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Soccer Preview and Game Thread: Northwestern

From one Wildcat to the next...

A strong opponent will require the entire team to rise to the occasion.

Vanderbilt grabbed a 1-0 win over Kansas State on Thursday. It was a match where they had the upper hand but could not find the final pass to create exceptionally dangerous shooting opportunities. Through the first half, the best attempt was surprisingly from the visiting Wildcats. The shot went by a diving Devine but ricocheted off the post before being cleared to safety.

The Commodores finally found the goal they needed and deserved in the 67th minute. A good passing combination that was started by Courtney Jones sending a pass into Sophia Gorski’s feet while backed against the Kansas State center back. Gorski would lay the ball off for Rachel Deresky with a one-touch pass sent immediately forward to Amber Nguyen as she glided between the center backs. The only recourse for the defender was to reach out and grab Nguyen just before she could take the shot inside the box. The referee awarded the penalty kick for the foul, and Hannah McLaughlin would calmly convert.

Vanderbilt had the upper hand, but the higher level competition kept them from fully dominating.

The possession advantage was only 59-41 for the Dores, and they only had 3 more shots with an equal number for each team being on target. The possession breakdown shows the real story of the game. Vanderbilt spent 38% of the match (34.5 minutes) in the attacking half. Kansas State could only do the same for 15 minutes. The sustained pressure was well handled by the Big XII opponent.

Lots of Commodores are getting involved in the attack.

Coach Ambrose was a bit stingy with his bench. Even the professionals are allowed 5 substitutions now. Granted, some of them did enter and exit a couple of times since first half subs can re-enter at halftime or in the second half while second half replacements can rejoin the action once after coming off. Professionally, like in baseball, once you exit then you are done for the game. The cooler temperatures (mid-70s) allowed for the shrinking rotation, and I think the coaches are honing in on their best lineup combinations.

One player who showed something a potential evolution is Sophia Gorski. I openly questioned her expanded minutes during the match, but she found an effective role as a target forward. The 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield that Vanderbilt employed allowed her to stay right against the K-State back line while receiving the ball to her feet to combine with teammates stepping forward through midfield. It is worth seeing if that role continues and how she might grow into it after struggling to be consistently effective thus far in her Commodore career.

The Dores have a strenuous test this afternoon. The incoming Northwestern Wildcats are the team who eliminated Vanderbilt in the 2022 NCAA Tournament before they fell to eventual national champions UCLA. Northwestern was 16-5-2 (7-2-1) a season ago. They have started 4-0-1 this season.

The Wildcats have been absolutely dominant thus far with wins at Marquette and Toledo while winning in front of their own fans against Oakland and Boston University. The had a home draw with Kansas State. The success can be explained with two stats: goals for and goals against. They have scored 17 times and only conceded 1.

The effectiveness is heavily in part to returning 37 of the 44 goals scored a season ago while also having the 36 of 46 assists back. The only notable losses were Rowan Lapi who scored 6 goals and 3 assists and Lily Gilbertson who added 1 goal and 5 assists. The most dangerous returners are Josi Aulicino, Aurea del Carmen, Meg Boade, Ella Hase, and Caterina Regazzoni. Those are the players who were involved with more than 5 goals in 2022 while 6 more players scored or assisted.

Aulicino had 9 goals and 10 assists to lead the team in both categories. She has already scored 4 times and setup teammates for another 6 goals. Boade’s 7 goals and 2 assists in 2022 have flipped a bit this season with her having 2 goals and 5 assists. Del Carmen has gotten off to a bit slower start with 1 goal and 2 assists in the first 4 matches after a 6 goal and 5 assist campaign last season. Hase is off to a 3 goal and 1 assist start after being involved in 11 goals last season.

In goal, Mia Raben is gone after starting 12 matches and playing all 23. She had a 0.80 GAA and 0.806 SV%. This seasons starter Reiley Fitzpatrick started the first 11 contests last season to get her feet wet while Raben acted as nonconference closer and B1G starter. Fitzpatrick tallied a 0.73 GAA in her 11 starts, but her 0.556 SV% was heavily hampered by a supremely low number of shots faced. It seems likely she was facing surprise breakaways that left her little chance of success since her SV% this season is 0.909.

Vanderbilt needs to go toe-to-toe with Northwestern. I hope the coaches allow this team to face the challenge directly. Do not come out with a conservative gameplan. Be willing to lose this match 3-1 instead of hoping to steal a 1-0 win. Go play your best style, not necessarily the safe way.

Kickoff is quickly approaching at 1 PM CT. The match will be streamed on SEC Network+ as always. I may be a bit late arriving for the match, so there may be a delay on early analysis.