Hannah Saad | @hannah_saad21
An up-and-down start for Alabama women’s soccer puts the team in a major uphill battle against some of the toughest opponents of the season.
Alabama (1-1-1) returns home on Sunday following a two-game road stint and will face off against the top team in the conference: the Arkansas Razorbacks (3-0).
Alabama and Arkansas are in two different situations heading into Sunday’s game. Arkansas is coming off a 2-1 win over No. 5 Texas A&M, which helped boost its previous No. 9 ranking to its current No. 3 ranking, according to the United Soccer Coaches Poll. On the contrary, Alabama has not found a way to win its last two games, leading the program to drop out of the rankings.
The past three games between the Razorbacks and Crimson Tide have resulted in a 1-0 score. Arkansas won two of those three games.
The majority of play will look to be on Alabama’s side of the field as Arkansas has one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. Arkansas has the most shots, 50, and tied for the most corner kicks, 21, in the conference.
The center of the Razorback offense is sophomore Anna Podojil. Podojil will enter the game as the United Soccer Coaches’ Player of the Week for Arkansas after posting two goals and assists in last weekend’s match. Podojil leads the conference in the most shots per game, 4.67, and the most points, seven.
Five of the eight Arkansas goals scored have come in the second half. This poses a special threat to the Alabama defense as all four goals allowed this season have come in the second half. This can be a huge advantage for the Razorbacks if the Crimson Tide defense does not learn to buckle down in the second half.
Luckily for coach West Hart, freshman Tanna Sanchez Carreto will be returning to the field on defense as she missed the last game due to drawing two yellow cards in the game against Mississippi State.
Alabama has the second most fouls, 39, in the conference and must limit them, especially on the defense side, as it can not afford to give free balls to the Arkansas offense.
Due to the Arkansas offense controlling the flow of the game in its three matches thus far, it has allowed for little pressure on the defense and goalies Alexis Bach and Taylor Beitz. This has led Arkansas to allow only two goals to its opponents – a match tied for the second-fewest goals given up in the conference.
Offensively for Alabama, the ability to apply consistent pressure early can lead to later success in the game as the Arkansas backfield has yet to be pressured throughout the course of a game. That means senior Casey Wertz and junior Riley Mattingly must find their groove early.
But if Mattingly does not return after missing the last game, then junior Gabby Duca must connect early with Wertz. Two offensive contributors will not be enough, though. Because of Arkansas’ ability to score fast and often, sophomore Reyna Reyes must also make contributions to the offense.
Kickoff between Alabama and Arkansas is set for 4 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPNU.