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Soccer Preview and Game Thread: Tennessee

THEY are in town, and a lot rides on this match.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Maya Antoine is looking to go 3-0 at home against Tennessee.
Jamar Coach/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Commodores dropped their first points at home in SEC play in a 3-3 draw with Florida. To this point, Vanderbilt was 8-0-2 (3-0-0) at home. The home unbeaten streak looked to be in danger when Florida went into halftime up 2-1. Then, the Dores looked ready to continue their winning streak at home in SEC play by going up 3-2 in the 79th minute. Unfortunately, Florida grabbed a goal in the 84th minute.

No fancy stats like possession are available for this one.

Vanderbilt was a bit unsteady to start the match. Florida did not look too eager to attack, but the Commodores turned the ball over at the back a few times. A timid attack from the Gators left those turnovers unpunished. Nor were there any too scary moments until the 13th minute.

A through ball split the backline, but Kate Devine looked to have it under control as she came out early to clear the ball. Unfortunately, Megan Hinnenkamp closed it down quickly enough to block the clearance. Somehow, the ball did not go ricocheting away from the full force blast by Devine and fell right back to Hinnenkamp’s feet for a simple roll to the back of the net.

The efforts of Addie Porter would get the Dores even. Her low, driven cross was mostly blocked. A quick reaction by Rachel Deresky would see her be the first on the ball. Her heavy shot would be deflected slightly but did just enough to knock the goalkeeper’s hands back then flutter across the goal line for a 1-1 scoreline in the 19th minute.

A long delay for a Florida head injury that ultimately appeared to be minor, even if it was initially concerning, then a Brighton blast off the crossbar would be followed by Florida regaining the lead in the 30th minute. Devine made a rare misjudgment on a floated free kick from around 40 yards out from goal. She failed to be first to contact as Maddy Pirello was able to rise up and slightly deflect the ball by her. The half ended without any more excitement then the second half kicked off with a bang.

Sydney Watts pounced on some lackadaisical play from Florida then dribbled around a couple defenders before a sliding intervention by the last Gator sent the ball rolling beyond her ability to cause danger. Florida turned right around and “earned” a penalty from an extremely soft call. To be fair, the opposing player did not flop. She just was very lightly nudged on a header that was deemed a foul for some unknown reason. Kate Devine made up for her earlier misstep by making a massive save to keep the deficit at only 1!

A long drought without anything too exciting followed. The most action was the mouth of Gator parents who were convinced that Vanderbilt’s players are the dirtiest bunch of cheaters and pushers ever and that the refs are secretly Vanderbilt fans or Gator haters.

They were proven ridiculously wrong when a clear foul by Florida in the 18-yard box was ruled to be outside the box. Both Head Coach Darren Ambrose and Associate Head Coach Ken Masuhr were given yellow cards for very loudly and extensively questioning the call. Rumor has it there were also some insults for the referees dorky haircut.

After all the sideline commotion, Abi Brighton would zip the ball across the box to Amber Nguyen for an emphatic finish to get the game tied in the 62nd minute. Then 17 minutes later Nguyen turned distributor by firing in a similar cross from live play. The goalkeeper would dive out and get a hand to the ball to make sure Ella Eggleston did not add to her season goal total, but Maddie Baker was waiting at the back post. Her strike was intercepted midair by a defender, but it still snuck inside the post to give the Commodores a late lead.

Sadly, the lead would only last 5 minutes. A couple Commodores were a little too tentative while defending, seemingly afraid of conceding another penalty. It created enough space for a cross that could not be effectively cleared. Hinnenkamp got her second of the gameon a shot that was also deflected and left a diving Devine grasping at air.

The match had its twists and turns, but the end result leaves the Commodores at 8-4-5 (3-4-2) and 9th in the SEC but tied for 8th place Auburn on 11 points. Remember, only 10 teams make the SEC tournament. They need a win to guarantee safety, but may get some help. The teams just behind them are LSU (10 points), Florida (9), Tennessee (9), and Ole Miss (8). Obviously a draw would keep Tennessee behind them. Auburn plays at Georgia, who are currently in 4th on 14 points. Florida hosts #13 South Carolina who sit in 2nd in the SEC on 19 points. Ole Miss gets a visit from 7th place Kentucky. LSU has 6th placed Texas A&M coming to town.

Technically, the Dores could finish as highly as 5th or as low as 12th. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head results. As such, the Dores have the tiebreaker in a 2-team tie over Ole Miss and Texas A&M. There are too many other scenarios to discuss based on how tight the standings are.

Obviously, the win tonight may be even more important than an SEC tournament berth. The Volunteers from Knoxville are coming to town. The Vols are 7-5-4 (2-4-3). They have been a decent team on the road though with a 3-2-2 (1-1-2) record. They already hold a win in Nashville after knocking off Lipscomb 3-0 back on August 20th. Tennessee must win tonight if they want to reach the SEC tournament, which would be a real disappointment after being the #3 seed in the 2022 tournament (would have been #2 under current system).

Tennessee is a team that is not afraid of high-scoring affairs. They have had 3 SEC games where both teams scored multiple goals. They drew 3-3 with Mississippi State in Starkville, won 3-2 at Missouri in CoMo, and lost 3-4 to Texas A&M at home. The Missouri and A&M matches were the most recent contests for Tennessee. On the season, the Vols have scored 33 goals while allowing 34. In SEC play, the split is 15 for and 17 against. Vanderbilt is at 31 to 16 and 14 to 11, respectively.

Tennessee’s attack really has a three-headed monster and a pair of strong supporters. Jordan Fusco, Sizzy Lawton, and Kameron Simmonds all have 6 goals overall. Fusco and Lawton have 4 goals in conference play while Simmonds has not scored. Kate Runyon has filled the void by scoring 3 times in SEC play after only having 1 goal before it started. Maria Nelson also has chipped in a pair of goals with both coming out of conference.

The assists against SEC play have mostly come from Fusco (3) and Ally Brown (2) while 5 other Vols have provided a setup. Brown leads the team in total assists with 5. Lawton also has 2 assists on the season to tie with Simmonds Maria, Midgley Macaira, and Sydney Hennessey.

The defense should give Vanderbilt’s attack some opportunities to score. They are allowing 9.4 shots and 4.25 shots on goal per match. The goalkeeping situation has been split by half all season. Abby Reisz has started all but the first SEC match. She has allowed 6 goals (1.33 GAA) while making 13 saves (0.684 SV%) against SEC opponents. Ally Zazzara has become the closer. She has allowed 11 goals (2.44 GAA) while making 20 saves (0.645 SV%). Shot quality matters, but they seem to be beatable keepers since their save pencentages were only 0.654 (-0.030) for Reisz and 0.634 (-0.011) for Zazzara against non-SEC teams.

Vanderbilt’s leading scorers, both conference and non conference, are Rachel Deresky and Ella Eggleston. Deresky has 7 overall and 4 in SEC play. Eggleston has 5 and 2 over the same spans. Abi Brighton had not registered a goal or assist before the first SEC match, but she has 2 goals and 3 assist since then. Kate Devine has held SEC opponents to 1.22 GAA and holds a 0.703 SV%. Her numbers were even better prior.

Tonight’s match kicks off at 7 PM from the Vanderbilt Soccer/Lacrosse Complex. Admission is, as always, free. There is some sort of food giveaway (might be a coupon). It is also Pride Night, and there is a t-shirt giveaway. This is your last chance to see the Dores at home in 2023. The ladies deserve to have a strong, loud crowd when you know there will be obnoxious Vol parents and other fans in attendance. Come bring the noise as the Commodores try to make the SEC tournament and hopefully set up some good seeding. If you are too lame to come watch the game live, it will be streamed on SECN+.