We have reached the part of the position previews I have mentioned but really do not want to think about, much less address directly. Vanderbilt must replace Haley Hopkins who had been expected to stay for her extra COVID-related eligibility. Then she transferred to Virginia. The Commodores were already searching for a strike partner for her when playing with 2 forwards in the 3-5-2, but her loss means both spots (or the single “striker” spot in the 4-3-3/4-1-4-1) are open. Like with the midfielders, the forward discussion will be split in two based on the expected formations based on previous seasons under Ambrose.
In the spring, Alex Kerr started all five matches alongside Hopkins, so I would pencil her in as one of the two forwards. The other spot is interesting. Peyton Cutshall is now listed as a midfielder/forward on the roster, so she could move into that role. Cutshall only played in 3 games in the spring for a total of 70 minutes due to injury, which I think was a carry over of her season-ending injury from 2019. She had started the first 10 matches of the 2019 season with 2 goals. The other player with experience who might contend is Sophia Gorski. She played in 9 of the 16 games (no starts) last season as a freshman and scored a single goal in just 182 minutes on the pitch.
Other than those 3, the returning forwards are Ashtyn Fink (5 minutes last season and 73 minutes in 2 total seasons), Tina Bruni (7 minutes last season, which was her first on West End), and Karissa King (0 minutes last season and 569 minutes in two seasons before 2020). Beyond finding a starter, it can be concerning to have such little depth at any position. Coach Ambrose went and got some new talent that may be both the future AND present.
The 2021 Vanderbilt recruiting class included three potentially impact freshman listed as forwards. All rankings will be via TopDrawerSoccer. Addie Porter was #199 overall and the #60 forward. She was involved in the ODP Region Camp in 2018, was All-State in 2019, and attended a US Women’s Youth National Team camp in 2020. Rachel Deresky was #156 overall and #51 forward. Her ridiculous accolade list includes being First Team All-State in both 2018 and 2019, winning back-to-back state championships in those years while scoring 4 of her team’s 5 finals goals, setting a league record with 49 goals in 2019, breaking the league’s career scoring record with 122 goals, and being part of the joint Player Development Program from the Washington Spirit and US Soccer in 2019 and 2020. Hillary Schroeder was the highest ranked recruit at #99 overall and #31 amongst forwards. Oddly, she does not have the laundry list of accolades you would expect from that ranking, but Schroeder was the top scorer for her club team from 2016 to 2020, trains at the US Soccer Training Center, and won the Manchester City Endurance Test. The fourth forward in the 2021 class is Myla McLeod. She was unranked but also started for the Region 1 ODP team from 2016 to 2018. Yes, we have young talent that can be expected to score a lot of goals in gold. It just depends on how quickly they can open their accounts and whether they can score early AND often.
I know exactly one thing for this setup. Maddie Elwell will be the left wing in the 4-3-3 or the left mid in the midfield 4 of a 4-1-4-1. What happens to all of those players above? In a 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1, they will be fighting for ONE spot. Cutshall probably comes out of the discussion based on her skillset not fitting with being a lone striker (the central forward), but she could move to the right. Gorski would probably be a better option at right wing instead of striker. That right wing/right mid spot would also be up for grabs, and I am not sure if any of the freshman fit better as a striker or winger.
For the uninitiated, the difference in striker and winger is a bit like the difference in a slot or outside WR. Players can typically play either spot to some extent, but at some point, the level of competition pushes you one way or the other based on where you fit best. To keep the comparison going, wingers are more like slot WRs. They tend to be the shiftier players who are more adept at dribbling and crossing than finishing (shooting). They are going to chip away at the defense and create opportunities for big plays. The striker is going to finish the big play. They may do it with height, strength, speed, or a combination of any or all of those three. Commodore fans got to see a striker with high-end combination of all 3 in Hopkins. She also had a little fire to her play, so let us appreciate how she reacted to drawing a penalty against Arkansas in the SEC Championship game one last time before we truly move on to life without her. I was looking forward to using this a LOT this season.