No. 3 North Carolina (14-1-1, 7-0-1 ACC, #2 RPI) defeated No. 5 Florida State (12-4-0, 6-2-0, #3 RPI) by a 2-0 score tonight in Chapel Hill, NC.
In the 13th minute UNC generated the first good chance of the game. Kirsten Pavlisko and Isabel Cox were battling for the ball. Cox eventually won it and took it down the right flank. Cox crossed the ball into the box for Alessia Russo. Russo turned and laid off a nice ball for Brianna Pinto. Pinto took a couple of touches and fired a rising shot from about 16 yards away. Pinto’s shot clanged off the crossbar and back onto the field before being cleared away by the Florida State defense.
In the 15th minute Jaelin Howell was shown yellow after she grabbed Rachel Jones’ jersey from behind. On the ensuing free kick Lotte Wubben-Moy sent a long ball into FSU’s box. It was eventually tracked down by a hustling Cox. Cox sent it back into the six but Seminole keeper Caroline Jeffers was there to snuff out the threat.
In the 17th minute the Noles had their first dangerous threat. After Howell stole the ball, Deyna Castellanos sent it up field for Jenna Nighswonger. Nighswonger took a couple of touches drawing the defense toward her. Yujie Zhao took advantage of acres of space down the left flank. Nighswonger found the wide open Zhao who received the ball at the edge of the box. Zhao took a touch and fired a left footed shot for the far post from about 16 feet out. The ball went inches wide over the touch line.
In the 20th minute FSU conceded a corner but the Noles were able to clear. However, Jones kept the ball in and she sent a beautiful ball into the box that was perfectly placed for a Maycee Bell header. Bell headed the ball to the goal but it banged off the post and Malia Berkely was able to clear it away.
In the 48th minute Carolina generated another chance. Russo dribbled the ball into the middle of the field where she eventually found Emily Fox on the right side. Fox drove the ball at Pavlisko before crossing it over to Brianna Pinto who one-timed a right-footed shot that clanged off the post and out of bounds.
In the 62nd minute Carolina kept the pressure on. Cox received a throw-in and delivered a dangerous cross for Bridgette Andrzejewski who was lurking just outside the six. Andrzejewski executed a cheeky back heel that was saved by a diving Jeffers.
In the 64th minute Florida State earned a corner kick. Nighswonger sent a ball into the box that was cleared by the UNC defense. Zhao was there to keep it in and she fired it back into the box. Nighswonger was able to keep the ball from going out. Jenna drove the ball along the right end line before crossing it into the mixer before it was eventually cleared by Carolina.
In the 73rd minute the Noles had another opportunity. Zhao sent a searching ball into the box. Nighswonger hustled over to receive it and she got a header on it but UNC keeper Claudia Dickey was there for the routine save.
In the 76th minute the Tar Heels broke the scoring ice. The Heels cleared the ball long out of their defensive third. Ru Mucherera received the ball and got by Gabby Carle. Heather Payne was trailing but she couldn’t catch up to Mucherera. Mucherera took advantage and sent a perfectly placed right-footed shot for the far post that ended up in the back of the net and gave the Heels a 1-0 lead.
FSU didn’t quit. In the 81st minute Carle ran at the UNC defense down the left flank. She laid it off for Nighswonger who sent a dangerous cross slicing into the box. Abbey Newton was there to get a foot on the ball but she couldn’t control it and the ball went wide.
In the 82nd minute Berkely delivered a gorgeous ball down the field for Nighswonger. Jenna ran onto it and sent a great cross for Kristen McFarland in the box. McFarland got it over to an open Castellanos who just couldn’t get a clean touch on it and the ball dribbled to Dickey who had no problem with the save.
In the 83rd minute Carolina widened the lead. Berkely received the ball from a free kick. She drove the ball up the field and passed it to Zhao. However, Pinto jumped into the passing lane and picked off the pass. Pinto used her speed to race down the field where she was 1v1 with the keeper. Pavlisko did a great job to hustle over to bother Pinto but she couldn’t get there before Pinto sent a left-footed strike that ended up in the lower right corner of the goal to give the Tar Heels a 2-0 lead.
In the 85th minute Cox had a chance for a third goal when she received a clearance from Morgan Goff. Cox ran onto the ball battling with Payne. Cox eventually got past Payne and was 1v1 with Jeffers in goal. Jeffers did a great job coming off her line and cutting off Cox’s angle forcing her to send her shot wide.
After that FSU kept battling but they couldn’t close the gap and UNC walked away with a big 2-0 win.
As a result of this game (and Virginia’s win tonight over Louisville) Florida State falls into a second place tie with UVA in the ACC. However, UVA has a win over FSU this year so they would get the advantage of the tie-breaker. Therefore, the Seminoles are functionally in third place in the conference. It is really unlikely that either UNC or UVA will lose in their final two games so Florida State will most likely end up with the third seed in the ACC Tournament.
This game featured two of the best teams in the nation but they find success in different ways. North Carolina uses a high pressure style combined with a very deep bench to wear down teams. In contrast Florida State employs their signature possession style to keep opponents on the defensive while forcing them to chase the ball for long stretches of the game.
In the first half UNC’s tactics were working well. The Noles couldn’t get their possession geared up and Carolina did a good job with their high pressure preventing FSU from building their attack from the back. The Seminoles contributed to their issues with errant passing and careless first touches that often short-circuited any possession that they were able to build.
In the second half the Noles came out more confident on the ball and were able to maintain possession for longer stretches. It is ironic that UNC scored both goals in the second half because the Noles looked much better in the second half. The Tar Heel goals could fairly be judged to have come against the run of play. Of course they still count just as much.
Florida State has had major issues this year defending corner kicks. Of the eight ACC goals conceded by FSU this year, six have come as a result of corner kicks. However, tonight the Seminoles did a much better job defending corner kicks as UNC had four of them and the Noles defended them well.
UNC head coach Anson Dorrance is not afraid to go to his bench even against the best competition and he stayed true to form tonight. UNC played 22 players (they have 31 listed on the roster) while FSU played only 14 players. Carolina only had two players go the entire 90 minutes while the Noles had eight players who played the entire game. The depth disparity probably didn’t have a major effect on this game considering that FSU played much better in the second half but it just illustrates that the Noles don’t have much margin for error on this roster if there is an unfortunate injury.
FSU has four losses. They have come to teams currently ranked 2nd, 4th, 7th and 19th in the RPI. In other words, the Noles have no bad losses (or ties). The best teams that FSU has defeated according to the RPI are Wisconsin (9th), Virginia Tech (10th), Clemson (14th) and Florida (16th). This type of schedule leads to good results in the RPI and the Noles are currently third. FSU is probably not going to have any bad losses on Selection Sunday and are a very good bet to earn a top 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In order to feel good about earning a #1 seed and the home games that come with that lofty seeding this loss means that the Noles will probably need to advance to the ACC tournament final game. Even with the four losses if FSU wins the ACC Tournament again they will very likely get a #1 seed especially as it would mean that they would probably have to go through Virginia and North Carolina on the way to the title.
Florida State will stay in North Carolina traveling over to Winston-Salem on Sunday to meet the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The game will kick off at 1pm and will be broadcast on the ACC Network.