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Soccer Position Previews: Midfielders

Good morning! I suggest getting some coffee because this includes some back and forth about formations.

Syndication: Tallahassee
She’s #4, not #24, now, but Raegan Kelley is no less fiery.
Joe Rondone/Democrat,

For those of you who are or want to get into soccer, there is a reason this is up so early. Today is the first Saturday of the English Premier League season. Feel free to turn the comments into a watch thread for whatever game you turn on. If you have Peacock Premium, the first game of the day has just kicked off between Fulham and Liverpool. Four more Peacock offerings will be on at 10 AM EDT with the final real TV offering at 12:30 PM EDT on USA Network when Everton and Chelsea kick off.

Midfield is where Vanderbilt has had the most turnover. Maddie Elwell is the clear and obvious biggest loss here and overall. Madi Allen and Quinn Cornog were stabilizing pieces in the Vanderbilt midfield. Cornog leaving especially stings since she joined conference foe Texas A&M after being named to the All-SEC Freshmen team. Mairin Boyle (54 minutes played) and Karissa King (did not play) chose not to use their extra year of eligibility afforded by COVID based on very limited playing time. Mya Swinton did not appear last year for unknown reasons after appearing as a substitute in 14 of 16 matches as a freshman in 2020. I could not find any information about a transfer. Finally, Shania Diaz decided to transfer to Furman after only playing 21 minutes as a freshman.

Mia Castillo is the biggest addition in the group. She started 6 matches and played in 9 more for the San Diego Toreros. She finished 12th on the team in minutes played but only managed 4 shots with 2 on goal. An article about her signing with SD also mentions her as a “midfielder/defender,” so she may well be a direct replacement in the mold of Allen and Cornog who will play beside assumed lock to start Abi Brighton. Or Castillo could be a wide midfielder on the edges in a 3-5-2 where her combination of defending and attacking would be necessary. This second option seems possible since the lone video I can find of her playing is a slide tackle with her recovering from a wide position. She may have just been caught out on that play. Castillo also has 3 years of eligibility remaining.

Fellow transfer Brooke VanDyck joins from Notre Dame. She is a graduate transfer and will spend only the one season competing on West End. She played in all 22 games for the Irish last season and started 16. VanDyck scored twice and assisted once. She played 60+ minutes in all 3 of ND’s NCAA Tournament games. Notre Dame’s Twitter videos show her career goals all coming from central locations, typically getting on the end of low crosses. After seeing those highlights, I would expect her to start beside Brighton or maybe beside Raegan Kelley in a slight twist on the 4-3-3 midfield where Brighton would be alone at the base with Kelley and VanDyck in advanced roles.

So, who starts? Abi Brighton, Raegan Kelley, and Amber Nguyen can all be expected to start no matter the formation chosen. Brighton will be in a defensive/holding midfielder or box-to-box role (meaning she will start deeper in midfield but have freedom to join the attack). She is a high-energy, strong-tackling, wonder goal-scoring engine. Brighton powers the Commodore attack and defense from her spot just in front of the back line. Kelley will be a central attacking midfielder right behind the forwards, or may even be used as a forward, though she is listed as only a midfielder on the roster. She is a very intelligent attacker who makes crafty runs to create space and has the technical ability to create goals with passes through and into tight spaces. Nguyen has primarily been a wide midfielder or winger (very similar but wingers have less defensive responsibility), but she also played in Kelley’s CAM role when Kelley pushed into the forward line. Nguyen is dynamic with the ball at her feet taking defenders one-on-one either out wide or in tight spaces then whips in crosses that beg to be scored.

The “good” news is that most of the midfield structure does not change much between the 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 (or even a 4-1-4-1, which is just a 4-3-3 with the wingers pulled back a little). There will be 3 central midfielders. One will be a defensive/holding midfielder, and another will be an attacking midfielder. The third midfielder will be tasked with balancing attack and defense depending on the tactics Coach Ambrose employs.

My best guess is that in a 3-5-2 either Castillo or VanDyck will start beside Brighton with the other battling Hetzel, Aidoo, and Alex Wagner for the left wide midfielder slot while Nguyen starts on the right and Kelley at CAM. In a 4-3-3, I would expect that only one of Castillo or VanDyck starts and will be paired with Brighton with Kelley at CAM and Nguyen joining the forward line as a right winger.

If it feels like I am discounting the returners outside of the trio discussed, I am. Kimya Raietparvar played the most minutes of that “rest of the returners” group, and she was only on the field for 286 minutes across 9 matches (3 starts) which ranked 17th on the team. She is a serviceable player, but she was clearly beaten out by Allen and Cornog last season. The next highest minute earner was her sister, Vida Raietparvar, who only played 65 minutes.

While I do not see either playing in midfield, Peyton Cutshall and Alex Kerr are listed as Midfielder/Forward. Cutshall has spent all, or nearly all, her time at forward at least since returning from a serious injury that cost her the back half of the 2019 season and the fall portion of the 2020 season. Kerr has played as a forward since stepping on campus. I do not see either spending time as wingers that might be identified as wide midfielders in a 4-1-4-1 or similar formation either, but I could be wrong. They will get plenty of coverage in Monday’s preview of the forwards.

Down to just the two freshmen, I stumbled onto an article from Vanderbilt that includes comments from Assistant Coach Ken Masuhr about all the incoming freshmen. Hannah McLaughlin is probably going to be an attacking midfielder or wide midfielder or even winger. She set her high school’s single season goal scoring record as a senior. Masuhr mentions a “mentality that is infectious within her teammates,” so maybe she will be a former attacking player dropped into a deeper role. Ally Bollig brings the other end of midfield since she was a defensive midfielder or even center back for her club team. Masuhr touts her soccer IQ and communication skills along with her aerial ability. There might be some opportunities for these two to see the field since midfield’s expansive responsibilities can bring about more substitution while coaches tend to prefer continuity at goalkeeper and defender. It just depends on how quickly they can acclimate to the college game and what they bring to the table.

Also, I was going to inquire about the possibility of fan attendance at the exhibition against UAB on Monday at 6 PM until Vanderbilt put out their promotional schedule for the year. They included Monday’s match as having a poster giveaway, so that answered my question before I asked. Admission is free and includes a poster. Plus, you get the first look at a team in Black and Gold competing for the 2022-23 academic year. I will be there and probably turn the Forwards preview into a live thread while also having a full recap later in the week.