What to watch for as soccer season opens tonight

Tigers take on Southern Methodist to start preseason

The Missouri Tigers had one of their best seasons in recent memory last year, going 14-7-1. The Tigers were ranked throughout the season in the nation’s top 25, climbing as high as No. 9. After a 3-0 loss to Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals, the Tigers went on to the NCAA tournament where they lost in a shootout to Illinois in the tournament’s first round.

The sooner-than-expected exit from the NCAA tournament left the Tigers eager to get back out on the pitch. With the first preseason match of the 2013 coming up Saturday night against Southern Methodist, these Tigers are ready to roar again.

While Mizzou lost seven players to graduation last season, only two were starters. The Tigers will return a solid group of veterans on the field led by coach Bryan Blitz.

Missouri’s most impactful senior departure could be that of Taiwo Adeshigbin. Adeshigbin accounted for seven goals last season as well as two assists. Senior forward Alyssa Diggs will be looking to fill the void left by Adeshigbin. She led the team in goals scored in the 2012 season, earning all-SEC first team honors in the process.

Diggs won’t be the only weapon taking the field for this hopeful Tiger squad.

Midfielder Lauren Flynn is on the Tiger’s watch list for a breakout season. While this sophomore midfielder only notched one goal last year — the game-winner in MU’s 2-1 victory over Ole Miss —she was named Blitz’s most improved player award at the team’s annual banquet in April. With Flynn being one of the key returnee’s in the Tigers midfield, a breakout season could be on her horizon.

The Tigers back third will be looking strong as ever, with two key players returning to Walton Stadium this fall. Anchoring the Missouri defense will be junior McKenzie Sauerwein. The two-year starter had six shutouts last season and came up huge for the Tigers down the stretch last season with her leadership and defense.

Sophomore defenseman Candace Johnson will also be protecting the net. An SEC all-freshman team honoree last season, Blitz will depend on Johnson to mentor and help build chemistry with the Tigers new defensemen as they adjust to their new roles on the team.

The Tiger’s last recruit of the offseason, freshman defender Jasmine Johnson, will join Sauerwein and Candace Johnson on the backline. Jasmine Johnson, a Los Angeles native, joins a goalkeeper and four midfielders to round up the 2013 recruiting class.

The Tigers will have quite the challenge ahead of them in achieving the team’s high expectations. The Tigers tentative 2013 schedule, which was released July 8, boasts seven games against 2012 NCAA tournament teams. The Tigers will play eight non-conference games, including a talent-packed tournament at Texas A&M.

After rounding up non-conference play with an away game at Portland, the Tigers will move into an 11-game SEC schedule. The Tigers open up SEC play Sept. 20 at Mississippi State followed by a home match against Georgia.

The date the Tigers may have circled on their calendars is Sept. 29. The Tigers host Florida, the team that beat them in both the regular season and SEC tournament. Missouri will be looking to avenge both losses against what will be a tough Gators squad.

Missouri is set to kick off the regular season Aug. 23 against Pacific University.

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