Soccer Preview: Vanderbilt prepares for a tough matchup against Florida

After a tough overtime loss saw Vanderbilt fall 2-1 to South Carolina, Darren Ambrose and the Commodores travel to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators.

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Madiya Harriott (#3) heads the ball over the Florida defender in Vandy’s 0-1 loss to Florida at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex on Sunday, September 29, 2019. (Hustler Multimedia/Truman McDaniel)

Anita Mukherjee

This past Sunday, the Commodores fought hard in a home matchup with the South Carolina Gamecocks, but ultimately fell 2-1 in overtime

Gamecocks senior forward Ryan Gareis scored the first goal of the game during the 49th minute, but during the 75th minute, Commodore freshman defender Alex Wagner scored her first collegiate goal, tying the score and pushing the game into overtime. Two minutes into the second period of overtime, a hand ball was called, and the Gamecocks won the game with the ensuing penalty kick. 

This upcoming Sunday, the Commodores travel to Gainesville to play against the Florida Gators, who currently stand at 1-1-1 in the season. Despite losing 2-1 to Texas A&M last week, the Gators stand as a formidable opponent for the Commodores; the last time Vanderbilt beat Floria was in 2018. Gators redshirt senior goalkeeper Susi Espinoza set her season-high with six saves, and sophomore midfielder Syd Kennedy scored her first goal for the Gators. 

During their last away game, the Commodores traveled to Missouri on October 3, the day of the game, and travel fatigue got the best of them. In effort to avoid making the same mistakes, the Commodores will be leaving for Gainesville one day before the game. 

“We’ve changed our plans,” Ambrose said. “We’re going to leave the day before. It was just not viable for them to perform after [traveling] like that. We’re trying to do the right things for the right reasons when it comes to health and safety, so we’re going to leave the day before but take extra precautions and adjust a little bit because it’s a longer trip.”

As for the matchup, the Commodores’ 2018 win was their first in 25 years against the Gators, since their 2-0 win in 1997. 

“Florida is an athletic institution across all of our sports, so we’re competing with an incredibly powerful athletic franchise,” Ambrose said. “My goalwhen I came here was to close the gap, and I think we’ve done that. We showed them that by going from losing by two, three, four, five, six goals, to beating them. We’ve lost in overtime, we’ve lost by a goal. There’s healthy respect for Florida.” 

Ambrose made sure to point out the respect doesn’t extend to fear. The Commodore coach made sure to point out the key aspects of emphasis for success including defending and taking care of the ball.

With younger players getting more comfortable on the field and assuming more responsibility, the coaches have worked hard to strengthen the Commodore offense. “We’ve got to do a better job as coaches,” Ambrose said. 

Ambrose also spoke to the reliance on junior forward Haley Hopkins. 

“She’s a big part of what we do, but there are other players we’re looking at to step up a little, especially with Haley having been injured for three games and playing limited minutes,” Ambrose said.

Adjustments are also something that Ambrose to work with players on.

 “We’ve got to do a better job of coaching and teaching. So these are some of the things we’re talking about with the players, and giving them weapons and tools to adjust when teams play us the way they’re playing us right now,” Ambrose said.

The Commodores are trying to find their groove, and kickoff against the Florida Gators takes place this Sunday, October 18 at 5 p.m on SEC Network+.