The general plan is to do a recap for the Sunday matches while the Thursday/Friday matches will be recapped in the preview for the next game. Bluntly, the rush of football content on Friday and Saturday means I will typically not have the energy to do a full recap between the weekend games. Reacting to one soccer game in a vacuum is also a bit like reacting to one baseball game, so this space will be mostly a recap of the Sunday game but also touch on trends that seem to be developing after the weekend of play.
The first thing I noticed watching today’s match was that Maddie Elwell seems a bit out of sorts as a winger. Moving up from wide midfield to winger is a transition tons of players make. For some, it takes no time. For others, they need some time, especially game time, to adjust. Then, of course, there is the group that never adjusts well whether it has to do with skillset, mentality, or whatever else. It is not skillset with Elwell. She is just making runs off the ball and decisions with it that are those of a midfielder, not a winger. She needs to be more aggressive getting forward when Vanderbilt is in possession instead of hanging back.
With the 4-3-3, she only has one attacking passing option in the striker unless she is putting in a cross. She needs to change how she sets up defenders to beat them off the dribble, which she is excellent at, then how she reacts after beating them. In the 3-5-2, she would beat one then look either inside to the attacking midfielder, who stays a touch deeper in that setup or up the channels to either striker.
However, the team as a whole might benefit from the lineup rearrangement. The striker position has been a struggle to sort out. Raegan Kelley has been pulled up from midfield to play there quite a bit. Peyton Cutshall has been very good at helping create chances with runs and holdup play but would benefit from a forward partner positioned a little closer to connect with on some short passes. Sophia Gorski and Rachel Deresky could also benefit from a move inside from right wing. Coach Ambrose had the team switch to the 3-5-2 for the last 10 minutes of regulation. He may want to experiment with using it as the primary deployment. Amber Nguyen would be a fantastic option at right mid, especially until Madiya Harriott is available again. When Harriott is back, Nguyen could return to her role off the bench rotating through basically the entire midfield.
Whichever formation is in use, the holding midfield spot beside Abi Brighton is in flux. Kimya Raietparvar is incredibly dependable. She just looks a step slower this season and has Quinn Cornog nipping at her heels. Cornog has looked more athletic but is still a bit behind on some of the assignment situations. Her talent is obvious though, and she probably offers more in the attack than Raietparvar. Raietparvar only played 26 minutes today after starting. She played the first 13 minutes then got 13 more minutes in the middle of the 2nd half.
We need to look at the statistics before I get to my next point because I have some complaints about passing, but they need to be tempered with the understanding of the level this team is playing at even with those mistakes.
The Commodores outshot the Boilermakers 19 to 9. The forward issues show up in the shots on goal numbers though, where Vanderbilt still held a 6 to 4 advantage. Only putting 31.6% of your shot attempts on frame is not good enough. A number of those were blocked while being goal bound. I know Brighton had a pair of shots that were on target but never got to the keeper, so they get scored as a shot attempt but not a shot on goal.
Cutshall again led the team in shot attempts with 4. Brighton matched that total with Kelley, Elwell, Shamburger, Nguyen, and Deresky firing twice each. Hillary Schroeder had a lone crack at goal. Cutshall had 2 of her 4 shots go on target while Kelley, Brighton, Nguyen, and Schroeder registered solo SOGs. The more I think about how Cutshall plays and how many shots she is getting off while isolated centrally the more convinced I am that having Gorski or Deresky playing closer while the midfielders provide service would be seriously beneficial.
The possession edge was slight at 54-46, but Purdue had slightly more time with the ball in the attacking half. The visitors were in Vanderbilt’s half with the ball for 31 minutes while Vanderbilt had their ball in Purdue’s half for 29 minutes. The Commodores were often content to slowly build up the attack, passing into midfield then back to defenders while slowly advancing as a team. The problem today was sloppy and weak passing. Brighton was guilty of giving the ball away cheaply a handful of times, which is exceedingly rare for her. She was not alone in struggling retaining possession. Thankfully, Ella Shamburger and Maya Antoine were cleaning up almost every mistake, including their own.
There have also been too many times where a midfielder looked up and could not find a good option for a forward pass. It is still early in the season. With the different formation, even returners are still getting comfortable with the patterns of play and responsibilities.
The problems seemed destined to sink the Commodores on a hot afternoon. A poor decision by Deresky after a Purdue corner led to the Boilermaker goal at the 34-minute mark. It was a typical freshman mistake where she tried something she could probably get away with previously. Instead of attempting a pullback in her own box, she just needs to clear the ball to safety. As the 2nd half ticked down, Vanderbilt could not find the way to unlock the Purdue defense. The passing and movement could not get on the same page to unlock the Purdue defense. The tying goal did not seem impossibly far away but was also going to require a moment of chemistry or individual greatness. Then, we got the magic moment from Devine and Cutshall at the death. And, as spectacular as the goal was, the way they finally got a goal is not a blueprint for future success.
As I said, this match was Vanderbilt soccer not clicking against a middling B1G opponent. This Commodore squad is very talented. None of the issues seem unfixable. It just depends on how Coach Ambrose wants to tinker. Does he stick with the 4-3-3 and keep tinkering at striker while working with Elwell on adapting? Or does he revert to the 3-5-2? Or might he even go to the diamond 4-4-2 we saw in some of the preseason? We might get some answers Thursday night in Bowling Green as the Commodores take on Western Kentucky.