Report Card: Grading Missouri soccer’s rough start
A tough non-conference schedule, offensive struggles and defensive deficiencies have plagued Mizzou’s season in the early going.
Sep. 27, 2017
Things haven’t gone according to plan for Missouri soccer this year. The Tigers are 5-6-1 and 1-2 in Southeastern Conference play and sit 10th in the SEC standings.
Missouri’s biggest struggles have come on the road this season as the Tigers have registered just one road win, which came in the season opener against Illinois. The trend must change for Missouri to finish out its season successfully, as four of the Tigers’ last seven matches are on the road.
As Mizzou hits the midway point of the season, it’s time to evaluate the Tigers’ performance to this point.
Missouri missed several golden opportunities to gain a statement victory to jump-start its season during non-conference play. The Tigers had three chances to defeat a preseason top-25 team in the season’s first month, but failed in each opportunity, getting outscored 7-1 in the three contests against Nebraska, Southern California and Northwestern.
The three losses to ranked opponents made each game of a three-match homestand in mid-September must wins for the Tigers. Mizzou rebounded and got back on track, defeating San Diego State, Georgia and Albany all by decisive margins. To this point, those three were the most important games of the season, and the victories prevented the Tigers’ season from spiraling out of hand.
However, Mizzou still lacks a true key win. Each one of the Tigers’ five wins have come against opponents with losing records, and through three conference matchups, the Tigers have just one win. The team’s lone conference win came in a 3-1 victory over Georgia, a team that sits at 4-6-1 and 0-3 in SEC play, on Sept. 15.
But, the Tigers still have three opportunities to claim that statement victory. Mizzou has three games against top-25 teams remaining on its schedule. Between Oct. 5-19, the Tigers will play No. 3 South Carolina, No. 10 Florida and No. 25 Tennessee in a stretch that will likely define Missouri’s season.
Due to the high level of competition the Tigers have faced thus far, there is not one loss that really sticks out. However, it would be wrong to not mention the five-game winless streak the Tigers experienced from Aug. 25 to Sept. 10. This streak featured the three losses to Nebraska, USC and Northwestern, a loss to TCU, and a goalless draw to Oregon State.
The most glaring of the games over the five game streak was the 2-1 overtime loss to TCU. The Tigers completely controlled the first half of play and entered the second half up 1-0. Missouri was less dominant in the second half, giving up its lead, and ultimately losing on a penalty kick in overtime. Of any game so far this season, this is the one the Tigers truly let slip through their hands.
Mizzou returned its top-three goal scorers from a year ago in sophomore Sarah Luebbert and seniors Jessica Johnson and Allie Hess. But through the Tigers’ first 12 matches, the trio has combined for only five of the team’s 17 goals. Johnson contributed three of those.
One problem that has plagued Mizzou offensively has been slow starts. The Tigers have only scored four first half goals this season, which has kept Missouri from taking control of games early on and has left it trailing at the half on multiple occasions.
“2-0 at half is the most dangerous score in soccer,” senior Kaitlyn Clark said after a 5-1 loss to Texas A&M.
Mizzou’s 17 goals this season place them 10th in the SEC, and the Tigers are 12th in goals per game at 1.42. Despite the low rankings, the Tigers aren’t far from the 1.85 goals per game the team averaged last year.
An offensive bright spot for the Tigers has been freshman Tess Rellihan. She leads the team with five goals and has been a huge part of the team’s success.
The Tigers allowed 25 goals for the entire season last year. Through 12 games this season, the Tigers have given up 20, the most of any team in the SEC. The team’s 1.61 goals-against average per game leaves the Tigers ranked 241st in country.
One of the biggest storylines for the Tigers this season has been head coach Bryan Blitz’s strategy of having his goalkeepers, junior Kelsey Dossey and redshirt senior Kristen Rivers, split goalkeeping duties. Each goalkeeper has started six games this season and has typically played just one half in net before being subbed off.
In net, Dossey has given up 11 goals thus far, while Rivers has conceded nine. However, the bulk of the blame belongs to the Missouri defense, not its keepers. The Tigers’ defense isn't as aggressive or effective as last year's, and the goals allowed reflect that. Both goalkeepers have held their own, combining for 51 saves this season.
Blitz’s choice to either remain with the two-keeper strategy or commit to a single goalie will be a storyline to watch through the remainder of the season.
Edited by Eli Lederman | email@example.com