Bryan Blitz has been around the block enough times to know the importance of a strong start in conference play. His Missouri soccer teams have made a habit of doing so, winning all seven of their SEC openers since joining the league in 2012.
After Sunday’s 2-1 overtime win over Northern Colorado, which completed Missouri’s 6-2 run through its non-conference schedule, Blitz discussed the need to reset mentally and have better practices going into the conference slate. With a matchup at Mississippi on Friday night, the Tigers have a chance to put their coach’s objectives to the test and try to continue the program’s winning tradition in SEC openers.
Missouri and Ole Miss enter Friday’s match with similar resumes. Both wrapped up nonconference play with a 6-2 record that included a five-game win streak along the way. They each defeated their lone common opponent, Murray State, by a single goal.
Missouri’s revitalized attack has already equaled its scoring total from the entire 2018 season. Sarah Luebbert and Julissa Cisneros have usually led the way, although the latter was excluded from the starting lineup and played reduced minutes in the Northern Colorado game.
Blitz said Cisneros, who is on a three-game drought after scoring five goals in the season’s first five games, needs to regain her form. It remains to be seen whether she will start at Ole Miss.
The Rebels’ primary attacking option is Channing Foster, a junior who has already made her way into the program’s top 10 all-time scoring list. She leads the team with six goals on the season, including a three-game scoring streak earlier this month.
One way Missouri can reduce Ole Miss’ chances is to avoid giving up corner kicks. The Rebels rank first in the country with an average of more than nine corner kicks per game. The second team on that leaderboard, Cal State Fullerton, enjoyed a 15-2 corner kick advantage in a 3-2 win over Missouri on Sept. 13.
The Tigers’ reinvigorated offense has far too often coupled with sluggish lead protection, resulting in four blown advantages in non-conference play. Blitz singled that out as a trend to address if the Tigers hold hopes of finishing in the SEC’s top 10 and advancing to the conference tournament.
“This team is a team that every game is going to be close and every game is going to be tight,” Blitz said Sunday. “I think from that standpoint, we have to find ways, if and when we score, to try to put teams away early instead of letting them hang around.”
Missouri has scraped by in 10th place each of the last two seasons, needing until the final day of the regular season to secure tournament qualification. This year’s finale is in Columbia against Mississippi State on Oct. 31.
Other notable games on the Tigers’ road include three matchups against national Top 25 teams — No. 9 South Carolina (Oct. 4 at home), No. 17 Vanderbilt (Oct. 10 on the road) and No. 15 Texas A&M (Oct. 27 on the road).
The Tigers and Ole Miss will kick off at 7 p.m. Friday in Oxford, Mississippi. The game will be streamed on SEC Network+.