No. 1 Florida State (16-5, 8-2 ACC, #4 RPI) defeated South Alabama (16-4-2, 8-1-1 Sun Belt, #63 RPI) by a 2-0 score on Saturday night at the Seminole Soccer Complex in Tallahassee.
Florida State got off to a hot start. In the fifth minute Jaelin Howell received the ball at midfield. The sophomore turned and picked out Yujie Zhao with a gorgeous ball that was perfectly placed over the Jaguar defense. Zhao perfectly timed her run to stay onside while still getting behind USA’s defenders. Zhao caught up to the ball and took a touch before sending a pass on the edge of the six yard box to a waiting Kristen McFarland. McFarland beat the center back and blasted the ball into the open net to give the Noles a 1-0 lead. It was the 6th goal of the season for McFarland.
In the 21st minute Gabby Carle received a pass on the right flank from Malia Berkely. Carle dueled with Tilly Wilkes on the flank before crossing a ball into the six. Deanna Green tried to head it out but she didn’t get enough on it and Clara Robbins pounced on the ball. Robbins took a shot from the edge of the six but Leandra Flury came in at the last minute to block the shot.
In the 23rd minute Howell switched the field with a ball for Robbins on the left flank. Robbins collected the pass and sent a dangerous cross into the six. McFarland ran onto it but Jaguar goal keeper Justice Stanford got there first to kick it away.
In the 39th minute Carle attacked from the right flank. She was dispossessed by Wilkes but the ball went straight to Zhao. Yujie executed a beautiful left-footed chip for Deyna Castellanos who was lurking in the box. Castellanos turned and tried to conjure some magic. Deyna tried a right-footed bicycle kick that went just wide of the left post.
In the 41st minute Castellanos went for another highlight reel goal. Stanford punted the ball to midfield. Howell headed the ball to Castellanos. Deyna took a couple of touches and launched a shot from the right side of the midfield circle trying to catch Stanford off her line. The ball sailed over Stanford’s head but Castellanos put a little too much on it and the ball went over the crossbar landing in the netting over the goal.
In the 45th minute FSU earned a corner kick. Jenna Nighswonger took it short to Heather Payne. Payne played it back to Nighswonger who sent a left-footed cross dangerously into the six. Leilanni Nesbeth was perfectly placed in the box and she got up for a header on goal. However, Stanford displayed her athleticism and she was able to snatch the ball out of the air denying Nesbeth.
In the 57th minute Castellanos collected a pass from Robbins. She then beat a couple of defenders before slicing into the box and rifling a right-footed shot that curved toward goal. Stanford came up huge diving to her left to knock the ball away to safety. It was tough to see from my angle but it looked like the shot might have taken the slightest of deflections which made Stanford’s save all the more impressive.
In the 58th minute the Seminoles kept the pressure on. Howell switched the field for Robbins on the left flank. Robbins showed her skill with a nice move to beat a defender. She got by another defender before charging into the box. Robbins then sent a laser shot on goal with her right foot but Stanford was up to the task again keeping her team in the game with another impressive save.
However in the 59th minute FSU got the insurance goal. Abbey Newton found Zhao who attacked the defense off the dribble. Zhao then slipped an exquisite ball through the defense right to McFarland’s foot. McFarland took a touch, turned and fired a shot that ended up in the back of the net inside the left post. It was the 7th of the season for McFarland.
In the 77th minute Howell picked out Robbins on the left flank. Robbins collected the pass and went straight to work attacking the Jaguar defense. She beat four defenders with a series of moves before sending right-footed shot toward goal that was caught by Stanford.
From there Florida State was able to frustrate the comeback attempt of South Alabama and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 2-0 victory.
FSU is now 45-1-1 at home in the NCAA Tournament. The one tie was last year to USC and the Noles of course won that game on penalties on their way to the National Championship.
The Seminoles had 20 shots (9 on goal) to two (one on goal) for USA.
Tactically the Noles made an important adjustment in this game. FSU switched Gabby Carle and Abbey Newton on the right side. Coach Mark Krikorian moved Carle from her usual right back position placing her up the field in an attacking position on the right wing. Meanwhile Newton was moved from her usual spot on the right wing into Carle’s old place at right back. Also, Clara Robbins was inserted into the starting lineup on the left wing in place of Jenna Nighswonger. This move was necessitated because the Noles simply weren’t threatening enough on the flanks with the previous personnel. It was a big reason for the loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament. The early returns that we saw tonight were encouraging but with apologies to the Sun Belt champion Jaguars we won’t know for sure about the ultimate effectiveness of this new lineup until the Noles face tougher opposition later in the Tournament.
South Alabama wasn’t the toughest test but after taking over a week off the Seminoles didn’t look rusty tonight. There was a bit of frustration voiced by the team after the game because they could only manage a pair of goals when they had 20 shots but the offense looked more dangerous tonight than it has in weeks. If the Noles are peaking at the right time they could be in for another long run in the NCAA Tournament.
Speaking of the Tournament, Florida State will return to the Seminole Soccer Complex on Friday, November 22nd at 5pm to take on the Brown Bears. Brown defeated Monmouth today on penalties to advance to the second round.