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Soccer Preview and Game Thread: Arkansas (SECT)

The SEC Tournament has moved from Orange Beach to Pensacola, but the trophy’s home has been the Volunteer State the last two seasons.

Senior night was last Thursday, but they are still fighting to play a few more games as a team

Vanderbilt went to Knoxville and spurned a chance to be the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament. The 2-0 loss to the hated rival knocked the Commodores down to the #5 seed. It was not a bad performance, but it was one players and coaches should have walked away with some lessons learned. The Dores were without starting goalkeeper Kate Devine and target forward Peyton Cutshall. Devine has a capable, though less commanding, backup in Sara Wojdelko. Cutshall has no direct replacement due to her aerial strength and clever linkup play. Vanderbilt did not shy away from the challenge against the #21 Volunteers though.

Vanderbilt (left) struggled to get the ball into high danger areas against Tennessee.

The total possession split is acceptable on the road at a Top 25 team. Having 59% of your time on the ball spent in your own half is poor. Meanwhile, 62% of Tennessee’s possession was closer to Vanderbilt’s goal than their own. At halftime, Vanderbilt was being outshot 9 to 1, and Tennessee finally took advantage by scoring early in the 2nd half. The Commodores responded well by outshooting the Volunteers 8 to 4 in the 2nd half.

Alex Kerr was the best attacking option for Vanderbilt in Knoxville.

Lindsey Romig came up big for the hosts, but she was only forced into one difficult save. The Dores played their best game yet in the 4-4-2 Diamond, but that bar would serve well as a hurdle in Dachshund racing. The coaching staff must see something, but I am missing it. Still, playing well on the road against a Top 25 team in a match for a division title without your most influential forward is impressive. The players stepped up to the challenge and just could not quite find the final ball necessary to bulge the net.

Sara Wojdelko had another decent performance deputizing for Devine. She is not as aggressive nor does she deter through balls as well as Devine. The difference probably helped Tennessee on their first goal, which was on a corner tight to the 6-yard box at the back post. The second goal was from a poor challenge by Abi Brighton that conceded a penalty. Wojdelko went the right way but could not reach a well-placed shot.

As the #5 seed, Vanderbilt plays in the final match of the second round against a familiar foe, #4 seed Arkansas. The Razorbacks are #9 in the United Soccer Coaches Top 25. They already beat Vanderbilt once this season in Fayetteville. The Hogs struck twice in the first 5 minutes then added an exclamation point just after halftime to seal up the 3-0 victory. I do hope Vanderbilt sticks with the aggressive, positive mentality from that game. The first goal was a fortuitous deflection that was knocked into the net without hesitation. The second came via an inch-perfect cross that was deftly flicked just inside the far post. When a team can score high-quality goals like those, your best defense is to keep the ball away from them. Vanderbilt has the midfielders to do so if they are deployed properly and played a connected game.

To that point, Vanderbilt was just outside the Top 25 before playing Tennessee, coming in with the 30th most votes. After the loss, the Commodores received only one vote for the 25th spot, which puts them as the 41st most votes received. I doubt Coach Ambrose is voting for his own team, so someone has faith in the Dores. They may be in good position for an At-Large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but they can solidify their place with a win or two in Pensacola. Three wins earns the automatic bid as SEC Tournament Champions.

So far, the tournament has been exciting. Ole Miss and LSU got things started Sunday with a scoreless draw that Ole Miss won 3-0 on penalty kicks. The fireworks in that game were provided by a literal fight where 2 Bayou Bengals and 1 Rebel were given red cards for their behavior. The second match between Texas A&M and Mississippi State also went to OT after the Aggies equalized in the 85th minute. State would walk it off 9 minutes into OT.

Today, Ole Miss had their run end with a 3-0 loss to South Carolina. Georgia would pull the 2-0 upset over defending champion Tennessee. The #1 seed Alabama just knocked off Mississippi State 2-0. The winner of Vanderbilt-Arkansas squares off with the winner of that match. The Razorbacks are looking at winning tonight and Thursday as a chance to guarantee themselves a home match in the first round. A win for the Commodores should certainly lock them into the tournament field, if they are not already there.

Kickoff is slated for 7:30 PM CT from the Ashton Brosnaham Soccer Complex in Pensacola, Florida. The match will be televised on SEC Network with streaming via WatchESPN. Lineups will be posted when they become available. I think I saw Kate Devine in a behind-the-scenes sneak peek the SEC posted of the team. If it was her, she was dancing, so Vanderbilt may have their starting goalkeeper back at least. The other injured Commodores are an unknown, but I think Deresky is probably done for the season since no update has ever been given on her.