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FSU soccer advances to Elite 8 with tough win over South Florida

This is FSU’s 14th Elite 8 appearance since 2003.

(1) Florida State (18-5, #4 RPI) defeated South Florida (16-5, #24 RPI) by a 2-1 score today at the Seminole Soccer Complex.

Game Recap

This game got off to a fast start. In the second minute FSU keeper Caroline Jeffers took a free kick after a USF foul. Jeffers boomed the ball all the way down to the South Florida defensive third. A defender tried to clear the ball with a header but it went backwards. Kristen McFarland was able to run onto it after battling with defender Lucy Roberts. McFarland was able to touch the ball away from USF keeper Sydney Martinez. However, the touch was a bit too heavy and the ball was cleared by Sabrina Wagner.

In the fifth minute the Bulls were able to jump into the lead. USF earned a throw-in. Jaelin Howell knocked the ball back with a back heel. Unfortunately for her the ball went straight into the path of Katie Kitching. Kitching took a couple of touches and then slipped a beautiful ball between a pair of FSU defenders right to Aubrey Megrath. Megrath used a great first touch to get behind the defense and then she was 1v1 with the keeper. Megrath used the outside of her right boot to knock the ball past Jeffers and into the goal. Jeffers really didn’t have a chance. It was a calm and clinical finish from Megrath to give the Bulls an early lead.

In the ninth minute the Seminoles earned a corner kick. Yujie Zhao took it for FSU and she executed a give and go with Jenna Nighswonger. After getting the ball back Zhao drove into the box and then laid it off to a wide open Deyna Castellanos in the box. Castellanos one-timed a shot with her right foot that sailed way over the goal. It is very unusual to see Castellanos miss that badly on a relatively open look.

In the 30th minute Gabby Carle drove down the right flank. She took the ball down to the endline and then she crossed it into the box. USF defender Brianna Blethen was standing in the box and it appeared that the ball struck her hand or arm before deflecting out of bounds. However the referee didn’t call a hand ball and FSU had to be content with a corner.

Nighswonger took the corner and she drove a curving ball into the box. Martinez was there for the save but she couldn’t control it and the ball bounced away. The Bulls eventually came up with it and they raced down the field on the counter-attack. Sydny Nasello took the ball almost to midfield before she found Evelyne Viens who was streaking down the field. Viens took the ball and worked it into the box before rifling a right-footed shot that clanged off the right post and rebounded harmlessly away. FSU was inches away from being down two goals.

In the 34th minute Malia Berkely drove down the field before passing to Castellanos. Deyna found Clara Robbins on the left flank. Robbins one-timed a left-footed cross into the box. Zhao sliced in and just missed securing the equalizer as she was inches away from volleying the ball into the net with her right foot.

In the 45th minute the Noles did find the equalizer. Nighswonger found Heather Payne who was making a run into the box on the right side. Payne eventually managed to cross the ball to a wide open Jaelin Howell who was camped inside the box. Howell one-timed a right footed blast from about a foot outside the six that went straight into the goal to tie the game at one:

In the 53rd minute Yujie Zhao played a square ball across the middle. Nighswonger deftly one-timed a pass over to Carle who was cutting into the box. Carle was then taken down in the box by Blethen and the referee blew the whistle and pointed to the spot. This was an easy call. Carle was definitely in the box when she went down and it was certainly a foul. Castellanos stepped up to take the penalty kick and she slotted a right-footed shot into the right corner of the goal to give the Seminoles their first lead of the game at 2-1:

In the 56th minute McFarland was knocked down and fouled a couple of yards to the left of the box. Castellanos took the free kick and went straight for goal. Her shot bounced off the top of the crossbar for a USF goal kick.

In the 75th minute Nasello fought for a 50-50 ball and managed to win it. She then turned and ran at the Seminole defense. The Noles didn’t shut her down quick enough and Nasello uncorked a right-footed shot from about 24 yards out that just missed wide left.

In the 80th minute Zhao drove the ball into the Bull defensive third. She made a nice move and then slipped a left-footed pass for McFarland at the edge of the box. McFarland ran for it but she couldn’t reach it before Martinez could scoop it up. It appeared that the reason why McFarland couldn’t get to the ball was that she was slightly grabbed by Roberts. However, the referee didn’t call it.

From there the Seminoles were able to salt the game away and advance to the Elite Eight with a hard earned 2-1 victory over South Florida.

Post Game

This game was extremely physical. South Florida was called for a whopping 29 fouls. The Bulls also had six yellow cards assessed against them including one that was called on the coaching staff. FSU was whistled 11 times earning one yellow card (McFarland).

The Noles earned 10 corner kicks and conceded zero corners to USF. FSU also enjoyed a 68%- 32% edge in possession.

South Florida, like every team FSU faces, wanted to disrupt FSU’s possession style. The Bulls tried to do it by playing a very physical style and that led to all of the fouls and the cards. It can fairly be said that there could have been more fouls and cards assessed as there were several tough plays that didn’t draw whistles. This strategy by the Bulls worked to an extent especially early but FSU eventually adjusted. The Noles were still able to dominate possession and therefore limit USF’s opportunities. As with any strategy there are downsides. The two downsides to the physical tactics are the risk of a red card and the risk of a foul in the box. It was that second risk that bit USF today as the Seminoles were awarded a penalty kick that ended up being the difference in the game.

Next Game

Florida State will now move on to the Elite Eight once again. The Noles will face UCLA after the Bruins beat Wisconsin 2-0. It’s a rematch from earlier this season when FSU lost to UCLA 2-1 on August 29th in Los Angeles.

The Elite Eight game is scheduled for Friday, November 29th in Tallahassee. The kickoff time is tentatively scheduled for 2pm.