By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On a team loaded with seniors and loaded with talent, every piece of the puzzle must be put together in order to have success in the Big Ten Conference. A piece of this puzzle that has drastically improved as the season has progressed has been senior defender John Gallagher's ability to create chances off set pieces and become a versatile player for the 8-4-2 Nittany Lions.
produced two goals in the past two matches for Penn State, both of which have
been games the Lions have won. Gallagher continued his success on set pieces by
forcing an own goal off of a corner kick against Michigan State Oct. 14. Three
days later, the lefty scored a goal in the 22nd minute, with his right foot.
His success, however, hasn't simply just appeared on the scene in the 2012 season, it has been produced by the work put forth off the field by Penn State's senior captain.
"We have these free kick dummy's and I come out either before or after practice and set them up in positions on the field that I know I am going to be aiming toward during the games and I take maybe 20 or 30 to focus on driving them and getting them in the right spots," said Gallagher. "It helps because my deliveries have been a lot better this year than they were last year and one of my goals was to have every set piece I take be a scoring opportunity for us."
Set pieces have been where Gallagher has thrived in the second half of the season and his practice and ability to know where teams will line up on set pieces have resulted in his teammates being in a good position to get a shot on net. Gallagher has been working toward this improvement since the summer has the team has shown improvement in the set piece plus and minus category that he closely monitors.
First knowing where his team will be and then picking up where his opponent is lined up, Gallagher focuses on a specific plan of attack before he puts the ball in play. This pre-kick focus allows him to pick a spot on the field and force the defense to make a decision on the ball.
"On corners a lot of teams line up the same way so there is a pretty specific spot I like to put it, but yeah it is just whipping it in there hard," said Gallagher. "Just like against Michigan State, if you drive in a good ball nice and hard anything can happen and I think that was proven by the own goal."
Head coach Bob Warming stressed the importance of being able to make sure that Gallagher gets Penn State players on the right end of it and now Gallagher is doing exactly that after missing a few games in early October.
"In his time off he probably hit a thousand crosses out here and I think his quality of crosses has improved since then," said Warming. "It's just practice, practice, practice. His legs were ready to fall off because he kicked so many balls."
As well as improving on set pieces, Gallagher has spent time in the racquetball courts to work on his footwork with both foots as he feels opponents view him as a one footed player. In his last season in Happy Valley, he has made it a point to prove opponents wrong and show that he can play anywhere and score with either foot.
"Johnny has played every where," said Warming. "He has played as a forward, wide midfield and has played in the back. He is getting to become a better and better soccer player and there's not many left footed guys that can run like that and pass that well."
Gallagher and the Nittany Lions will travel to Evanston this weekend to take on Northwestern before coming home one last time to play Ohio State on Oct. 28 for senior day.