CW / Hannah Saad
For the first time since 2010, Alabama women’s soccer (1-0) has the opportunity to mark an elusive milestone that has evaded them for years: open up conference play with back-to-back wins.
Since the 2015 season, head coach Wes Hart’s first as Alabama’s skipper, Mississippi State (0-0-1) has gotten the better of Alabama with a 3-2 record. Both of Alabama’s wins came in overtime with a score of 3-2.
In 2019, Mississippi State finished ninth in the conference compared to Alabama’s seventh-place finish. Entering the season Mississippi State got picked to finish 11th in the conference, via the SEC preseason coaches poll, while Alabama got picked to finish sixth.
Mississippi State opened its season with a 1-1 tie against Auburn. Junior Niah Johnson scored the Bulldog’s lone goal on a penalty kick in the 75th minute of the game.
The offensive dynamic from Mississippi State has significantly changed compared to last year after its leading scorer MaKayla Waldner graduated. Without their offensive star, Mississippi State will be forced to embrace a more balanced offense. If the Bulldogs are unable to find a new rhythm without Waldner, they could be at a serious offensive disadvantage.
If Mississippi State manages to adopt a new offensive strategy Friday night, senior Brynne Martin and the rest of the Alabama defense must clear the ball or push it forward to limit the Bulldog’s scoring chances. During the Tennessee game September 19, there were a few times when the Alabama defense could not clear or push the ball forward against the Volunteers. This opened up the opportunity for Tennessee to take extra shots on goal and land one of them.
Alabama is facing a very different set of circumstances compared to Mississippi State. Much of The Crimson Tide’s talent returned to play this year and was put on display in its 3-1 win over Tennessee. Senior Casey Wertz and junior Riley Mattingly will continue to lead the offense.
Mattingly’s two-goal performance last Saturday against Tennessee resulted in her being named to TopDrawerSoccer’s Team of the Week.
Like Mississippi State, Alabama’s offense must provide a well-balanced offense approach Friday night in order to win in Starkville. This will require solid contributions from junior Taylor Morgan, sophomore Serena Pham, junior Gabby Duca. Pham scored Alabama’s third and final goal against Tennessee last Saturday, while Morgan and Duca also contributed solid minutes and pushed the ball forward. If these three players play good ball on friday, it will help to relieve pressure from Wertz and Mattingly, leading to a more productive offense.
Junior McKinley Crone had a solid outing in goal against Tennessee with five saves and only one goal allowed. Despite starting in goal for Oklahoma last season, Crone has yet to compete in a road game in the SEC. It will be important for her to keep it simple and block out the noise from the Bulldog faithful.
Alabama and Mississippi State’s match is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 25, at 6 p.m. and will be aired on the SEC Network.