Abello and Linnehan, Penn State hasn’t struggled to score goals this season, outscoring their opponents 40-20. They’ll need to keep their scoring form intact against a defensively compact Purdue side, who defeated No. 1 seed Wisconsin Friday in Piscataway in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

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About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is a junior English and history major and the features editor for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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