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Soccer Preview and Game Thread: Georgia

Vanderbilt has a lot to play for in their season finale.

Syndication: Tallahassee
Vanderbilt’s spark plug in midfield is a good bet to be a player who impacts such an important match.
Joe Rondone/Democrat,

The Commodores fell to 7-8-2 (4-4-1) after a 2-1 loss at Texas A&M on Sunday. The Aggies struck first on a corner kick header in the 20th minute. Vanderbilt struck back in the 30th minute when Maddie Elwell launched a pass up the left wing to Rachel Deresky who laid a ball across the box for fellow freshman Hillary Schroeder. Schroeder made no mistake and tucked the ball into the net low and away. Unfortunately, the tie would be broken with 23 minutes to play when Barbara Olivieri took a shot from about 25 yards out that found its way into the net over Kate Devine’s upstretched hand.

Vanderbilt (left) should have done a better job controlling the ball and not allowed A&M such a large possession advantage.

A&M’s possession advantage (59 to 41) led to more attacking opportunities but not as many as you would expect. More importantly, the shots on target were even at 4 a piece even though A&M led in shot attempts 12 to 9. Corner kicks being nearly even (5 to 4 home advantage) also indicates a more even flow to the match. This match was one where Vanderbilt failed to fully assert themselves, and they lost because of it.

The back-to-back road matches to end the season wraps up in Athens, Georgia. The Bulldogs are 11-4-2 (4-3-2). Outside of a 3-1 home win over #15 Clemson, Georgia’s nonconference slate was very soft. It included Campbell, Gonzaga, Georgia State, Belmont, Wofford, Presbyterian, and College of Charleston. Overall, Georgia has outscored opponents 46 to 24, but in only SEC games, the opposition is outscoring Georgia 17 to 13. The Bulldogs have the advantage in shots taken both overall (352 to 189) and in conference play (143 to 133), but you can see how much of the dominance in season statistics is based on the nonconference cake walk.

As such, it is important to look at individual performances both for the whole season and just in conference play. For the season, five Bulldogs have at least 3 goals. They are Mollie Belisle (15), Daniella Murguia (9), Danielle Lewin (7), Abby Boyan (5), and Tori Penn (3). The overall assists leaders were Murguia (11), Boyan (7), Madison Haugen (5), Mallie Mackenzie (5), and Belisle (3). However, when you turn to SEC-only games, the offensive production relies almost completely on Belisle (5G 3A) and Murguia (4G 4A). Four more Bulldogs have scored a single goal. Three have registered a single assist. Only Haugen is on both lists.

In goal, Emory Wegener has started all 17 games and only been off the field for 45 minutes all season. With so many lopsided early victories, I would have expected more time for the backups to help them acclimate or prepare if forced into action. Wegener is one of the best goalkeepers in the league and has been for a few seasons. She started as a true freshman in 2018 and started 17 of 18 matches on her way to recording 5 shutouts and a 1.06 goals against average. Wegener followed that up by allowing 0.90 goals per game with 5 more shutouts by starting 17 of 19 matches. Last season, she missed two starts but still recorded 7 shutouts in just 13 matches on her way to a Second Team All-SEC selection. This season, she has allowed 23 goals while making 63 saves and holds a 1.35 goals against average.

Tonight’s match is crucial for Vanderbilt’s post-season aspirations. The Commodores are on the NCAA tournament bubble and need a win to boost their resume. It also has major seeding implications for the SEC tournament. The vucommodores.com preview alerted me to some possibilities in play. Some I already knew.

A win would give Vanderbilt a shot at being the #2 Seed in the SEC Tournament. Since the top 2 seeds are determined by division winners and those are decided only by games against divisional opponents, Vanderbilt is two points back of divisional leader Tennessee. The Volunteers have 12 divisional points while Vanderbilt is tied with South Carolina and Georgia at 10. A win coupled with Tennessee losing or drawing versus Kentucky and South Carolina losing at Florida would give Vanderbilt the SEC East title. If South Carolina, holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over Vanderbilt, wins, Tennessee would need to tie with Kentucky to go to the third tiebreaker which is goal differential against common divisional opponents. Vanderbilt currently holds that edge and would need to maintain it over SC to win the division.

A win also most likely gets Vanderbilt into the top 6 seeds, which is massively important. The top 6 seeds in the SEC Tournament get byes through round 1 on Halloween and get to jump straight to Tuesday.

Conversely, a Vanderbilt loss could put them in a tie for 7th if Florida beats South Carolina and/or Texas A&M knocks off Missouri, who is awful this season, and/or Alabama loses to Auburn. I am not getting into all of the scenarios for who ends up with which of the bottom 4 seeds in that scenario. The Commodores cannot miss the SEC Tournament after Mississippi State lost Sunday evening to prevent any possibility of a 4-way tie for 7th.

The crucial regular season finale kicks off at 6 PM CT and will stream on the SEC Network+/ESPN+. The match will be played at the Turner Soccer Complex on Georgia’s campus. I will try to keep everyone updated on happenings around the league that directly impact Vanderbilt. Kentucky-Tennessee kicks off on the SEC Network an hour earlier while South Carolina-Florida starts a half hour before Vanderbilt. Texas A&M-Missouri is at the same time. Auburn-Alabama is an hour after Vanderbilt’s match.