A season filled with growing pains, sporadic enchantment and endless storylines could all come crashing down for Missouri soccer Thursday. With a loss to No. 13 Mississippi and other results going against them, the Tigers could officially be eliminated from postseason contention.
Missouri’s successes have been few and far between. The Tigers are one of only two teams to defeat No. 15 Notre Dame, they posted a four-match winning streak early in the season and earned a dramatic first SEC win against Florida after extra time.
But those highs have been canceled out by lows, including three consecutive losses in which the winning goal came later than the 85th minute and five in which MU conceded four or more goals.
The most wrenching blow could happen at 6 p.m. Thursday at Walton Stadium.
For the Tigers to be eliminated from the 10-team SEC Tournament, a few things need to happen. First, they need to lose. Second, both Texas A&M and Florida need to win.
The Aggies travel to Starkville, Mississippi, to face a Mississippi State side that hasn’t won since Sept. 20 against conference bottom-feeder Kentucky. The Gators have dropped four matches in a row and travel to Athens, Georgia, where they face the Bulldogs. That could be a favorable match for Missouri’s hopes, as Georgia has won five of its past six matches, the exception a 4-1 loss to No. 4 Arkansas.
Kentucky will be eliminated if it doesn’t beat Alabama.
But the focus won’t be in Starkville or Athens for the Tigers; it will be on stopping the No. 13 Rebels in Columbia. Missouri is 1-4 against teams who were ranked at any point in the season, and it will be a tall ask to improve that record.
Mississippi hasn’t lost since its Sept. 26 trip to Arkansas, only conceding once since then and amassing a plus-five goal difference in a series of close affairs.
The Rebels only have seven goal scorers, with Channing Foster and Molly Martin tied for the team lead with seven each. Mo O’Connor and Haleigh Stackpole have five and four, respectively.
Stopping Stackpole may be at the front of coach Stefanie Golan’s to-do list.
The midfielder from Bowling Green, Kentucky, has been a nightmare for defenses all season. She leads the SEC and is tied for second in the country with 13 assists. That, coupled with her scoring, makes her the most obvious threat to a Missouri side that has struggled defensively all season.
The Tigers come in with question marks, particularly at goalkeeper and in the back four.
Since Sophia Worth went down injured in a 2-1 loss to Alabama on Sept. 23, McKenna Sheehan has started in goal for the Tigers. However, in the 6-1 pummeling from Arkansas, Sheehan was replaced by Isabella Alessio at halftime. Whether or not that shows a shift in preference from Golan remains to be seen.
The main area of concern for Missouri in its back four is at center back. Ashlyn Mills had appeared in every match before the 1-0 loss to Georgia, missing that match and the win over Florida before sporadically getting on the pitch against Arkansas.
Grace Pettet has filled in well in her absence after featuring mainly at left back throughout the rest of the season. This provides an interesting dilemma for Golan, because putting Mills back in the starting 11 most likely means that one of Caroline Lyman or Megan Oduyoye would have to be dropped to shift Pettet back to the left unless there were to be a change of formation.
It’s been a season of more questions than answers for Missouri, and perhaps it was always destined to be that way. But the answers need to come quickly, or else the Tigers will be watching the SEC Tournament in Orange Beach, Alabama on a couch in Columbia.