(1) Florida State (19-4-3) defeated (1) Stanford (21-1-2) in Cary, NC by a 2-0 score to advance to the National Championship game.
Stanford came into the game undefeated. In fact, the Cardinal hadn’t lost a game since August 25, 2017 against Florida. In that stretch Stanford was 43-0-2. Stanford only trailed for 7:29 all season before this game. The Cardinal defeated FSU in last year’s Sweet 16 by a 1-0 score in Palo Alto.
The Cardinal are loaded with talent. It all starts with Catarina Macario. The sophomore forward is the 2017 and 2018 ESPNW player of the year. She was also named first-team All-American for the second straight year. In the midfield the Cardinal have Jordan DiBiasi. The senior is a first-team All-American and was the Pac-12 midfielder of the year. On the back-line, Stanford features Alana Cook. Cook is also a first-team All-American. She was recently named the 2018 Pac-12 defender of the year.
The Cardinal are like the Seminoles in that they employ a possession style. Both teams like to break their opponents down with precision passing and good technical skill on the ball.
Both teams are also dealing with injuries. Stanford is missing current US Women’s National Team member Tierna Davidson and freshman sensation Sophia Smith. Florida State is missing starting goalkeeper Brooke Bollinger and starting midfielder Kristina Lynch.
Stanford started fast. The Cardinal pressured FSU in the first minute. Madison Haley took the opening kick-off and sent a ball down the right flank for Civana Kuhlmann. Kuhlmann got by Kirsten Pavlisko and sent a cross into the box. Kaycie Tillman tracked back from her midfield position and made a great play to knock the ball clear of danger. Tillman got her foot on the ball just before Jaye Boissiere could get there to redirect the ball on goal.
In the 12th minute Deyna Castellanos found Gabby Carle on the right flank. Carle drove the ball into the box and uncorked a shot that was blocked by Naomi Girma. The ball bounced to Kristen McFarland who passed to Tillman. Tillman laid it off for Yujie Zhao who one-timed a shot that was deflected out for a corner.
In the 20th minute Zhao was called for a foul when she knocked Kiki Pickett to the ground. Macario stepped up to take the free kick from about 30 yards. She sent a curling ball into the box. Malia Berkely got a boot on it to knock it away before Kuhlmann could get her head onto it. It bounced around in the box until Madison Haley was able to send a shot wide.
In the 28th minute Gloriana Villalobos received the ball on the left flank from Carle. Villalobos drove the ball into box and made a dangerous cross to Dallas Dorosy in front of goal. Dorosy laid out to get her foot on the ball, barely missing it. However, it was very nearly an own goal for Stanford because in her attempt to clear the ball, Girma knocked it back toward goal. Stanford keeper Alison Jahansouz made an excellent save to keep the ball out of the net.
In the 29th minute FSU broke the scoring ice. Jaelin Howell fed Berkely who was darting up the field. Berkely beat a couple of defenders and laid the ball off for Carle on the right flank. Carle split two Stanford defenders and took on Girma at the edge of the box. Carle beat Girma and sent a left-footed strike past a diving Jahansouz into the back of the net to give the Seminoles a 1-0 lead. Carle displayed excellent skill to shoot the ball across her body and still get it past Jahansouz. It was Carle’s first goal of the season:
Stanford tried to answer quickly. Also in the 29th minute, Macario sent a nice ball up the center of the field for DiBiasi. DiBiasi slid a nice pass over to an unmarked Michelle Xiao. Xiao took a touch and sent a left-footed shot that went wide right.
In the 34th minute Stanford generated another opportunity. The Cardinal earned a corner kick. Jojo Harber stepped up to take it. She sent a beautiful ball into the box. Howell got her head on the ball to knock it away. Unfortunately, it caromed out to an open Xiao. Xiao had time to take a touch before sending a ball that was ticketed for the upper left-hand corner of the goal. FSU keeper Caroline Jeffers got up and made a great one-handed save to knock the ball over the crossbar, preserving her clean sheet and the Seminole lead:
In the 40th minute Malia Berkely fed Anna Patten in the middle of the field. Patten turned and slipped a great pass to Castellanos. Castellanos took the pass and rifled a shot from about 20 feet that went just barely high over the goal.
In the 42nd minute Florida State added some insurance. Tillman took the ball across the top of the box and passed it back to Pavlisko. Pavlisko dribbled up the field and found Castellanos. The Seminole superstar was blocked off by the Cardinal defense, so she passed back to Berkely who was moving up the field. Berkely launched a shot from distance that was on-frame. Jahansouz got two hands on the ball, but she couldn’t control it. The ball slipped through her hands and caromed into the goal. Florida State found itself with a 2-0 lead as a result of the error by Jahansouz. It was the first goal of the year for Berkely. It was rainy all day in Cary, so the ball was likely slick, but this was a very soft goal, and the Seminoles were lucky the mistake was made:
In the 52nd minute Stanford’s Pickett delivered a nice long pass to Haley. Haley turned and fought past Natalia Kuikka. She got to the edge of the box and fired a shot, but it went just high and wide.
In the 57th minute Macario received a pass from Sam Hiatt. Macario was able to turn past Carle. She then went by Berkely and launched a shot, but it also flew just over the goal.
In the 68th minute Florida State earned a corner kick. The Noles smartly took their time, but eventually Castellanos made her way to the corner flag. She sent an extremely dangerous, curling ball into the box that Jahansouz punched away. The ball bounced outside the box where it was collected by Macario. Because FSU had so many players up for the corner kick, the Stanford forward had acres of open space. She raced up the field on the counter-attack. Eventually, she laid the ball off for Boissiere on the right side of the box. The midfielder took a shot, but it was blocked by Pavlisko.
In the 79th minute Villalobos was called for a foul on Haley. Macario took the free kick and sent a nice curling ball into the box. DiBiasi was there to get her head on it, but she couldn’t redirect the ball on-frame.
Stanford kept playing until the end. In the 90th minute FSU was called for a foul. Macario stepped up to take the free kick. She sent a nice ball into the box, but Cook was unable to get her head around to send it toward the FSU goal.
The Seminoles were able to finish the game without incident and advanced to the College Cup final against familiar foe North Carolina:
Stanford outshot FSU 12-11. However, Florida State dominated the important shots on goal battle 6-1.
Jeffers wasn’t asked to do a ton in goal, as she only had one save. However, that one save was a beauty. Since taking over for the injured Brooke Bollinger, Jeffers has been rock solid.
However, while Jeffers has given FSU solid play in goal, the ’Noles have enjoyed outstanding play from the backline, as well. Defense was a weakness for the Seminoles last year, but it’s an absolute strength this year. Kuikka, Pavlisko, Carle and Berkely have been outstanding all season, and they continued their excellent play against Stanford. That’s no small feat as Stanford is the nation’s best offense statistically.
As noted earlier, these teams play similar styles. Therefore, it was crucial to see if either team could impose its will on the other, particularly in the midfield. Florida State was able to accomplish that consistently in this game. FSU simply bossed the game in the midfield. This was accomplished through excellent play by the midfielders (Castellanos, Zhao, and Howell), but they were also aided greatly by support from the defenders, particularly Berkely. Florida State didn’t play scared. The ’Noles weren’t intimidated by the “Stanford” imprinted on the chests of their opponents. They acted like they were playing Wake Forest, Clemson, or any other team on their schedule. They thoroughly outplayed the Cardinal and absolutely deserved the victory.
Florida State head coach Mark Krikorian only used three substitutes in this game - Patten, Dorosy and Olivia Bergau. FSU’s known for its depth, so it’ll be interesting to see whether Krikorian will employ such a short bench in the championship game, especially with only one day of rest.
Florida State will face North Carolina on Sunday at 1pm in the national championship game. This will be the third matchup this season between the ACC juggernauts. On September 14th, the Tar Heels beat the ’Noles 1-0, but on November 4th, FSU won 3-2 in the ACC Championship game.