After its 2-0 shutout of North Carolina on Saturday at KSU Soccer Stadium, the Beat have outscored their opposition 13-0. In Saturday's win, Atlanta allowed just two shots on goal, with both of them coming after the 85th minute.
Allison Whitworth, who replaced Allie Lipsher at halftime, earned both saves in goal, the second of which required a quick move to her left to punch the ball away from the net.
"That's the first thing that we are trying to establish, that we defend as a team, and we put as much pressure on the (player) with the ball as soon as possible," Beat coach James Galanis said. "I know we haven't conceded a goal, but (Saturday) was our best defensive performance so far. They didn't get a shot off until the 85th minute, so we're proud of that."
While the defensive effort has been focused on group efforts, much of the organization on the back line has been put together by Cat Whitehill, a U.S. national team veteran signed as a free agent by the Beat. Whitehill is surrounded mostly by players three to five years younger than she is, meaning the team has been more inclined to lean on Whitehill for leadership and knowledge based on her experience.
"I would hope to help as much as possible," she said. "I'm fortunate enough to bring in lots of experience. I played on a lot of teams - played on the national team for 10 years. I love that (Galanis) is building from the back because the cliche goes that defense wins championships. We know that, if the defense plays well, then the offense will come along with it as the year goes along."
Offensively, the Beat changed up their game plan somewhat against North Carolina. In its first exhibition with South Florida, Atlanta used one-touch passing to exploit holes in the midfield and charged out to the wings to cross balls into the box to create offensive chances.
In Saturday's match, North Carolina defenders played up, forcing the Beat to play long lob balls over the top of the back line to create chances. Though Atlanta's forwards were, by and large, speedier than the Tar Heels, defenders, it was difficult to always get the correct balance on each pass.
In the 16th minute, forward Megan Lenczyk received a properly weighted through ball from Lori Chalupny, which created a 1-on-1 situation with North Carolina goalkeeper Hannah Daly. Lenczyk beat Daly with a shot into the bottom of the near corner of the net to earn her first goal of the preseason.
North Carolina's defenders played further forward than the Beat saw when it faced South Florida and pushed more players into the middle in order to make it more difficult for Atlanta to organize its offense. The Beat used more lob passes over the top of the defense, and the midfield tried to find gaps in the back line to roll balls through to Lenczyk and fellow forward Kristina Larsen.
"I think we were trying to figure out what the best way to play around them," said Lenczyk, the Beat's second pick in the WPS draft. "Finally, our midfielders figured out that was the best way. Lori gave me a great ball through (the defense), and set me up on my goal.
"We were just trying to play our game, mainly just to find open space and keep the ball."
Lenczyk had four shots at the net in the first half and created problems for North Carolina's defense with her length and the timing of her runs.
The Beat's second goal came from the creativity of midfielder Megan Jesolva.
Throughout the preseason, the undrafted free agent has used her speed to beat defenders to balls in open space and created offensive opportunities purely through hustle. On Saturday, she scored in the 79th minute when she received a through ball from the midfield by newcomer Mercede Konning, cut inside and chipped the ball over goalkeeper Anna Sieloff, who charged out of the net to cut down Jesolva's angle.
"She's a class player and needs to touch the ball more over long stretches," Galanis said of Jesolva. "We need her involved in the game more often because every time she does get the ball, something exciting happens."
The Beat will play its next match against Florida State today at the Walden Soccer Complex in Columbus.