War and Peace: The Battle of the Freshmen and Texas’ Last Stand with A&M

Texas Soccer will play the Aggies at home this Friday in their last ever Big 12 matchup at Mike Myers Stadium. The injury ravaged Texas side will be without the services of veterans Taylor Knaack on attack and Amanda Lisberger on defense. Also, veteran attacker Kylie Doniak will see only limited playing time in substitution with an injured knee.

The national RPI numbers for the Big 12 show the Aggies at #19, while those same numbers also show Oklahoma State all the way up at #8. Since Texas already played Oklahoma State to a draw in Stillwater, it might seem that the A&M game should be easier. Not true. The Aggies are going to be a lot tougher for Texas than the Oklahoma State Cowgirls.

Oklahoma State is built around defense. The Aggies are built around offense.

Defensively, the Cowgirls, through 18 games, have allowed a paltry 0.28 goals per game. (Third lowest in the country with the two teams even lower being ones you’ve never heard of.) The Aggies, through 18 games, have allowed 1.22 goals per game, almost a goal extra per game over the course of the season. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that while the Cowgirls have put in 2.22 goals per game, the Aggies are scoring a whopping 3.39 goals per game. In fact, the Aggies have scored more goals this year than any team in Division I Women’s Soccer. (Total: 61.) And they’re a mile ahead of everyone else. The next highest team of significance is #1 ranked Stanford with about a dozen less.

And now for the really bad news… If Texas coach Chris Petrucelli starts Nina Frausing Pedersen at center forward instead of center back, Texas will lose the game handily. This is very tough news to hear. But without Pedersen at the center back position alongside Lucy Keith, Texas has no chance. [The only caveat here is that Alexa Gaul could be relied on to have the greatest game of her soccer career and stand on her head to stop everything thrown at her.]

Let’s just hope that Petrucelli realizes this and leaves Pedersen in the back line.

But to play devil’s advocate for a moment, if Petrucelli starts Pedersen up front, then based on what we saw in the Seattle game, the back line will consist of Julie Arnold, Brooke Gilbert, Lucy Keith, and Whitney Jaynes. Three freshmen and one senior. We know that the two outside freshmen, Julie Arnold and Whitney Jaynes, can more than handle themselves. And of course senior Lucy Keith is a rock as one of the center backs. A&M’s point of attack will focus on freshman Brooke Gilbert who is still learning how to be a defender.

Attacking Texas will be Kelly Monogue (freshman with 15 goals), Annie Kunz (freshman with 11 goals), and veteran Merritt Mathias (senior with 5 goals).  Also attacking from midfield will by Allie Bailey (freshman with 6 goals). And if you’re following the math, this leaves another 24 goals scored by everyone else, with 11 of those coming from the other A&M freshmen.

It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the battle will be won or lost in Texas’ defensive third. It looks like this: A&M’s freshmen attackers assailing the freshmen Texas defenders with veteran Lucy Keith the four-star general marshaling her troops on the castle wall watching the veteran Merritt Matthias drive her A&M conscripts right up the ramparts with flaming arrows flying all around.

Keith would do well to brace herself for a physical confrontation with Matthias. On Sunday, during Texas A&M’s televised game against Oklahoma State, color commentator Kate Markgraf tweeted out “Red card!” after watching a replay of Merritt Matthias running over veteran German midfielder Annika Niemeier. After being aggressively rolled, Niemeier got up and tried to have words with Matthias, but quickly stepped back in fright when Matthias came toward her in a challenge to do more than just talk. The referee separated the two and no card was issued. It was a revealing moment, though, and proved that Matthias means business in her final year of collegiate play after transferring from North Carolina two years ago.

Let’s imagine, however, that Petrucelli tries something different. We’ll put Pedersen on the back line with Lucy Keith and consider a different attack up front. In this scenario, freshman Allison Smith starts up front at center forward. Or, Kristin Cummins starts at center forward and Allison Smith takes Kristin’s place at midfield. This is a scenario that might work. Both Smith and Cummins play physical and can make their presence felt up top. Both also have a fiery desire to score goals and we absolutely need that. This then leaves Gabby Zarnegar and Kylie Doniak to come in off the bench up front. Pick your poison on substitutions beyond that, but leave the Texas back line out there for the full ninety (including Whitney Jaynes).

But don’t misread into this post. I’m not writing here that Texas has no chance. Quite the opposite. Texas has an excellent chance as long as Nina Frausing Pedersen is firmly in at center back with Lucy Keith to face the highest scoring offense in the country. After that, get as creative as you want on the attack. It’s going to be all guts out there. And the glory will go to whoever leaves the most guts on the field.

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