Missouri coach Bryan Blitz knew what kind of goal MU needed to beat Auburn University Friday night at Walton Stadium.
With Auburn packing in its defenders to throw off Missouri’s aggressive attack, Blitz said his team might not get a clear shot at the net.
“In the locker room during halftime, coach was like, ‘You need to get in the box. We’re getting our chances. We’re getting our crosses. It’s going to come from a sloppy goal, from somebody just getting a leg on it,’” senior midfielder Mo Redmond said.
In the 72nd minute, Blitz’s prediction came true. Redmond’s corner kick was knocked around inside the box, eventually finding sophomore midfielder Kari Adam, who touched it in to give MU the game’s lone goal and its first win of the season.
After entering the game in the 20th minute, Redmond started blasting shots from all over the field. As opposing defenders crowd Missouri’s forwards, MU’s midfielders need to be able to make shots, Blitz said.
Opposing teams are starting to adjust to MU’s pressing style. Junior midfielder Meghan Pfeiffer said teams know that they will be physical and strong in the air, so they are double-teaming Missouri in the midfield, keeping the ball to the outside and backing up their defense, Pfeiffer said.
“I’m sure we’re going to see that more and more and more, and it’s just something we have to learn to deal with, and I think we did tonight,” Blitz said.
Auburn goalkeeper Allison Whitworth presented MU with another challenge. Missouri frequently fired from as far as 35 yards out, but Whitworth deflected their attempts away, gathering seven saves.
“Especially with a good goalkeeper, you’re going to score a very gritty goal,” Blitz said. “You’re not going to score a magical, textbook goal.”
The goal was fitting for a game that was gritty and ugly itself. Missouri and Auburn constantly shoved and grabbed each other, especially on the wings.
“I thought the ref let it go, and we like to play physical, so I thought that went in our favor,” Blitz said.
For MU, the game was in stark contrast to its season-opener. Missouri outshot Auburn 23-11 (8-4 in shots on goal) after taking just four shots in the first half against Illinois.
“We pressed them constantly. They didn’t know what to do, and that’s our style,” said Pfeiffer, who got the assist on Adam’s goal. “We kept going at them. We got our shots. We got our opportunities. They countered a couple times, but we’re really fast in the back.”
Missouri’s defenders weren’t under pressure often because their offensive attack was more dangerous and effective, Blitz said. When Auburn made a run on a fast break, MU’s defenders spotted the attacker and broke up the play.
“The back three and the goalkeeper made the game routine, made it simple,” Blitz said.
Junior goalkeeper Tasha Dittamore again played the whole game in the net.
“In tight games like this, safe, mistake-free goalkeeping (is important), and I think she did that tonight,” Blitz said.
Junior forward Michelle Collins injured her hamstring during the game, but Blitz said she would be fine.