The Vanderbilt soccer team had only one game to open SEC play last weekend. The visiting Florida Gators managed to survive through a scoreless draw, including 2 10-minute overtime periods. The Commodores failed to turn utter domination into superiority on the scoreboard.
The home side had more shots on goal than the visitors attempted. Florida’s goalkeeper Alexa Goldberg had to play out of her mind to keep the game scoreless, and she was only credited with 7 of the 9 saves. Shots stopped by defenders are not normally credited as being on target. However, when the defenders are standing on the goal line, calling it a save sounds about right, even if I am not sure it is the proper way to score the game. It also felt like Vanderbilt had an even more substantial possession advantage, but I will trust the statisticians.
A performance like that only resulting in a draw can be very frustrating. I normally would be talking about missed opportunities, but this really was just an evening where the Florida defenders and goalkeeper would not be breached. No Commodore could find the unstoppable shot, but they put a lot of quality attempts on the Gator goal. The shooting was not poor, just never perfect. Most nights, they would have been rewarded with 2 or 3 goals. It did not happen. Such is soccer.
The Commodores have had plenty of time to mentally move on from the frustration and will be on the road tonight. Vanderbilt visits the team who has replaced Florida as the powerhouse of the SEC East, the South Cackalacky Lady Game Penises. Since 2009 (first SEC tournament championship), the Lady Game Penises have won the SEC tournament twice, been runners up once, and made the semifinals five times (including 2020). Being in the last 4 standing for your conference 8 of 12 seasons is impressive. South Carolina has also captured the regular season title in 2011, 2016, and 2017.
This season, they are 6-2-0 (1-0-0) with the only losses being 1-2 at Clemson and 0-1 versus Virginia Tech. The LGPs have outscored their opposition 16 to 7, outshot them 114 to 62, and outproduced SOGs 52-32. Corinna Zullo leads the team with 4 goals followed by Eveleen Hahn with 3 and 2 each from Jylissa Harris and Catherine Barry. Luciana Zullo (Corinna’s older sister), Payton Patrick, Clair Griffiths, Sutton Jones, and Lily Render all have tallied once. The goal scoring is obviously shared around with 9 players having put the ball in the net.
Ryan Gareis has proven to be an elite playmaker with 6 assists. Lauren Chang also has 4 helpers. Luciana Zullo has setup 2 goals while her sister Corinna has done so once. Samantha Chang (no relation to Lauren), Megan Spiehs, Harris, and Patrick all have solo assists as well.
To go with the goal scoring, the defensive work has been very good. Heather Hinz is the primary goalkeeper and has played all but 20 minutes for South Carolina this season. She has only allowed 6 goals and has recorded 2 clean sheets (shutouts). The defense is helping her out by only allowing 7.8 shots per game. The LGPs have only allowed multiple goals once, which was the loss at Clemson.
Vanderbilt is facing a much stiffer test in Columbia than the Gators brought to West End. Playing at the same level should produce a tightly contested match. The Dores just needed a moment or two of magic to break through Florida’s defense. If they had and forced the Gators to attack, more chances in behind would have opened. It will be a battle many expect decides the winner of the SEC East to have one of the coveted top 2 seeds in the SEC Tournament, which guarantees that team a place in the semifinals in Orange Beach.
Tonight’s match kicks off from Stone Stadium at 6 PM CT. It will be streamed on the SEC Network+/ESPN+. The atmosphere should be outstanding since South Carolina averages over 2,000 fans per game most years. Lineups will be added below as they are released. I will not be in Columbia, so feel free to hang out in the comments to keep me from going insane alone.