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Soccer Preview and Game Thread: Auburn

On the road to tame some Tigers. Take 2.

The Commodores have to do a better job sticking to their plan than they did against Missouri.

For the second game in a row, Vanderbilt won 2-0. The game in Columbia took a much different route to the final score line than the home match against Kentucky. The first away day in the SEC consisted of a hard-to-watch slog. Missouri was able to get Vanderbilt off their rhythm and force the visitors into the home team’s preferred style of play. For large stretches of the game, it devolved into a lot of hopeful long balls.

Vanderbilt (left) had fewer shot attempts but did a better job getting those efforts on (and in) the goal.

The Tigers chosen style of play pretty well explains the stat lines. Vanderbilt wanted to possess the ball but were sent chasing back towards their own net nearly every time they lost possession. Missouri created turnovers by getting numbers behind the ball (between the ball and the defensive goal) to clog up passing lanes. Getting tired of chasing passes over their heads and finding it very difficult to pass through or around the Yankee Tigers, the Commodores often let themselves fall into the trap of mimicking the opposition’s tactics. Too often.

Look at how little of Vanderbilt’s possession was in the attacking quarter of the field. The Dores spent less than 7.5 minutes in possession within 40 yards of the Missouri goal. On the other end, the hosts had the ball in the same position for just over 11 minutes. One of the few times Missouri did try to build from the back, Maddie Baker lept into action.

A soft back pass to a CB left the defender with no choice but to try to clear the ball across her own goal mouth from 25 or 30 yards out. That may seem like nothing, but even that far out passes across the goal opening are viewed as dangerous unless you are in comfortable possession of the ball. Missouri was not, and Baker redirected the clearance into the goal. It was a fluky goal, but it was enough.

Alex Kerr would score with less than a second to go in the game after collecting a cleared Missouri corner in the dying moments. The corner resulted in a dangerous chance that left starting goalkeeper Sara Wojdelko and defenders scrambling as it rattled off the upright. Kerr picked the ball up right near midfield and was in a game of cat and mouse with the keeper, who had pushed very high for the corner kick and was caught in no man’s land. Kerr resisted the urge to shoot early even though the net was yawning then slotted a nice shot into the net just before the buzzer.

Raegan Kelley was held without a goal or assist for only the 2nd time (LSU) this season.

Amber Nguyen returned from injury to get almost a whole half’s worth of time on the field. Caroline Betts and Kate Devine were still out. I am surprised Addie Porter did not get a little more time due to the way the game broke down. She has some pace that could have given Missouri trouble over the top. Coach Ambrose was either searching for a group willing and able to play typical Vanderbilt soccer, or he really trusts the depth with that depth usage. There really were not a lot of individual performances that stood out except for Wojdelko in goal.

Missouri only had 2 shots on goal, but both saves were impressive. Wojdelko is still not as polished on balls in the air as Devine, so hopefully that is a focus in training. Her play with the ball at her feet is also not up to the same standard, but she is good enough there to avoid concerns.

The Commodores are back on the road to face another set of Tigers. Auburn was ranked #14 in the country in the United Soccer Coaches poll after a 4-0-3 start with the draws at #2 Florida State (1-1), at Wake Forest (0-0), and versus #21 West Virginia (0-0). Then they tied Samford 1-1 at home to finish nonconference play and dropped to #23. Auburn has dropped their first three SEC matches, and all three have been 1-0 results. They have lost at Missouri, at #20 Arkansas, and versus #13 Ole Miss. Auburn soccer has routinely disappointed since I was a student. Alabama is, probably surprisingly, a hotbed of soccer.

Karen Hoppa has been the head coach since 1999, and she has made Auburn a consistent SEC contender. They just never can quite get over the hump with the best postseason results being an Elite 8 appearance in 2016. They also made the Sweet 16 in 2015. Other than that, Hoppa’s squad has made it to the Second Round or further ten of the sixteen appearances.

As the results indicate, Auburn does not score a ton of goals. They also do not allow many. So far, the Tigers have netted seventeen times while conceding only six times. Anna Haddock must be priority one to neutralize as she leads the team in assists (5) and is tied for second in goals (2). Maddie Simpson is the leading scorer with three goals and a single assist. Sydney Thibodaux (2G 1A) and Sabrina McNeill (2G) are the other Tigers with multiple goals. Eight other players have scored a single goal.

The other key playmaker behind Haddock is Sydney Richards who has three assists and was one of the one-time scorers. Behind her, three Tigers all have two assists (and no goals) while seven others have a single assist.

Coming off a 2021 season where she was the only Auburn goalkeeper to register any playing time, Maddie Prohaska has kept an iron grip on that spot in the lineup. She has played all but 35 minutes this season. Her 0.57 Goals Against Average and 0.860 Save Percentage are both outstanding. She is tough to solve, and Vanderbilt will need to generate consistent pressure to beat such an experienced and talented goalkeeper.

Tonight’s match is at Auburn. They have a great soccer complex, and it should be a good crowd with the LSU-Auburn football game the next evening. Kickoff has been moved up to 5 PM to hopefully avoid some weather from Hurricane Ian. The forecast looks nice until 11 PM tonight, so the game should be good to go. The match will be streamed on SECN+/ESPN+.