Florida State is off to a flying start on the young season. The undefeated Noles (4-0) have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 12-0. This is the first time in program history that the Noles have started the year with 4 straight clean sheets. FSU started the season at #10 in the coaches poll. The Noles moved up to #6 last week and have settled in at #4 this week.
We expected the Seminoles to be potent offensively but there were questions before the season about the defense. FSU has answered all of those questions thus far in fine fashion. Goalkeeper Brooke Bollinger has been impressive early as she has yet to concede a goal. However, much of the credit has to go to the back line as Bollinger has only had to make five saves so far this season. Gabby Carle, Kirsten Pavlisko, Malia Berkely and Natalia Kuikka have been excellent in the back for the Noles.
Offensively the Seminoles have showed much more diversity in their attack this year. FSU only had 11 goal scorers for the entire year in 2017. Through four games this year the Noles already have nine different goal scorers. This type of variety makes it much harder for the opposing defense to key on one player. If this continues it will spread the opposition out as they will have to respect more players in Florida State’s attack. Ultimately this should allow for more space for the Noles in the attacking third which should unleash the creativity of players like Deyna Castellanos, Kristina Lynch and Yujie Zhao among others.
Florida State has played very well early in the season but the schedule is about to experience a major boost in difficulty. In fact the next five games are set to be the toughest stretch of the entire season for the Seminoles. It starts when the #7 USC Trojans visit Tallahassee on Friday. On Sunday #2 UCLA comes calling. Florida (#22 this week but #5 last week) will face FSU on September 7th. South Alabama is the opponent on September 9th and then the Noles finish this brutal stretch by welcoming (#3) North Carolina on September 14th. That stretch features four ranked teams with three of them in the top seven. Fortunately for FSU all five of these games will be played at the Seminole Soccer Complex.
USC is a talented bunch but their schedule has been very light so far and they have yet to play outside of California. FSU will be the best team they have played so far (by miles) and the game will be in Tallahassee. The Trojans boast a potent offense but realistically a draw would be a great result for them.
UCLA is ranked second in the nation for a reason. They are loaded. However, the Bruins will be without their two best players when they visit Tallahassee. Midfielder Jessie Fleming has been called up by the Canadian National Team to play in their friendly this weekend against Brazil. Defender Hailie Mace has been called up by the US National team to play in friendlies this weekend against Chile. Neither player will make the trip to Tallahassee. The Bruins have plenty of other talent on their roster but losing their top two players will hurt especially as their depth will be tested as they only have two days to recover after playing Florida in Gainesville.
Speaking of Florida, the Gators are in a bit of a slump as they are on a two game losing streak falling to Ohio State and Oklahoma State by matching 1-0 scores. It’s still early in the season so it’s hard to make definitive statements about how good teams are but Florida may have been overrated in the preseason polls. However, they will have a chance to get their season back on track when they visit Tallahassee.
After a bit of a breather against South Alabama the Noles will have to really bring it on September 14th when North Carolina rolls into Tallahassee. The Tar Heels have been impressive so far with a tie against Texas being the only (semi) blemish on their resume. However, all four of their games have been in Chapel Hill. The Heels have plenty of talent and are a very dangerous team.
If the Seminoles can get out of this stretch with fewer than two losses it will set them up nicely for the rest of the season as they only play two more teams in the regular season that are currently ranked (#6 Virginia and #13 NC State). This is an eminently achievable goal if the Noles can continue to play at their current level. Defense will be key as the Noles should be able to score with their diverse and potent attack. Strong midfield play will also be essential as FSU will continue to employ their possession style of soccer.
The Noles begin their five game gauntlet against USC tomorrow at the Seminole Soccer Complex. The game kicks off at 7pm and will be broadcast on ACC Network Extra.