Vanderbilt finished the nonconference slate with nearby foe Middle Tennessee State University. The Commodores decided to honor the seniors early and debuted new Salute to Service jerseys utilizing a similar patriotic Star V to the ones baseball has used for years and football has employed a few times. The numerals on the jersey were also filled with a stars and stripes design. Unfortunately, the Blue Raiders ruined all the pomp and circumstance with 2 second half goals that turned a one-goal Commodore lead two thirds of the way through the match into defeat. Peyton DePriest showed why she is the leading active goal scorer in all of Division 1 soccer.
The home team had the better of basically every category except goals. It was another case of chance after chance but not enough finish. I was not watching closely since I was still in Colorado, but the match started evenly then Coach Ambrose’s side tilted the tables for the better part of the contest. Even when MTSU scored, the goals came on the counterattack after sustained Vanderbilt pressure failed to be converted into a goal.
The start of SEC play brings an interesting SEC East opponent. The Florida Gators have quite the soccer history. They can tout 8 First Team All-Americans including US Women’s National Team standouts Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts. The Gators have 1 national championship, 1 runner up, 6 total quarterfinal appearances, and 13 total round of 16s. They made the last 16 4 years running from 2014 to 2017. Since 2017, have only made the NCAA Tournament once (2019) but were under .500 in the other two seasons. Their start to 2021 has not given the Gator faithful much hope for a return to glory as Florida stands at 1-5-1. Incredibly, the Gators are 0-3-1 at home, where they hold an all-time record of 230-44-16.
Before anyone gets too into the mindset that this will be a cake walk, the Gators’ struggles need some context. Their schedule has included hosting #19 UCF (0-2 L) and #2 UNC (1-7 L) while visiting #20 USF (2-1 L) and #1 Florida State (5-2 L). Florida has faced a very strenuous schedule, so they should be battle hardened.
Even against that level of competition, the statistics are not pretty. Florida has been outscored 18 to 6, outshot 112 to 67, and beaten in SOG 53 to 33. Kit Loferski leads the Gators with 3 goals. None of their players has more than a single assist, so it is hard to identify the primary playmaker(s) without having watched them play.
The problem is Vanderbilt has shown they can control a game and not finish their chances. The Commodores have outscored their opposition 13 to 12 on the season, but you would expect a bigger gap considering the 123 to 67 shot tally and 60 to 36 advantage in shots on goal. One of the best indicators of the territorial lead Vanderbilt has had, without having season possession statistics available, is the 41 to 26 lead in corner kicks.
Coach Darren Ambrose is still trying to figure out the best lineup, which is rare. In the past few seasons, the best eleven have tended to be well defined. The real problem spot is the second striker beside Peyton Cutshall. Even her name is not written in pen on the team sheet. Almost every other spot except at forward (or attacking mid when Raegan Kelley is deployed as a forward) has been solidly locked down with Kate Devine the clear #1 in goal while Ella Shamburger, Maya Antoine, and Madiya Harriot make up the back 3. Ava Hetzel and Maddie Elwell are the starting wide midfielders. Abi Brighton is always going to be in midfield, and Madi Allen appears to have made the spot beside Brighton at holding midfield hers. Kelley or Amber Nguyen can be expected at attacking mid. At forward, I would like to see Rachel Deresky, whose first goal in gold was #5 on SC’s Top 10, play beside Cutshall.
Tonight’s SEC opener is scheduled for a 7 PM kickoff and will be on SEC Network+/ESPN+. Heavy rains have fallen in Nashville this afternoon, and more precipitation is in the forecast. Some rumbles of thunder have been heard in the area, too. If there is a weather delay, Vanderbilt soccer’s Twitter account will be the place for information first. I will be in attendance, so if rain is falling, my in-game comments may be rare as I protect my phone.