Vanderbilt hosts their western I-40 rivals Memphis in a preseason exhibition match to start the 2021 season. The Tigers have played two preseason matches so far with a 1-1 draw against UT-Martin and a 2-0 win at Auburn. The win at Auburn included both goals being scored after the 86th minute. Unlike Vanderbilt’s first opponent, Memphis returns much of last season’s production and their goalkeeper who started every match.
By my count, Memphis has 7 field players returning who started all 12 matches. They also return 11 of the 17 goals scored and 10 of the 14 assists tallied. Grace Stordy and Tanya Boychuk return after being two of the four Tigers to score three times. Mya Jones (4), Kimberly Smit (2), and Stella Downing (2) were the only players with multiple assists and all 3 return. Memphis should test the defensive structure and execution while Elizabeth Moberg reprises her role in goal after allowing 10 goals in 12 games while stopping 26 of 36 shots on goal. Yes, Memphis only allowed 3 shots on goal per game, so Vanderbilt’s attackers will have a chance to surge ahead in a tight series of position battles up top.
Memphis finished second in the American during their spring season by going 8-4 (6-1). This included a 3-2 OT win on West End against the Commodores. That contest was scoreless until Memphis scored in the 62nd minute then added to their lead in the 73rd. Haley Hopkins would score in the 77th minute before teeing up Abi Brighton for a sweet volley in the 88th. Unfortunately, Boychuk scored just under 6 minutes into extra time to seal the win for her team.
My instant analysis of the first exhibition against Chattanooga can be found in the comments section of the Chattanooga game thread. Coach Ambrose certainly threw me a curveball with his starting lineup and 4-4-2 formation using a diamond midfield. Because of course what seemed obvious to stay the same had to change and make a large chunk of my preview work seemingly useless. I am still not sure they will not morph back to the 3-5-2, but the 4-3-3 coverage seems more likely to be useful since that formation was used for the final third of the first exhibition.
The 4-4-2 is probably the most used formation in soccer. The shaping of the midfield and how players move during buildup play can be varied so many ways. The particular variant employed by the Commodores has a standard back 4 with a holding/defensive midfielder in front of them. That midfielder forms the base of a diamond shape with the three other midfielders at the points. However, this formation tends to play more like a 4-3-3 the most basic 4-4-2 where the midfield is a flat four that is basically a second layer just like the 4 defenders.
The midfielders on the right and left of the diamond are not true “right/left mids” because a true right mid or left mid will be very wide. If you drew imaginary lines extending vertically along the wide boundaries of the 18-yard box (penalty area), a right/left mid is going to spend most of their time in these wide areas. In a diamond 4-4-2, the players on the right and left will stay inside of those imaginary lines to leave those spaces open for outside backs to step up in the attack, as in the 4-3-3 we discussed in the previews.
Up top, the two forwards/strikers will play essentially the same as in the 3-5-2. Both of them stay more centrally and allow the outside backs and the midfielders to provide the wide play. The player at the point of the diamond is an attacking midfielder looking to provide for the forwards while creating their own scoring chances.
As I said, the Commodores did switch to a 4-3-3 for the 3rd period of the exhibition. They looked more dangerous and free flowing in the attack from this setup. It also allowed a few Vanderbilt players to get into more natural positions, namely Kimya Raietparvar and Abi Brighton. Both of them were asked to play on the sides of the diamond and neither looked comfortable. Raietparvar was not able to cover the amount of ground necessary while Brighton’s problems were more along the lines of a player learning a new position or attacking plan, which it was.
The competitions for playing time certainly ramped up. Defensively, Shamburger, Antoine, and Harriot (who was very active and effective) all have spots firmly held, especially with the Hustler seeming to report Myra Konte will not play this season. Hetzel probably has her own place secured even though Alex Wagner was impressive in her substitute appearance at left back. The midfield rotation heavily depends on formation with Madi Allen and Quinn Cornog both played exceptionally at the base of the diamond. Both can also play in the holding roles of the 4-3-3 midfield, and one of them could displace Raietparvar but probably not Abi Brighton.
Amber Nguyen looked like the lock at attacking mid no matter the formation. The ball needs to find her feet a lot more. She looked well prepared to attack defenders on the dribble then either distribute or take them on herself. Still, it will be very difficult to unseat Raegan Kelley when she presumably returns to action. Beyond her, the forwards were interesting. Peyton Cutshall and Alex Kerr starting was somewhat expected, but I am not sure if that pairing is the best option. Cutshall was taller and more physical than I remembered. One exhibition is not enough to write either or both off, but other forwards showed better.
Sophia Gorski scored both goals and in very different manners. One was a great job getting deep in the box then cutting back to open herself for a gorgeous back post shot that the keeper had no chance to save. The second goal was right place, right time after a short corner routine and headed effort dropped the ball to her foot on the edge of the 6-yard box. However, she was not alone. Freshman Abbie Porter was tenacious and aggressive, especially when playing as a wing in the 4-3-3. Rachel Deresky also got a chance up top and looked good with Gorski even without doing anything particularly impactful. They just paired well and created a little havoc for the Chattanooga defense.
Unfortunately, I do not think any of us will get to make our own judgments on the second exhibition. I am not driving to Memphis for this match, and it does not appear any streaming option will be available. I will keep up with whatever coverage the team or Memphis provide via Twitter. If a streaming option is found, I will pass it along. The match kicks off at 6PM CT.