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Soccer Preview and Game Thread: South Carolina

These Lady Cocks are always going to test the opponent’s limits.

Coming together to do battle at The Castle

Vanderbilt closed the nonconference schedule with a bang. MTSU would have needed 13 players to compete with the Commodores on Sunday evening at Geodis Park. Vanderbilt would win 6-0 with 3 goals scored in each half.

Rachel Deresky would get the match off to a hot start by settling a long through ball from Hannah McLaughlin then firing into the lower left corner of the net in the 7th minute of play. Deresky put the ball into nearly the same location of the net, but this time she worked very hard for the opportunity. She would intercept a Blue Raider throw in then pass to Addie Porter. Porter was swarmed by four defenders and had the ball skitter away. Deresky was first to it and wasted no time firing home for a 2-0 lead with just under 20 minutes gone.

Alex Wagner created the third goal but does not get credit for it. She got to the end line using her speed and cut a cross low and hard towards the top of the 6-yard box. The MTSU defender had to intervene to prevent Courtney Jones from getting on the end of it and scoring. The attempt to help proved disastrous though as the sliding block would tip the cross on frame. The goalkeeper was completely thrown off by the redirection, and it was 3-0 Vanderbilt. The game was not even a third over.

The first half ended with no more scoring, but the second half opened with it quickly. Caroline Betts would be denied on a close-range attempt. The defense halfway cleared the rebound. A surging Mia Castillo would put the ball back into the box immediately, and Betts could not be thwarted again so soon. She needed a goal and got it. Betts would also continue to threaten and saw some other nice attempts saved.

Castillo would reward herself with a goal of her own when Rachel Deresky crossed for her to finish for her 2nd career goal. The final goal would come in the 82nd minute, and it was about time one of the freshman got on the scoresheet. Jones would chalk up her third goal of the year when Tina Bruni collected the scraps of a cross on the back post and cut the ball back towards the top of the box for an onrushing Jones to smash home.

Vanderbilt did not waste many opportunities.

The possession stats are not as dominant as some early games, but Vanderbilt’s attack was executing beautifully. The crosses were precise, and the runs into the box were clever and well-timed. The finishing rarely failed either. Scoring 5 goals on 8 shots on goal from 12 shot attempts is clinical.

Meanwhile, allowing 2 shots is stifling, even if both of them were on target. Neither was threatening.

The only criticism for the team’s play is the 6 offside infractions. The eagerness to pile on more goals might have gotten to a couple players hungry to make an impact. If that is the sternest critique available, it was a good night.

The attacking players showed their skill and flair repeatedly.

Coach Ambrose must have been overjoyed by the ability to essentially empty the bench. Giving 22 players the opportunity to get into a game held at the largest soccer-specific stadium in the United States is fantastic. The announced attendance was 4,000. Vanderbilt’s highest home attendance ever is less than 1,500. MTSU did bring a fair portion of the crowd, but it was still by far the largest contingent of Commodore faithful for who these ladies have played.

Deresky was a menace when on the pitch, and she only failed to net a hattrick by slamming a powerful effort off the crossbar instead of sneaking it just inside. Amber Nguyen and Abi Brighton put on little shows in midfield. Nguyen exhibited her close control and quick feet while Brighton stoically held off defenders and found useful passing options. Jones made threatening runs that pulled defenders all out of sorts. Betts, Wagner, Ella Eggleston, Jada Konte, and a brace-free Ava Hetzel overwhelmed defenders on the flanks in their unique ways. It was a comprehensive team effort full of noteworthy individual efforts. It was especially nice to see Sara Wojdelko get back into a match and look comfortable.

In an atypical Friday night match, Vanderbilt starts the SEC slate in Columbia, South Carolina against the Gamecocks. Starting conference play with the #9 team in the country on the road is about as stiff as it can get. As I have screamed from the rooftops in the past, the Commodores need to stick to their game more in these matches. A healthy amount of caution is understandable and prudent, but parking the bus to hold on for a draw or fortunate counter attack is begging a dangerous Gamecock attack to rip you apart.

By this point, last year’s stats and who teams are replacing has probably been worked out in nonconference play. South Carolina scheduled like a national championship contender. They earned a scoreless draw against #25 Clemson and lost 2-1 at home to #3 North Carolina. A road trip to Boston College ended in a 3-2 victory. The smaller college opponents were summarily destroyed by scores of 6-0, 2-0, 2-0, 5-0, and 2-0. If you’re keeping track, the season goal totals are 21 GF and 4 GA. Comparatively, Vanderbilt is at 17 GF and 5 GA without facing a slightly weaker slate since Northwestern was #20 while the other 2 P5 opponents were unranked.

Three of the Lady Cocks know how to score at an alarming rate. Catherine Barry has 6 goals and 3 assists while Shae O’Rourke has netted 4 times while setting up 2 more goals. O’Rourke is closely trailed in goal contributions by Reagan Schubach who has the same number of goals but 1 fewer helper.

Starting goalkeeper Heather Hinz has allowed all 4 of the goals against, but that is pretty good for 540 minutes played. She is allowing a goal once every 135 minutes, which is 0.67 goals per 90 minutes played. Hinz has a lower SV% at 0.750, but that is probably a sample size issue for a goalkeeper who has only faced 16 shots in 6 full matches.

Tonight’s contest kicks off in Columbia at 6 PM CT. My ability to watch, much less give live analysis, will probably be hindered by plans here in Sin City. The stream will be available on WatchESPN through SECN+.