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Soccer Preview and Game Thread: Ball State

Vanderbilt is coming off an impressive comeback to earn a draw against #20 Northwestern.

Recovering from a battle with a ranked opponent.

Vanderbilt is coming off their best test of the young season, and they clawed to a 3-3 draw where the most frustrating part of the game may have been trying to waste time in the last 5 minutes. Northwestern, ranked 20th in the country, would score just before the 7-minute mark. Vanderbilt answered 7 minutes later when a ~50-yard Kate Devine free kick found the head of Rachel Deresky then the thigh and foot of Addie Porter on its way to the back of the net.

The visitors would strike twice midway through the first half. Ella Zimmerman was caught in possession by the Wildcats high press. The turnover left Devine high and dry since she had stepped out from goal a bit to be a passing option to rescue Zimmerman. It still took a beautifully curled effort to beat her. A couple minutes later NU made it 3-1 by converting a failed headed clearance by Hannah McLaughling into a goal from the back post.

Vanderbilt got into halftime without losing any more ground. They came out of the break on fire. Ella Eggleston would make life very difficult, nearly scoring in the first few minutes, then repeatedly being involved in dangerous attacks. The first Commodore goal of the 2nd half would come from some clever passing combinations between Eggleston and fellow freshman Courtney Jones. Jones would get the ball last, cut onto her right foot, and rip a shot that cut the deficit in half at the 50-minute mark.

If you kept up with my game thread comments, Eggleston appears in 3 more near-goals in the opening 12 minutes of the second half. She would deservedly find the tying goal in the 85th minute after Alex Wagner left a cross between her and the keeper. Northwestern’s players would protest the goal because they felt their goalkeeper had the ball kicked away from her grasp, but she clearly never had possession. She was diving to grab the cross. Eggleston beat her to it and tipped the ball over her to make it 3-3.

Vanderbilt then decided the draw against a ranked opponent was enough and decided not to press the overwhelming advantage they had in momentum. Instead, it was smart soccer and even going to the corner to waste time after the goal. It was disappointing to see the coaches pull the reigns back. Your players can smell blood in the water. Let them try to feast. Giving up a goal to lose 4-3 is not going to be a resume hurter. A comeback victory would have been an attention getter.

More possession and shots but just a draw.

Vanderbilt sometimes will post possession breakdowns by half. They usually wait until SEC play. I wish I had it for Sunday’s match. My guess is that the first half would be the inverse of the final while the second half split was even more so in Vanderbilt’s favor to get to that final share. Still, having the upper hand on a ranked opponent is a good sign early in the season. Northwestern had only allowed 1 goal and 23 shot attempts in their previous 5 matches. Vanderbilt scored 3 goals and attempted 13 shots. The draw is definitely a building moment.

The Freshman Firepower is real and was on display against a ranked opponent.

As expected, Eggleston and Porter were the sparks. It was not just them though. Mia Castillo played potentially her best match in black and gold. She was playing as the defensive midfielder to let Abi Brighton join the attack more, but her passing was positive and cut NU open a few times. It was a nice change from her normally conservative play. Jones keeps impressing as an attacking midfielder. Deresky caused problems opposite Eggleston in the front 3 employed during the second half. No one had a performance that was quiet or poor. It was a full-team effort.

Tonight’s opponent should not offer the same high-end test. Ball State did finish 2nd in the MAC last season, but they did so with a 7-5-8 (6-1-4) record. The only comparable opponent off the 2022 schedule was Kentucky, who beat the Cardinals 3-0 in Lexington to open that season. Ball State does return almost all of their attacking prowess with 28 of 34 goals and 18 of 24 assists in 2022 recorded by players also on the 2023 roster. The biggest losses are defenders Lexy Smith, who also scored once and had 5 assists, and Grace Alsop who both played over 1600 minutes last season. Sammi Corcoran (2G) and Jenna Dombrowski (1G 1A) are the only other players who were involved in multiple goals and did not return.

The Cardinals have started slowly at 1-3-0. Their only win was at home against Mercyhurts. They have lost matches at Notre Dame, Texas Tech, and Loyola Chicago. Goalkeeper Bethany Moser has started every game since the start of 2022 and played all but 49 minutes in those 24 matches. Jordyn Jeffers and Maya Millis are both well-experienced defenders in front of her. The most dangerous Cardinals are Avery Fenchel, Delaney Caldwell, Lexi Fraley, and Abby Elgert. Fenchel led the team with 11 goals last season and has 3 goals and an assist to start 2023. Cardwell has followed up 7 goals and an assist by already have one each. Fraley scored 5 times and teed up 2 others last season, but she only has a single goal so far. More surprising is that Elgert had 7 assists last season but has not recorded any goals or assists thus far.

This evening’s match is set to kickoff at 7 PM CT. As always, WatchESPN has the SEC Network+ stream. I may or may not make it out to the Plex since I have a very early flight out to Charlotte Friday morning that requires leaving the house at 4 AM.