Tigers to rely on defense for upcoming season

Mizzou defense starts season strong and hopes to keep form throughout the season.
Missouri Tigers defender Jasmine Johnson (26) winds up to clear the ball Aug. 23, 2015. Missouri tied Southern Methodist University 1-1.

A Texas Christian University attacker raced toward the Missouri goal during the opening match of the 2015 season Aug. 21 at Audrey J. Walton Stadium.

Just when it seemed that a TCU goal was inevitable, senior defender Candace Johnson slid in front of the attacking player and knocked the ball out of the attacking area.

The rest of the game was much of the same. TCU was never able to mount a convincing attack against a Missouri defense that appears to be a force to be reckoned with.

The defensive line for Mizzou is exclusively made up of upperclassmen, making it one of the most experienced back lines in the Southeastern Conference.

“(The defense) is where our experience is,” coach Bryan Blitz said. “We have four backs. We will play five in a rotation. We have three seniors and two juniors and even a freshman who is getting back there.”

The defensive line is also bolstered by junior midfielder Melanie Donaldson, who is a player to watch during this upcoming season.

“I’ve been doing this a long time and (Donaldson) certainly covers ground like no other player,” assistant coach Don Trentham said. “I think that’s another piece that takes a lot of pressure off of the goalkeeper and even the back four when you have a holding mid in there that is such a dominant presence.”

A strong defensive line is a necessity for the Missouri women’s soccer team, as it is the first time in four years that the Tigers are without goalie McKenzie Sauerwein.

Sauerwein was a dominant presence while at Mizzou, making 394 career saves while only giving up 1.22 goals per game over her four years as the starting goalkeeper for the Tigers.

Missouri coaches insist that Sauerwein’s spot in goal is still being competed for between freshman Kelsey Dossey and junior Kristen Rivers. Both preseason games and both regular season games have seen Dossey as the starter, as Rivers suffered a muscle pull in training.

Dossey has been up to the challenge in the early stages of the season. Her young career includes a preseason shutout over UCLA and TCU.

Dossey’s teammates have been ecstatic about the performance the freshman has turned in so far.

“She’s doing a great job,” Johnson said. “I know it’s hard for a freshman to come in and adjust to the college game but I know Rivers and Molly (Schneider) are doing a good job at practice helping her get acclimated and us as a back line are helping her as well.”

At the same time, Johnson and her fellow defenders want to make sure Dossey’s job as easy as they can.

The strength in the back has also helped to give the Missouri forwards confidence in the front.

“Our defensive line is basically the heart and soul of this team,” sophomore midfielder Savannah Trujillo said. “They have our back no matter what. They are strong, they are talented and we know that if the ball gets back there it’s not going far.”

Perhaps the only weakness that has shown so far in the Mizzou back line is the ball being played through the air. The goal conceded to Southern Methodist University came by way of a lofted free kick that was headed over the top of Johnson and into the back of the net.

“That’s just one of those situations where they have a 6-foot girl in there and you have to get your clearances up and I have to work on that,” Johnson said. “After that we have to make sure we don’t give up dangerous set pieces going into the wind.”

As the Tigers progress into the season, the entire team will look to the defense to keep giving out high quality performances.

“That’s what we are going to hang our hat on,” Blitz said. “I definitely think that is a strength of our team moving forward.”

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