The Indiana swing continues with a match at Purdue today at noon on the Big Ten Network+. Vanderbilt is coming off a 3-0 win over Evansville that was about as dominant as humanly possible. The Commodores held the Purple Aces without a shot for 87 minutes, and that weak effort towards goal was the only one allowed. Vanderbilt racked up 27 shot attempts with 9 of them being on target. Look at the rest of the statistics, including a jaw dropping possession chart from Vanderbilt’s official stats.
Possession being more than 60-40 in one team’s favor is considered to be completely in control of the game. A 70-30 split is unfettered dominance. A 78-22 advantage is like playing FIFA on Beginner difficulty. Evansville only possessed the ball within 30 yards of Vanderbilt’s goal for 2 minutes and 11 seconds, which is 2.2% of the 90 minutes. Conversely, Vanderbilt controlled the ball in the attacking quarter of the field for 30 minutes and 11 seconds. In American football terms, this game was like not letting the opposing team’s offense cross midfield. Vanderbilt dominating was not surprising, though the extent was impressive. The individual performances from the Commodores carried the most intrigue though.
The glaring difference in assumed contributors and opening night was at the goalkeeper spot. Sara Wojdelko was not tested in the slightest, but her 90-minute appearance caught me off guard. Preseason had indicated she might start. However, even with that insight, it seemed like Kate Devine might play in the second half. Coach Ambrose went the entire 2019 season splitting time almost dead even between seniors Taiana Tolleson and Lauren Demarchi. Repeating goalkeeper rotation to that extreme was always unlikely, but I expected to see Devine for the second half against a clearly overmatched nonconference foe.
Moving outfield, the starting lineup was deployed in a 4-3-3. It looked a little different than I had seen Vanderbilt play in preseason, but they could have used this formation against Alabama. Alex Wagner, Ella Shamburger, Maya Antoine, and Abena Aidoo were the back 4. Abi Brighton was the holding midfielder in front of them with Amber Nguyen and Raegan Kelley centrally located in front of her. Alex Kerr was at left wing with Rachel Deresky opposite her. Peyton Cutshall was the striker.
The Commodores could not turn their territorial advantage into a lead on the scoreboard until the 31st minute. Deresky made a slashing run left to right across the top of the box and was slipped through by a fantastic pass by Kelley. Deresky slotted home calmly to score the first Vanderbilt goal of the season. The second goal would not come until just after halftime when freshman Caroline Betts cut back across her defender on the dribble then fired past the Evansville keeper at the near post. It was a confident and calm goal for a freshman. Betts would be back on the scoresheet when she headed a partially defended long free kick from Ella Shamburger to the back post for Raegan Kelley to nod home.
The score differential let Coach Ambrose play a lot of his roster for extended minutes. It was a good chance to keep the top players fresh for today’s matchup while also letting more players experience regular season action. Twenty-one Commodores seeing at least 19 minutes (used to include Sophia Gorski who was right at 19) is a luxury that probably will not be repeated too often, if at all, this season.
Outside of the goalscorers, Brooke VanDyck was very influential and probably should have assisted on a goal or two if not for poor finishing attempts by her teammates. Hannah McLaughlin did very well for herself at the holding mid role in place of Abi Brighton. None of the starters stood out as struggling, though Kerr may lose out to Betts for the LW starting spot if Betts keeps performing like she did Thursday. The only disappointment was a carry over from preseason. Sophia Gorski had 3 golden opportunities to score and scorned them all. It is still early though and getting yourself into positions for teammates to find you is half the battle. She has the talent to finish the chances she had, too, so it was frustrating not because she is a bad player but because she could have really gotten herself off to a hot start and built some instant confidence with a strong claim to starting at striker.
Everyone who gets on the field for Vanderbilt today will need to be at their best to leave West Lafayette with win #2 on the season. The Purdue Boilermakers started their season at home with a 3-0 win over #15 USC. The score line might have been the same, but Purdue understandably had a much harder time with the Trojans than the Commodores did with the Purple Aces. The possession stats are not available, but Southern Cal outshot Purdue 17 to 11, though the hosts had a 7 to 6 advantage in shots on goal. The goals came in the 44th, 59th, and 71st minute, so the match was tight but kept slipping away from the visiting Trojans.
Freshman Naomi Splittorff opened the scoring before sophomore Gracie Dunaway found the net twice to put the game away. Young scoring will be necessary for the Boilermakers. They have to replace Sara Griffith’s production. She scored 16 of the 37 Purdue goals last season and assisted on 3 more. The other contributors that moved on after 2021 are Ally Mussallem (3 goals and 2 assists), Teagan Jones (1 G and 5 A), Aly Mielke (1 G and 3 A), Maya Lamber (2 A), and Grace Walsh (2 A). With those losses, Purdue returns 43% (16 of 37) of their goals and 58% (23 of 40) assists. They looked ready to replace the lost goals and playmaking against a very tough opponent in game one. The Commodore defense will be tested after having a walk in the park on Thursday.
Vanderbilt will be facing more than just a very good team across from them on the pitch. Purdue drew 3,296 fans to Folk Field. It is a beautiful little stadium I saw when Vanderbilt football visited Purdue in 2018. That attendance blew out the previous record, set last season, by 1,171 attendees. Purdue was just outside the Top 25 to start the season, and their fans seem energized about the start of the season.
Unfortunately, the match today will be on Big Ten Network+. Unlike SEC Network+, BTN+ is a subscription-based streaming service. The cheapest option to see the game is a one-month subscription to Purdue content for $9.95. I am not signing up for another streaming service that I will forget to cancel. Hopefully, the Vanderbilt soccer Twitter will at least keep us up to date with highlights. It really is unfortunate because this match would be a great opportunity to see exactly what type of team we have very early in this season. As it is, I will try to keep on top of the match as best I can and pass it along.
The only change is Devine in goal in place of Wojdelko. It may be that those two will rotate all season (or at least until one of them separates in level of play), or the coaches wanted to get Wojdelko some competitive experience. It is something to watch but not a concern.