Alabama Soccer Wins Season Opener Over Tennessee, 3-1

Joey Blackwell

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Alabama soccer team opened up its 2020 season in winning fashion on Saturday afternoon, defeating the Tennessee Volunteers 3-1.

In a drastically shortened, eight-game conference-only schedule, every win matters. With the opening-day victory, the Crimson Tide notched its first victory with just seven games left to go.

Alabama coach Wes Hart was very pleased with the effort that his women showed on the pitch and the overall result.

"We made it a point before the game to address them about [how] we want to be aggressive,” Hart said. “We want to make it a game about territory and attack and win the ball. We certainly value the ball but the object of the game is we want to go and score goals and then on the flip side of that defensively as well we wanted to press them high, we wanted to turn balls over in their defensive half of the field and I thought we did a good job with that as well.”

Win the ball the Crimson Tide did, as Alabama dominated ball possession on both sides of the field.

Attendance for Alabama's first game back in Tuscaloosa was at a minimum, with Alabama athletics mandating that only friends and family on the players/coaches list be able to attend. Playing in front of a minimal crowd, the atmosphere was eery but still filled with cheers from the few fans that were able to attend.

In addition to practicing social distancing and sitting in assigned sections, masks were also required by fans and media personnel.

18 minutes into the first half Alabama earned its first goal off of a penalty kick by junior forward Riley Mattingly after getting tangled up with a Tennessee defender in the penalty box.

The goal gave the Crimson Tide a 1-0 lead, but Hart was not entirely satisfied with the results from Mattingly in the first half.

“My expectations for Riley are through the roof and perhaps maybe unfair to Riley,” Hart said. “I see so much potential in her and my big thing — we got on her at halftime a bit. You look at the stat lines and she had a goal but it was a PK and that was her only shot on goal in the first half and then you look at the center forward on the other team who had six shots at halftime and so our message to Riley was ‘Riley you’ve done an awesome job of holding the ball up, laying balls off, helping our team attack’ but you know her job as a forward is to score goals and we want her to be hungrier and I thought she did a great job of responding in the second half.”

Alabama maintained the 1-0 lead at the half, but came out swinging to start the second. Just under three minutes into the start of the second 45 minutes of play, Mattingly scored her second goal of the game with a header into the corner of the net set up by freshman midfielder Felicia Knox.

Mattingly found it funny that her first goal of the season was a header after admitting she struggled with headers last season.

“[It’s] funny,” Mattingly said. “I told the coaches I was going to score a header goal and they had been telling me all preseason to head the ball and I haven’t so that was exciting."

The goal was exactly what Hart was looking for from his junior forward.

“If I look back on last year, I thought she was one of the best forwards in our league last year but she didn’t have the numbers to back it up,” Hart said. “She didn’t have the production and I think this could be a big year for her and hopefully those two goals early on gave her the confidence to keep building off of."

Not even a minute after Mattingly's goal, sophomore midfielder Serena Pham registered a goal of her own, unassisted. The goal put the Crimson Tide in front 3-0.

Tennessee was able to respond with a goal by redshirt-senior forward Erin Gilroy in the 75th minute, but the goal was too little too late for the Volunteers and Alabama won the game 3-1.

Mattingly tied Pham for the team-lead in shots with three, while Mattingly led the team in shots on goal with two.

Junior goalkeeper McKinley Crone played all 90 minutes for the Crimson Tide in the net, allowing only one goal with five saves in 17 shots faced.

Hart was pleased with his keeper and her 90-minute performance which included a very important one-on-one save outside of the box in the second half.

“What a huge save and that’s what you expect from your goalkeeper,” Hart said. “You expect her to make a big save or two to keep you in games and she did just that. I thought McKinley Crone was fantastic especially for not having played a competitive game in a long time. McKinley was great; she made a number of big saves and helped us tremendously.”

With the win, Alabama has now bested Tennessee in four-consecutive meetings, with its last loss to the Volunteers dating back to 2017.

The difficulty of defeating an opponent four times in a row was not lost on Mattingly.

“I think it means everything,” Mattingly said. “It’s really hard to beat a team [four] times so I think that’s a big deal for us and that’s pretty exciting.”

Alabama now prepares for its second game of the season against Mississippi State next Friday (6 p.m. CT, SEC Network). After starting 1-0 on the year, Hart says that the most crucial factor is that the team does not get complacent after just one game.

“We can’t be content, we can’t be satisfied,” Hart said. “Our goal wasn’t to just win one game this year. We want to compete for a championship. For me it’s about staying motivated, staying hungry and we’ll look at film and figure out what tweaks and adjustments we need to make.”

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