Northwestern surprised pundits across the collegiate soccer landscape in 2022, as it started the season unranked in the coaches poll only to finish the year ranked No. 11. A major contributor to the ‘Cats’ success was defender Emma Phillips. She saw her minutes increase and her usage expand from 2021 to 2022. Now, heading into her junior season and on a team that’s currently ranked No. 18 in the nation, Phillips has plenty to live up to.
Who she is
Junior; defender; 5-foot-11; from Munster, In.; member of the 2018 U15 U.S. Soccer National Team pool and a 2017 ECNL National Championship Finalist.
80.1 minutes per game; three goals; two assists; 44.4% shots on goal; statistics for defenders are hard to keep track of, so these figures don’t give Phillips a fair showing.
Phillips got off to a good start in the 2022 campaign, as she and the rest of the backline let up only three goals in the first nine games of the season. More than that, the Indiana native and her teammates made it unbelievably tough for opposing attackers to get a shot on goal.
In the ‘Cats’ first-ranked win of the season, Phillips and Co. allowed only No. 19 Xavier to get off four shots on goal. That was the trend of the season. A few weeks later, against a Big Ten foe in Wisconsin, the rapid pressure applied by the unit was enough to limit the Badgers to one shot on goal in the entire first half.
Despite her best efforts on defense, Phillips’ claim to fame in 2022 was a go-ahead bicycle kick goal against Kansas State, which clinched both a comeback win and thousands of views across social media. The gravity-defying knock demonstrates Phillips’ ability to contribute on both ends of the pitch. Tallying eight points on the year, Phillips didn’t cross midfield much. But when she did, she was as good as any other defender at pushing the ball and finding the back of the net.
Phillips nabbed a Second Team All-Big Ten selection at the end of the season as recognition for her acrobatic goals and aggressive defensive tactics.
Phillips has developed the way that every coach prays for when they recruit a player out of high school. In her freshman year, she showed well in practice, earning her start in 14 of the 17 games played that season. In her sophomore outing, she started 20 of 21 games she appeared in.
The defender also saw a slight uptick in her minutes across her first two seasons, averaging about 77 minutes per contest in 2021 and a bit over 80 minutes per game in 2022. Last season was also Phillips’ first in which she scored a collegiate goal or nabbed an assist. Head coach Michael Moynihan is clearly interested in loosening the reins on his All-Big Ten defender, letting her cross the midfield line more and more as she’s developed.
What does this mean for 2023? Well, expect Phillips’ playing time to stay about the same, given there are only so many minutes she can play without rest. However, assuming nothing goes catastrophically awry, she’ll get the start in every game she’s healthy.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Moynihan continue letting his defender creep up the field, especially in crunch time. A utility player is never a bad thing to have in sports, and as Phillips gains seniority on the team, it makes sense that the coaching staff might want her to take the lead in as many departments as possible.
Her defensive production shows no sign of stopping, and considering NU’s elite goal protection last season, there isn’t much room to improve. Still, having a ball-hawking, scrappy, veteran defender like Phillips can only help a team that has high expectations heading into the season.