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Soccer Preview and Game Thread: Georgia

The barking fools are in town tonight.

Back to defend home field against some mangy mutts.

Vanderbilt finished their battles with the Tigers of the SEC with a trip to Auburn, Alabama. The Commodores narrowly avoided defeat with a 90th minute goal for a 1-1 draw. The team record is now 8-1-2 (2-1-1). An early look at the SEC standings has Vanderbilt tied for first in the East with Tennessee since only division matches matter for division seeding, and both squads are 2-0-0 in division matches. However, if they miss out on tops in the East, it goes to full conference standings where the Dores are 7th. The SEC West has 5 teams at 3-1-0 or better with Auburn and Texas A&M both winless. The only point between them was the draw Auburn earned against Vanderbilt. In the East, Kentucky and Missouri are pointless while Missouri is 1-2-1. The bottom of the SEC has problems.

So, how should Vanderbilt feel after tying one of those bottom dwellers? It was on the road so probably not too bad. Auburn also has been stout defensively. Their three previous SEC matches were all 1-0 defeats, so they finally got a goal but also ceded one to fit with tradition. The Tigers keep the ball well but can run out of ideas of what to do with it.

Vanderbilt (left) had a slight edge in possession and shot attempts but did not create enough high quality opportunities.

As you can see, the game was played in the central half of the field. Vanderbilt did have the slight advantage in possession but would spend 63% of their time on the ball in the central half of the field. The Commodores had the ball there for 29.5 minutes. Auburn would possess the ball there for another 22.5 minutes. When 52 minutes of the 90 are spent battling for the ball in the neutral areas, the match tends to get cagey. This one got there quickly with Auburn seemingly more worried about protecting their lead than adding to it.

Kerr was dangerous early but was unable to beat Prohaska.

The hosts scored in the 18th minute on a long-distance effort that stayed high enough to beat Sara Wojdelko by nearly skimming the bottom of the crossbar. In my professional (technically true but barely) opinion, Wojdelko and Vanderbilt goalkeeping coach Kyle Roelke will have gone over some footwork issues that prevented a save. It was a fantastic shot, but I know how goalkeepers (and goalkeeper coaches) tick. It is not a forgiving life we live.

Wojdelko redeemed herself by making a superb save to deny a shot from 8 yards. The attempt came from nifty passing around Commodore defenders. A strong paw in net was the only thing stopping Auburn from doubling their lead just before halftime.

The tying goal would come via an exceedingly rare scenario. Vanderbilt played a deep pass into the Auburn penalty area. In the battle for the ball, a Tiger fell on the ball and trapped it under her. The referee judged that she was intentionally impeding play, and the properly protocol is an indirect free kick from the spot of the infraction. Yes, even though she was inside the 18-yard box, it would be an indirect free kick not a penalty kick. The Auburn players did the only thing they could do and formed an 11-woman wall across the goal line.

Since the free kick was indirect, at least two people had to touch the ball before it could enter the Auburn goal and count as a point for Vanderbilt. The original plan was a light touch from the newly healthy Amber Nguyen to Peyton Cutshall, but Cutshall’s shot slammed into one of the goal line defenders. It fell right to Ella Shamburger who ripped a shot that was partially blocked by the goalkeeper’s outstretched hand. The deflection was not enough to save Auburn though, and the ball whizzed into the back left corner of the net.

The Commodores had Sunday off and will return to the pitch tonight. With Amber Nguyen and Caroline Betts both appearing against Auburn after missing a few games for injury, the extra days of rest should give both of them a chance to impact the game closer to full strength. The Dores need their full complement against a foe like Georgia.

The Bulldogs are 8-4-0 (2-2-0) on the season. The two SEC losses were home matches against #8 South Carolina (0-1) and #5 Alabama (1-2). The other losses were versus Florida State (1-3) and at Wake Forest (0-1). Georgia appears to have stolen a page from the Vanderbilt playbook with how overmatched most of their nonconference was, and they have similarly dominated with 29 goals scored and 9 goals allowed.

Joyelle Washington and Dani Murguia lead the goal scoring with 4 tallies each. The trio of McKenzie Mallie, Tori Penn, and Taylor Rush have 3 goals apiece. Dasia Torbert rounds out the multigoal scorers with her pair of goals while nine other Bulldogs have beaten an opposing keeper once. Two of the single scorers are making their impact by setting up teammates. Madison Haugen has 6 assists, and Abby Boyan sits just behind her in a tie with Torbert at 5. McKenzie is the only other player with multiple assists at 4, but 7 more Georgia players have assisted on a goal this season.

Liz Beardsley has started all 12 matches in goal. She has faced down 39 shots on goal, but she finds herself in pressure situations often based on the 101 shot attempts taken her way. For reference, Vanderbilt’s keepers have faced 30 SOG and 68 total attempts. Saving 76.9% of the SOG puts her behind both Kate Devine (85%) and Wojdelko (90%). Beardsley has recorded 6 solo clean sheets and has one combined effort with her backup Lauren Swoopes has played 45 minutes all season.

Tonight’s match is at the Vanderbilt Lacrosse/Soccer Complex at 7 PM CT. It is the Paint It Pink night where fans are encouraged to wear pink as part of October efforts to awareness about breast cancer. There will also be $2 sodas and 12 oz beers along with bottomless popcorn. If you are too lame to make it down to West End, the game will be streamed on SECN+/ESPN+.