Five things we’ve learned about SEC soccer so far this season

Missouri couldn’t stop Vanderbilt from picking up its 10th straight win on Sunday, but after three games of Southeastern Conference play, where do the Tigers stand in the league hierarchy?
Defender Anna Frick is introduced before a matchup against the Northwestern Wildcats at Audrey J. Walton stadium on August 30, 2018.

The start of the SEC soccer schedule has been a mixed bag for the Missouri Tigers, who have started conference play with an even record of 1-1-1. With three matches down and seven to go in the league’s regular season, it is time to check in on the rest of the league and break down the race to Orange Beach, Alabama for the SEC tournament.

Here are five things we have learned about the SEC and its teams so far this season.

Most of the top contenders have been as good as advertised.

Apart from the top-ranked Florida Gators (more on them in a bit), the top four teams from the league’s preseason coaches poll have met expectations thus far. Texas A&M, Tennessee and South Carolina are all off to 2-1 starts in the conference and were ranked in the top 25 nationally as of Sept. 25.

The Aggies have scored at least two goals in every game they have played, and they boast dominant wins over Santa Clara and Kansas, two likely NCAA tournament squads. They have also only conceded two goals apart from a 3-2 loss on the road to Arkansas, which serves as the only blemish on their record.

Florida struggled out of the gate, but it may not be down for long.

SEC soccer often begins and ends with Florida, and this year was supposed to be no different. The Gators have won 12 of the 25 possible conference titles to date and were picked to do so once again in the preseason poll. But after peaking at No. 5 in the national rankings after a 2-0 start, the Gators went scoreless in six straight nonconference games, and they sunk even further after losing their SEC opener to Vanderbilt.

Last weekend, Florida bounced back by routing Kentucky and Louisiana State by a combined score of 10-1. While this outburst did come against two of the worst teams in the SEC, the Gators have a favorable schedule the rest of the way and shouldn’t be counted out of the conference race.

Vanderbilt has been the early surprise of the league

The Commodores were ranked ninth in the conference preseason poll and lost their season opener to a tough Florida State team, but haven’t looked back since. Their current 10-game win streak includes a 3-0 start to SEC play, leaving them alone atop the conference standings and surging into the national top 25.

Vandy has also outscored its opponents 25-6 during the 10-game tear, and will have winnable home matchups against Georgia and Mississippi State in its next two games.

Missouri has seen plenty of drama, but ultimately has performed to expectation

The Tigers were picked to take the SEC Tournament’s 10th and final slot in the preseason poll, and sure enough, after three games of conference play, Missouri finds itself nestled between ninth-place Georgia and 11th-place Mississippi State in the standings.

That’s not to say Missouri hasn’t seen its fair share of twists and turns along the way. Five overtime games, a star midfielder lost for the season in her first game and Sunday’s heartbreaking loss to Vanderbilt have left the Tigers battle-tested despite their mediocre record.

Missouri’s gritty defensive play has kept it in a number of games this season, but the difference between wins and losses as the schedule rolls on could lie in the offense’s ability to finish chances and put less of a burden on goalkeeper Kelsey Dossey and the back line.

Missouri needs to win more games soon if it wants to reach the SEC Tournament

The Tigers face one of the conference’s most brutal remaining schedules. The final three games on the slate, against South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, will all be stern tests, meaning Mizzou likely needs to look for wins before then in order to maintain its top-10 position.

First up is a Thursday trip to Arkansas, where the Razorbacks are still riding the wave of their upset of Texas A&M. Games against Mississippi and LSU in early October will be followed by a home date with Auburn, who is ranked 23rd nationally but struggled early in SEC play.

Missouri squeaked into Orange Beach last season with a 3-7 SEC record, so at least two more wins will likely be needed to repeat the accomplishment this year. Failing to find them in the next four games could leave the Tigers on the outside looking in come late October.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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