The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: South Carolina women's soccer suffers first loss in SEC opener against No. 11 Alabama

<p>FILE—Junior forward, Catherine Barry, runs the ball past NC State soccer players. The Gamecocks tied with the Wolfpack, 0-0, on Sept. 11, 2022. &nbsp;</p>
FILE—Junior forward, Catherine Barry, runs the ball past NC State soccer players. The Gamecocks tied with the Wolfpack, 0-0, on Sept. 11, 2022.  

The No. 5 South Carolina women's soccer team's eight-game undefeated streak came to an end after falling 2-0 to No. 11 Alabama on Thursday night in Tuscaloosa.

The Crimson Tide's constant pressure throughout the match prevented the Gamecocks' attack and resulted in goal-scoring opportunities on the other end, which the home side was able to put away.

"I think we had good moments, just not enough. We didn't put enough together," head coach Shelley Smith said. "We had some good individual play, but as a team, we didn't connect well offensively." 

Alabama began the game on the front foot, testing senior goalkeeper Heather Hinz on multiple occasions in the first half. Junior midfielder Kate Henderson forced Hinz into making two saves early in the match and was responsible for half of the Crimson Tide's four shots in the opening 45 minutes.

On the defensive side of the ball, South Carolina's defensive line bent but did not break despite the pressure from Alabama's attackers. However, the team was unable to muster much on offense, and finished the half with zero shots.

Momentum seemed to shift the Gamecocks' way after the halftime break — within five minutes, South Carolina registered three shots (two on goal) and appeared to take command of the game.

"Our message was that we had to be more aggressive as far as running things down, putting them under pressure, not turning balls over," Smith said. "I thought we did better to get behind and create some opportunities with some runs at goal, and unfortunately we didn't finish those couple ones at the beginning."

The Crimson Tide remained unfazed and continued pressing forward. After tracking the ball deep into the corner in the 54th minute, former Gamecock and graduate forward Riley Tanner dribbled into the penalty area and passed the ball directly into the path of junior midfielder Felicia Knox, who rifled the ball into the net first-time.

Knox was involved in another Alabama goal just one minute later to double the lead. Her free kick found the head of graduate forward Riley Mattingly Parker, who crashed into the box to meet the incoming ball and found the back of the goal.

South Carolina tried to rekindle its offensive spark from the beginning of the second half after falling behind, but graduate goalkeeper McKinley Crone came to the Crimson Tide's rescue and made two more saves. The Gamecocks finished the match with only six shots to Alabama's 20.

"That can change a game if we can take care and put the ball in the net at that point, and unfortunately, it didn't, and they got the first and the second," Smith said.

Although Alabama dominated offensively on paper, the two teams were engaged in a highly physical battle for 90 minutes — 24 total fouls were called and seven yellow cards were shown. Smith said being able to play around opponents employing that style of play is the "step up" the team needs to take as it starts SEC play.

"You have to battle when it presents itself. Win your tackles, win the 50-50s and then settle the game when you can," Smith said. "But there's moments you have to just win — win your moment — and we've got to be better and stronger in some of those." 

South Carolina will look to return to winning ways next Thursday, Sept. 22 when it faces off against Georgia in Athens at 7 p.m.