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Soccer Preview and Game Thread: Kansas

The Dores go on the road to somewhere even hotter than Nashville.

On the road, it team chemistry is extra important, especially when kickoff gets pushed back on game day.

The opening weekend went by without a defeat, but the Dores failed to score Sunday on the way to a 0-0 draw with UMass. The match was a bit of a frustrating watch because Vanderbilt seemed to be fully in control yet could not turn pressure into a point on the board. This match was even more lopsided, statistically, than the 3-1 win over Chattanooga.

That is a lot of possession and shooting to not score.

The total possession was 2% less than the opener, but spending over a quarter of the match within 30 yards of the opponent’s goal is ridiculous. The struggle to put shots on target stands out but is a bit skewed since soccer does not count any blocked shots as “on target.” There were two or three instances where a Vanderbilt attacker had the goalkeeper beat and was denied by another defender.

Defensively, it could not have been a much more thorough performance. The only bad moment was a horrible turnover by Maya Antoine where she settled a ball using her chest at the top of the box and was too casual under pressure. She gave the ball away but was able to put the attacker under enough pressure to force an off-balance shot that went wide.

Freshman Ella Eggleston getting 4 shots off is a good sign for future production.

Abi Brighton was both instrumental in Vanderbilt’s domination and most at fault for the Commodores not scoring. She put a PK over the crossbar and also sent a couple decent chances wide of the target. From a player who has the technique and courage to score highlight reel goals, Sunday afternoon can be written off as a poor day at the office.

Coach Ambrose is clearly still searching for the strike pairing that will be most effective, but the Deresky-Eggleston duo is probably in the lead for now. Caroline Betts also had a strong showing after, without being named specifically, being called out following the opener. For this team to be at its best, she needs to be on the field.

Tina Bruni’s continued place in the starting XI is a bit odd to me. As I have said, she is a decent enough player, but it feels like Vanderbilt has more impactful options. The idea may be using her as a safe, steady option on the flank while tinkering with other spots. Or maybe the coaching staff sees something extra that I am missing.

After two matches at home, Vanderbilt is on the road for their only nonconference match outside of middle Tennessee. The only other match before SEC play not on West End is the September 10th crosstown clash with MTSU, which will be contested at GEODIS Park, the home of Nashville SC. Tickets for that match are FREE but do need to be purchased in advance since mobile ticketing will be in place. Tickets are available here, and parking will be $10 the day of in specific lots. I will get more into it as we get closer.

For now, the attention is on the Jayhawks of Kansas. Kansas was 9-9-2 (2-5-2) last season and has started out 1-0-1 this season after a scoreless draw at Wisconsin and a 4-1 win at Loyola-Chicago. They returned 22 of 30 goals scored a season ago and 19 of the 27 setups. The only major loss in attack was Rylan Childers who had 7 goals and 6 assists, which were 2nd highest and highest, respectively, on the team. Shira Elinav leads the returners with 8 goals and 4 assists along with Lexi Watts who brings back 6 goals and 3 assists. Maree Shinkle’s 4 assists are also noteworthy.

At the back, both starting goalkeepers are back. Melania Pasar started the first 15 matches and allowed 1.24 goals per game with a 0.746 save percentage. She got the start and played every minute in the two contests this season, too. Hayven Harrison started the final 5 matches of 2022 while playing in 2 others. She fared slightly worse at 1.66 GAA and a 0.654 SV%. Based on how it unfolded, I suspect an injury to Pasar might have been involved.

Defensively, Mackenzie Boeve and Moira Kelley played more than 1000 minutes in defense.

Tonight’s kickoff was pushed back to 8 PM CT due to the forecasted high of 106 degrees Fahrenheit. The match will be streamed on ESPN+. I like it as an early test to get on the road against a major program that should also be beatable. There is also a personal stake here as Vanderbilt freshman Sydney Watts is sisters with Kansas sophomore Lexi Watts, who was one of the four goal scorers against Loyola-Chicago. Vanderbilt’s Watts is presumably one of the players Coach Ambrose indicated are unavailable but close to returning a week ago. It would be a nice time for a debut against her sister.

I will have the lineups as they become available. Join me in the comments. Please? I’m lonely...

UPDATE: Kickoff has been pushed back another hour to 9 PM CT since the heat index is still 110 degrees Fahrenheit at 7 PM.