Leading up to Sunday’s matchup against the defending national champions in Florida State, it can be easy to overlook a winless and unranked team like Alabama A&M. That's not the case for head coach Karen Hoppa and Auburn soccer, who are putting one foot forward and taking it day by day, game by game.
“All of our focus needs to be on Thursday night," Hoppa said in a postgame press conference on Sunday. "Take care of business there and then frankly when we play Florida State, pressure's off."
Thursday's focal point for the Tigers will be against the Alabama A&M Lady Bulldogs, a team that is coming off of a 4-0 loss to Jacksonville University. In five games this season, the Lady Bulldogs have scored just twice, while allowing 19 goals in the team’s four losses and one tie.
Here are some difference makers to look for:
Defense: The Tigers have yet to allow an opposing team to score more than one goal this season. This includes a matchup against a top-15 ranked BYU which was averaging four goals per match before facing Auburn.
Freshman goalie phenom Maddie Prohaska is sure to claim some of that glory, but the Auburn final backline is one of the best in the SEC with senior M.E Craven, fifth-year senior Alyssa Malonson and sophomore Madeline Moore at the helm the ship.
Craven’s height advantage gives her quite an advantage defensively against crosses, headers and corner kicks while Malonson’s quick feet and physical tackles swiftly end opponent attacks while leading to Auburn scoring opportunities.
Olivia Candelino: The team’s Most Improved Player in 2020 has already made an impact early in her sophomore season with two late-game goals in last week’s win against UT Chattanooga. A sophomore who can still classify as a freshman due to an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, Canedelino has been a surprising spark for the Tigers offensive scheme.
Karen Hoppa: While sometimes the mindset is that players and positions can affect a game’s outcome, coaching plays an important role in whatever way a 90-minute game can go. If a coach doesn’t adjust either offensively or defensively, any winnable game can slip away.
Vice versa when it comes to unwinnable games and making the correct adjustments. This is something that Hoppa focuses on, specifically when it comes to mid and late game adjustments that ultimately decide matches.
Hoppa emphasizes the need to play the first half of a game and then for her team to play an adjusted second half, which was apparent with her halftime adjustments against Chattanooga’s defense last week. If the Tigers start to look like they are losing momentum on either side of the ball, you can expect a quick change from Coach Hoppa.
Lauryn Christophe: Christophe has appeared in all five games this season, including 101 minutes in an overtime tie to Alabama-Huntsville. She scored the Bulldog’s lone goal in an 8-1 loss to South Alabama in late August. Christophe has fired off eight shots thus far into the season with a 0.625 shot on goal percent.
Marissa Horton: Horton grew up in Montreal, Canada, where she first began playing soccer at four years old. She began her Canadian soccer career on the Quebec Provincial Team in 2016 and played in the Canadian National Team Camp in 2017. The Freshman midfielder took her only two shot attempts of the season against Jacksonville State, where she found the back of the net in the team’s 4-1 loss.
A couple things to consider:
What will Alabama A&M try to do on the offensive side of the ball to generate points? In five games, it's been outscored 19-2. The Bulldog’s defense is going to have the fight against the more experienced Tiger midfield and front froward, so what will the team try to offensively to keep the game in sight?
The Lady Bulldogs have gone down to multiple four goal deficits in the few games played so far into the season, a recipe for disaster when you‘re having trouble getting on the scoreboard.
What is Auburn’s game plan?
Auburn’s previous opponent, UT Chattanooga executed its game plan to slow the Tigers down offensively. Mid game adjustments and two late Candelino goals led Auburn to victory in that match, but the Tigers have shown that they aren’t afraid to play the slow game, letting the match develop offensively while trusting the defense.
Scoring multiple goals in all five games this season, the Tigers will look to continue that streak with another high-scoring game on Thursday. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m. from the Auburn Soccer Complex. It will be broadcast on SEC Network-plus.
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.
Larry is a senior studying journalism with a minor in sociology. He is from Enterprise, Alabama and is in his third year with The Auburn Plainsman.