The Vanderbilt Commodores went to Gainesville, Florida, coming off a frustrating loss in OT at South Carolina. They would be without star forward Haley Hopkins. Head Coach Darren Ambrose decided to switch his tactics a bit without Hopkins and employed a 4-4-2 formation. Raegan Kelley moved from an attacking midfield role just behind the forwards to take Hopkins’s spot. The 4-person back line is Madiya Harriot, Myra Konte, Ella Shamburger, and Maya Antoine.
The formation change did not seem to alter the playing style very much. The outside backs, specifically Konte playing on the left of the defense, were aggressively getting forward. That is the beauty of formations in soccer. You can line up one way or another and use instructions for each player to create similar pressure as would be expected from another formation.
Konte’s work with Madison Elwell on the left side provide a pair of high-quality opportunities in the first half. The first had the two combine for a little passing pattern then Konte attempted a near-post cross that was too narrow and went out for a goal kick. On the second, Konte carried the ball past her defender to the end line and cut it back for Olivia Simmons near the PK spot. A Florida defender blocked the shot with a desperation slide.
Elwell almost created a goal via a slick corner kick routine, too. One runner came short, flashing across the near corner of the box before Kimya Raietparvar slipped free centrally at the top of the box. A hard pass along the ground from Elwell is redirected with plenty of pace and decent placement.
The Gators would be first to the scoreboard in the 41st minute. A through ball from 50 yards out turns Antoine to facing her own goal. The defender completely flubs her lines and only succeeds in tipping the ball on for Florida forward Maddy Rhodes, leaving Fuller stranded as the attacker slides the ball past her into the net.
The final minutes of the first half and most of the second half were cagey. Neither team created much in the way of danger. Then, with only 10 minutes left, Abi Brighton used force of will to barge her way through a couple Gator defenders on the dribble then lays the ball across the box for a right-footed one-time shot from Kelley that finds the far netting! The game is tied one all!
The Commodores stayed on the attack for almost the entirety of the final 10 minutes. Simmons would get in at a tight angle and rip a shot that was stopped easily but was struck with such force the Florida goalkeeper could only parry it into the center of the box. Florid is first to it and clears the ball away. Lindley for Florida would get a chance from about 10 yards out with a header but heads the ball into the ground for an easy save that Fuller saves with a collapse dive. The clean hold was vital with Gators ready to pounce on a loose ball. Elwell would create a final chance with 2 minutes remaining when she tees Alex Wagner up at the top of the box, but the curled effort just misses outside.
In the first overtime, the only shot attempted was by Florida. Parker Roberts would find herself with a little space 20 yards out. She rocketed the shot over the goal and into the parking lot well behind the goal.
A scary moment comes from a Florida corner kick. Brighton clears the corner and then has hard head-to-head contact with a Florida attacker who was trying to head the ball goalward. The freshman midfielder is bleeding but seems otherwise untroubled. She is conversing with trainers while they try to stop the bleeding.
Three minutes into the second overtime the Commodores, after having so much success down the left, found Leila Azari on the right side. Azari puts in a cross that Florida’s keeper fails to claim, instead staying on her line. The ball is knocked towards the goal and blocked or saved. Both a defender and the goalkeeper made an attempt at it. A scramble of bodies and legs ensues before Konte gets the final stab at the ball to get it across the line for a goal! After trying to assist with crosses all day, the defender is somehow in the right place to get the game winning goal.
This afternoon, the Commodores host the #15 Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia, 2-1-2, are coming off their first loss of the season after the Auburn Tigers took them down 1-0 in Athens. Prior to that match, the Bulldogs had won 1-0 vs South Carolina, drew 1-1 at Florida, won 1-0 vs Tennessee, and drew 1-1 at Kentucky. Clearly, the Bulldogs are not interested in high-scoring affairs.
Abby Boyan has 2 of their 4 goals with Jessica Denney and Chloe Chapman each tallying once. Mollie Belisle and Mallie McKenzie have an assist each. Emory Wegener has played every minute in goal and possesses a very impressive 0.875 save percentage. She has made 21 saves through 5 games, so her defense is likely doing a good job of not allowing shots from dangerous positions.
For Vanderbilt, they will need Haley Hopkins back. Hopkins is electric and adds an extra dimension to the Commodore attack through athleticism and intimidation. Her reputation as a goal scorer will draw attention and leave spaces open for others. Clearly, scoring against Georgia is not easy, but the Bulldogs also seem to have a strict rule about only scoring once per game.
A Vanderbilt win gets the record back to 0.500 and is key to building some momentum with only 2 games before the SEC Tournament starts. Today’s game is at 4 PM Central on ESPNU.