Soccer Preview: Commodores head into home matchup against Georgia with momentum

Vanderbilt looks to carry its momentum from a 2-1 overtime victory into a home matchup with Georgia.

The+Vanderbilt+Soccer+team+plays+UGA+on+Sunday%2C+September+30%2C+2018.+The+Commodores+won+5-0%2C+extending+their+lengthy+winning+streak.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FClaire+Barnett%29

Claire Barnett

The Vanderbilt Soccer team plays UGA on Sunday, September 30, 2018. The Commodores won 5-0, extending their lengthy winning streak. (Hustler Multimedia/Claire Barnett)

Anita Mukherjee, Staff Writer

After three consecutive losses, the Commodores bounced back last Sunday with a 2-1 overtime win on the road against the Florida Gators.

The Commodores succeeded in maintaining possession for the majority of the game, and despite junior forward Haley Hopkins’ absence due to injury, the Commodores were able to apply consistent offensive pressure. That said, Vanderbilt struggled to put shots on goal until the second half. Florida was in the lead after Gator freshman forward Maddy Rhodes slid past the Commodore defense and senior keeper Sarah Fuller during the 41st minute.

The Commodores evened the playing field in the 80th minute, when junior midfielder Raegan Kelly scored her first goal of the season and pushed the game into overtime. Come the 103rd minute, senior midfielder Leila Azari passed the ball towards the right post, and senior defender Myra Konte toed it past Gator goalkeeper Susi Espinoza to secure a long-awaited Commodore win. 

This week, the Commodores are preparing to host the Georgia Bulldogs, who currently stand at 2-1-2 in the season after a 0-1 loss to Auburn last week. This matchup is one the Commodores have routinely excelled in, winning the four games played since 2015, but not one to be underestimated per head coach Darren Ambrose. 

“They’re a good team. They’re well coached; they’ve got an upperclassmen-laden team. I think they’ve got some kids who feel that their time is now, and they’re playing well,” Ambrose said. “They’re opportunistic. They win. They create chances, and they find a way to score.”

The Bulldogs went 2-0-2 into their Auburn game last week, their best overall start since 2009, and as of Oct. 13 they stand as the 12th-ranked team in the nation according to United Soccer Coaches national rankings. With offensive powerhouses like junior midfielder Abby Boyan, who has been named SEC Offensive Player of the Week and earned a spot on the Top Drawer Soccer Team of the Week, this team will surely not go down without a fight. 

Offense has been the Achilles’ heel of the Commodores thus far thanks to injury and inexperience. However,  last week against Florida, Ambrose saw the Commodores start to come together on the attacking front, in part due to the use of more players.

“I expect we’ll use a lot of players,” Ambrose said of the upcoming match. “We played the most players we’ve played in a game last weekend. I think we played 18 or 19 players, and part of that is fresh legs. And when it’s your turn, it’s your turn. You’ve got to be ready to play.”

In addition to utilizing more members of the Commodore roster, Ambrose has spent additional time with his attacking players, practicing technique and positioning while reemphasizing the importance of taking physical risks.

The Commodores’ most opportunistic plays of the Florida game took place when they made risky runs even if they did not guarantee a goal. Konte’s game-winning goal against Florida was made after she ran about 30 yards away from the box, only to turn around and sprint back to the goal. 

“The risk is making that run and not getting the ball, but the reward is making the run and scoring the goal that wins the game,” Ambrose said. “Those are the moments that we’ve been talking about. They have to exhibit more and more and more if they want to win games. They did it against Florida. And frankly, they have to do it again on Sunday. One thing I know is that when you do that, you don’t guarantee you win. But I guarantee you it gives you the best chance to win. And that’s what we’ve got to do.” 

Kickoff against the Georgia Bulldogs takes place this Sunday, Oct. 25 at 4 p.m., and game coverage will be provided by ESPNU.