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Soccer Preview and Game Thread: Western Kentucky

Vanderbilt heads to The Hill (sort of) for their third match of the season.

Syndication: Tallahassee
Keeping the focus on Kelley for one more match (at least)
Joe Rondone/Democrat

The Commodores are still sorting some things out, as I covered in my recap of the 1-1 draw against Purdue. Tonight, Vanderbilt heads up I-65 to Bowling Green to take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The game will be streamed on the Hilltopper Sports Satellite Network via Facebook Live. Kickoff is slated for 7 PM CT from the WKU Soccer Complex. WKU has smartly (?) announced a Black Out for the match to presumably prevent the hordes of Vanderbilt soccer fans from showing up the stream.

I will be in attendance with friends from Western, so any in-game coverage will be spotty at best. As always, if you are watching and have questions or something you notice, drop them in the comments. I will address all of them there or in the recap in the next match preview.

Where Vanderbilt is searching a bit, Western has blasted out of the gates. Both exhibitions were 1-0 wins over UT-Martin and Bellarmine. The regular season has had a Tennessee flair with both Austin Peay and Union University visiting Bowling Green. The Hilltoppers won those matches 2-0 and 3-0, respectively. Katie Erwin has been involved in all 5 goals with 2 goals and 3 assists. She should obviously be the focus of Vanderbilt’s defenders. Anna Hopkins, Briana Sayoc, and Mackenzie Crittenberger have each scored once while Avery Jacobsen and Lily Rummo split the assists.

Obviously, my attention will be on how Vanderbilt handles such a clear and present danger. I do not think she has quite warranted a man-mark situation where a holding midfielder is tasked with following her any time WKU has possession. Austin Peay and Bellarmine are not on Vanderbilt’s level. Shamburger and Antoine are excellent center backs and having two holding midfielders should make it possible to ensure Erwin is accounted for at all times without man marking her.

Western does not provide a lineup, but it appears they utilize a 4-3-3 based upon their two starting lineups and those players’ roster designations. They may elect to be a little more conservative with the step up in competition that a Top 25 Vanderbilt squad presents. If not, it should be an entertaining match with lots of attacking play.

In their Spring 2021 season, WKU amassed an 8-2-2 (4-0-2) record. That record was good enough to top Conference USA, but the Toppers fell 0-2 to Charlotte in the second round of the C-USA tournament. The Hilltoppers started with an inauspicious 1-4 loss at North Alabama. Goalkeeper Afton Schraml made 2 saves, allowed 4 goals, and has not appeared in a competitive match since the final whistle. Ashley Kobylinsky took over the net for the rest of the season and allowed 9 goals in 11 matches while facing 38 shots on goal. Kobylinsky and Alexis Bach have each played a full 90 to open this season. They have been called upon to make one (1!) save in two matches.

WKU scored 20 goals in those 12 matches by shooting 12.3 times per match with 6.5 of them being on frame. Erwin was the third leading scorer with 3 goals. Ambere Barnett, who is yet to appear this fall, led the team with 6 goals followed by Hopkins with 4. Brina Micheels and Sydney Ernst led the Toppers with 3 assists each while Barnett and Avery Jacobsen had a pair of helpers each.

Vanderbilt is facing a good opponent. They are not as good as the statistics this season say due to the level of competition. WKU is probably between Purdue and Tennessee Tech in terms of challenge, but the match is on the road. No, I do not think there will be a huge crowd. The opening two matches have had 163 and 154 fans. The travel is not difficult either. The good news is Vanderbilt did go to Memphis for an exhibition, so they should have some understanding of the expectations, especially those pertaining to lingering COVID protocols.

As a Top 25 team, Vanderbilt should win this match. They must make a statement by controlling the game and finishing their chances. It does not need to be a 3+ goal differential, but the Commodores should look to control the game and neutralize Erwin. In the attack, the runs away from the ball and decisions on where to play the ball need to show improvement. Duke is looming on Sunday, so Coach Ambrose’s squad would greatly help themselves by moving in the right direction going into that contest.