The Commodores had their first preseason friendly at home against UAB on Monday. Tonight, they are in Tuscaloosa to face the University of Alabama at 6 PM. There is no TV or online streaming coverage, but I will keep up with the live scoring and Twitter updates to post some notes and/or highlights if those are made available.
Vanderbilt’s first of two fall preseason contests was promising in some regards but left some lingering concerns. Tactically, Coach Ambrose kept to a 3-5-2 or 3-6-1 for all but maybe the last 10 minutes of the UAB match. They did appear to use a back 4 for the finish, but it was probably more of asking the weak side outside mid to hold deeper and protect on the counter as they tried to close out the game without conceding. The use of a 3-6-1 is probably also less intentional and instructional from the sidelines than it is player’s following their natural inclinations. The tactics were probably the same throughout.
Like with the previews, the assessment of the first time out starts with the goalkeepers. Sara Wojdelko started in goal and had a very comfortable 30-minute appearance with only one through ball that carried to her and one very comfortable save with a minimal effort dive to her left. She played the ball with her feet a few times and looked comfortable and capable enough doing it. Wojdelko appears to have the backup job locked up. Kate Devine was her usual reliable self, though there was one miscommunication or misplay that she had to scramble away. Other than that, it was pretty simple work for a keeper of her caliber.
Defensively, they were as good as could be expected. Ella Shamburger was basically perfect. Abena Aidoo was a very solid left CB in the trio. Maya Antoine was the star of the show defensively. She was winning balls both through tackles and interceptions then distributing or even carrying the ball into the attack. It was a really impressive display from her, and I loved it after questioning her at times last season. The only other defender to play was Olivia Stone, who got 30 minutes of action in the CB trio. To put a point on how good the defensive work was by the entire time, UAB only managed 2 shots for the entire game.
The wide midfielders showed some promise and depth. Alex Wagner and Tina Bruni got the starts. Wagner’s speed down the left can be a real asset if she can grow into reading when and where to put the crosses. Bruni was okay but did nothing of note. She was the first player subbed off with Ava Hetzel coming on and playing well but also not delivery quite the service needed. Francesca Yanchuk got the next turn after Hetzel before Hillary Schroeder got her crack. The rotation flipped back to Bruni and Hetzel again. None of those four really stood out. Schroeder offered a little more in attack while Hetzel is likely best overall.
The rotation on the left was much stronger. Maddie Baker came on for Wagner and brough a similar threat with similar room for growth before Caroline Betts got a chance on the flank. I think she is more suited for a place at striker, but it is intriguing that Coach Ambrose trusts her with the defensive responsibility this formation has of its wide midfielders. She was decent enough, though less impressive than fellow freshman Baker, and registered a shot on goal that required a mid-grade save. A nifty no-look pass by Amber Nguyen a couple yards outside the box caught her off guard, and the late reaction meant the shot was rushed. Wagner and Baker will make a good tandem, and the pace they bring will wear some teams down or force less talented players on to defend them just to match the legs.
The central midfield rotation was fun and provides a lot of options and depth. Abi Brighton, Mia Castillo, and Amber Nguyen got the start. I think that stays the same unless Coach Ambrose pushes Nguyen to the right midfield spot and pulls Raegan Kelley back from a forward spot if he feels like a viable option steps up there. Brighton and Castillo were hounding any Blazer who touched the ball in dangerous areas in front of the back 3. Brighton got forward a few times and just mishit what would have been another fantastic goal to add to her highlight reel. Castillo kept it simpler and gave Brighton that license forward. Nguyen setup the third-best chance of the night, which fell to Betts. Her quickness must be terrifying to defenders, and she can become a serious threat if she can create a little more with her passing off the dribble. Kelley dropped in a few times and created the second-best chance by slipping Baker in down the left 1on1 with the keeper, but the shot stayed just wide.
One substitute in central midfield also shined. Brooke VanDyck is very quick and energetic. She played both the attacking and defensive mid roles. The best linkup play probably came with VanDyck paired with Kelley as one of the forwards. VanDyck nearly headed home but was denied point blank after a cross from Baker. Kimya Raietparvar also got a run out as Castillo’s replacement. She had a quiet appearance.
Up top, things are still a work in progress. Kelley and Alex Kerr got the start. Kerr looked to be improved but still lacks the dynamic element to be a real threat. She is good at a whole lot but is not great at any one thing. She does not have the aerial or technical ability of Peyton Cutshall or the pace of Sophia Gorski or Rachel Deresky. Kerr is a good player though. Deresky got her chance to follow Kerr and looked to be just off the flow of things, which is somewhat expected in preseason. I saw some little things in how she played off Kelley and Nguyen that were encouraging.
Gorski joined Deresky to start the 2nd 30-minute period, and she might have been the most disappointing Commodore. I probably was too high on her based on her play, though without results, just before her injury last season. Again, it is preseason, and the attacking chemistry can take time to gel. Cutshall came on and was as expected with solid combination play and a threat in the air. It is going to take time to figure out some roles and rotations between the forwards and how Nguyen and Kelley are deployed. I will be keeping an eye on the substitutions in tonight’s live stats for that reason. Vanderbilt’s minutes played are also flawed because Hannah McLaughlin never got onto the field but was credited with 72 minutes played after inaccurately being listed as coming on and subsequently never being noted as coming off.
Normally, I will do a hard look at the opponent, their returning production, and how their season has gone so far. This is Alabama’s only preseason contest, and the roster combinations we see tonight will be a lot of mixing and matching. Alabama’s preview of the match does give some quick hitter information about the Tide that should make them a good final test before regular season play begins. First and foremost, Alabama has its first eleven and 80% of the total roster back from a year ago. Alabama also captured its first ever NCAA Tournament win last season, so they are a program on the rise with that much of the team still playing together.
Check back in 2 hours or so to see if anything cool happened.