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Soccer Preview and Game Thread: South Carolina

Football is not the only sport facing a series of Top 25 opponents.

Back home for a chance to take second in the SEC East away from the visitors in the chase for Tennessee.

The result was worse, but Coach Darren Ambrose surprised me by going with a more positive plan at #9 Arkansas than we saw against Georgia at home. Instead, the diamond midfield version of the 4-4-2 deployed in the previous home match, Coach Ambrose fielded 5 midfielders between striker Peyton Cutshall and the set-in-stone defensive four of Alex Wagner, Ella Shamburger, Maya Antoine, and Abena Aidoo. Hannah McLaughlin and Abi Brighton had their familiar roles as holding midfielders with the ability for one of them to join the attack. Reagan Kelley, Amber Nguyen, and Brooke VanDyck formed an attacking midfield trio that was free to interchange and even overlap Cutshall up top.

Vanderbilt managed to get off 2 more shots against the much better Razorbacks. Unfortunately, still only two of them were on target and none of them found their way across the goal line. A better output against a better opponent is important. The home-away factor is also not trivial. It is one of the most inexplicable thing in sports, but soccer typically has a significant advantage for home teams. Players do have to communicate, but, unlike American football, the home fans cannot just make noise when the away team has the ball. Both teams are trying to talk at all times. Whatever the reason is, performing better against a higher-caliber team on the road is important.

Vanderbilt (left) was unable to keep Arkansas from spending a lot of time with the ball within striking distance of Kate Devine.

For as proud of the tactical adjustment as I am, the Dores were outclassed. Yes, maybe the tactics used against Georgia keep this 2-0 instead of 3-0, but it also could have meant Arkansas had the ball even more and was able to do more damage. The goals they did score were definitely more about Arkansas’s ability, not Vanderbilt’s lack thereof.

The opening goal came in the first 2 minutes via a driven pass deflected right into the pass of the dangerous Anna Podojil, who slotted the ball into the very bottom right corner. Then, two minutes later, an inch perfect pass to Ava Tankersley was flicked high to the back post to where no goalkeeper on the planet could save it. The 2-0 advantage would persist until the 49th minute when a corner kick was headed home by Bea Franklin.

Cutshall is always eager to take a crack, and that is valuable in a striker when the team is not creating enough clear-cut opportunities.

Cycling Addie Porter and Alex Kerr with Cutshall up top, or even as one of the attacking mids, can really change the look of the attack without explicitly changing the tactics. Caroline Betts is still playing with a face shield, and she slotted in at attacking mid a few times. Rachel Deresky’s absence is looming large though. Ella Zimmerman’s increased time on the field is a noteworthy development. I doubt she is going to unseat Aidoo or Wagner, but increased confidence in her as a substitute will let those two attack more freely knowing they have a quality replacement if they need a breather.

The task tonight is not much easier. Vanderbilt is back at home, but the #24 South Carolina Lady Cocks are in town. South Cackalacky is 9-2-3 (4-2-0) with the only losses coming at #2 Alabama (0-2) and at home against #7 Arkansas (0-1). The draws were 0-0 versus NC State, 2-2 versus Clemson (just outside Top 25), and 0-0 versus #4 Florida State. The Lady Cocks are a stiff test, but they play a style that may play into the Commodores’ feet. Only 24 goals have been scored in the 14 matches played with SC scoring 18 of them.

Catherine Berry is leading the attack with 5 goals and 2 assists. Shae O’Rourke has 3 of each type of goal contribution. Samantha Chang, Megan Spiehs, and Claire Griffiths all have 2 goals yet no assists. Corinna Zullo has the opposite stat line. The only other South Carolina players involved in multiple goals are Payton Patrick (1G 2A) and Eveleen Hahn (1G 1A). Three others have a goal or an assist.

Jylissa Harris leads the defenders in the same way Ella Shamburger does for Vanderbilt. Harris recently broke the program record for starts at 94. She has only been off the field for 3 minutes this season. Behind the stalwart defender, Heather Hinz is the backstop and has started all 14 matches for South Carolina this season. She has made 43 saves on 49 SOG and has recorded 9 (NINE!) clean sheets. Yes, only 5 of 14 opponents have scored against the Lady Cocks.

Against a team that is so conservative, it can be very tempting to match their style since you are so unlikely to break through. I would argue the opposite is the best plan. You know they are stout at the back so take as many hacks at them as possible. Be intelligent and try to avoid counter situations. Go at them though. Stay in this mode and do not revert to the Georgia plan. Maybe Deresky will be back to bring a spark.

Whatever alignment and personnel we see, the match kicks off at 7 PM CT from the Vanderbilt Soccer/Lacrosse Complex. Tonight is Pack the Plex night where they try to break the attendance record. Vanderbilt soccer scarves will also be given away, and they are awesome. The only other home match left is October 23rd against Mississippi State. If you stay home, the match will be streamed on SECN+/ESPN+.