No. 2 Florida State (5-0) defeated Pitt (8-3, 2-3 ACC) by a 4-1 score this evening in Pittsburgh, PA.
As expected, Florida State dominated possession early. Even so, the Noles haven’t played in eleven days and it took them a little while to find their rhythm as the passing was slightly off early. However, that didn’t keep FSU from jumping ahead first on the scoreboard.
In the 10th minute Malia Berkely wove through Pitt defenders driving the ball upfield from her center back spot. As she entered Pitt’s defensive third Berkely laid the ball off for LeiLanni Nesbeth who had delayed her run. Nesbeth received the ball. She then turned toward goal, took a touch to get some space from defender Chloe Minas, and then uncorked a right footed blast from about 30 yards out. The ball bounced once right before goal before getting past keeper Caitlyn Lazzarini and ending up in the lower left corner of the goal. It was Nesbeth’s third goal of the season.
Earlier this week head coach Mark Krikorian remarked on FSU’s possession strategy.
When we get the ball we want to get into a nice big open attacking shape and make sure that we are creating triangles and good passing angles all over the field.”
In the 20th minute FSU provided an example of how that strategy looks on the field. Emily Madril brought the ball upfield. She found Kirsten Pavlisko on the right flank. Pavlisko sent it back to Madril who spotted Jaelin Howell open in the middle of the field entering the Panther defensive third. Howell sent it to Kristen McFarland who had her back to goal 20 yards away. McFarland touched it to Clara Robbins who was behind her providing an outlet. Robbins took a couple of touches and then played give and go with Howell. McFarland eventually ended up with the ball. McFarland laid the ball off for Kaitlyn Zipay on the right side. Zipay took a touch to get by Athalie Palomo before rocketing a right footed blast ticketed for the lower left corner of the goal. Pitt keeper Lazzarini dove to her right and came up with an impressive save to deny Zipay by deflecting the ball with her outstretched right hand for a corner kick.
In the 25th minute Gabby Carle found Kristina Lynch upfield. Lynch passed the ball to Yujie Zhao on the left flank. Zhao put a move on Palomo but eventually passed back to Lynch who was moving forward. Lynch dribbled up to the edge of the 18 yard box and fired for goal but her shot went wide left.
In the 27th minute Howell switched the field for Clara Robbins on the right flank. Robbins battled Palomo for the ball but eventually got by her. Robbins was immediately challenged by Mackenzie Edwards but Robbins drove to the end line before delivering a dangerous cross into the box. Lynch eventually pounced on it from about nine yards out but she slipped a bit before shooting and her right footed shot went inches over the goal.
In the 29th minute Jody Brown used her speed and tenacity to win a 50-50 ball. She drove the ball into Pitt’s defensive third before spotting Heather Payne sneaking behind the Panther defense. Payne’s first touch betrayed her. The ball went into the air and Palomo (she was everywhere) tried to head it back to Lazzarini in goal. Lazzarini couldn’t catch it though and Payne tried to get her foot on it but she missed and fell to the ground. After a couple of bounces Anna Bout tracked back to clear it for Pitt.
In the 38th minute Florida State generated a golden opportunity. Madril delivered a gorgeous ball from her position in FSU’s defensive third all the way upfield to Payne who was streaking down the right flank. Payne had gotten past the defense and Brown was matching her stride for stride down the middle of the field. Payne delivered a perfect cross to an open Brown who banged a one-timer with her left foot that went just wide right. FSU did not score here but this sequence illustrated very well one of the big differences between this year’s team and last year’s team. Last year FSU was not as able to get such good service from the back as Madril was out with an injury. Even if they had gotten such service the Noles couldn’t attack from the wing. They didn’t have anyone who could get open and be effective on the wing like Payne did here. Payne was on the team last year but she was forced to play out of position on the back line. Finally, the Seminoles had no one last year with Brown’s speed who could get open consistently behind the defense. They didn’t score this time but this type of aggressive play will pay dividends down the line. One more point; this team can play in a variety of ways. Earlier we detailed how the Noles can generate offense through a possession style of play. Here they demonstrated how they can create very good chances playing a direct style. This type of offensive versatility bodes well for the future prospects of this team.
In the 45th minute the Panthers struck back. Leah Pais spotted Amanda West racing down the left flank. Pais delivered a perfect ball that West collected in stride. West took a couple of touches and executed a sparkling cross right into the Seminole six yard box. Madison Clayton and Gabby Carle both crashed down for the ball but Clayton beat Carle to the ball and banged the ball into the back of the net with her left foot. The goal tied the score at one and it was the first goal that FSU has conceded all year. There may be questions about whether Seminole keeper Cristina Roque should have come off her line to intercept the cross but I think that it was just a great play by Pitt. Tip your cap and move on to the second half.
The goal at the end of the first half clearly gave Pitt a boost. The Panthers started the second half with much more confidence and it showed early.
In the 50th minute West collected the ball at midfield. She took a couple of touches and found Emily Yaple cutting through FSU’s defense. Berkely raised her hand calling for an offside call but the assistant referee wasn’t interested. Yaple tried to chip the ball past Berkely for Pais in the box but Berkely blocked the pass.
In the 53rd minute Howell found Berkely moving up the field. Berkely attacked the defense and eventually fired a right footed blast from about 26 yards out. The ball went just over the goal.
In the 56th minute there was controversy. Nesbeth and Yaple were going for a loose ball. Yaple clattered into Nesbeth from behind and Nesbeth went down drawing the foul. Pitt will have a complaint as the foul was a bit soft but the Noles will take it.
FSU was awarded a free kick from about 25 yards away. Berkely stepped up to take it and Malia sent a beautiful ball over the Pitt wall searching for Lynch at the back post. The ball glanced off a leaping Kate McKay’s head but it went right into the path of Lynch and the Seminole junior banged a sharp header past Lazzarini into the back of the net.
This is where the controversy began. Immediately Lynch started celebrating with her teammates but assistant referee Sam Reynolds signaled offside. However, it pretty clearly wasn’t offside since the ball glanced off of Pitt player McKay’s head and not an FSU player. Therefore, it didn’t create an offside condition and Lynch was free to deliver with her header. The referees, to their credit, almost immediately reversed the call and awarded Florida State the goal. However, for some reason it didn’t register with the score keeper. It took four minutes of game time (six minutes of real time) before the score was changed on the scoreboard to 2-1.
Pitt didn’t go away. In the 58th minute the Panthers took the ball down the left flank after a turnover. They eventually sent a dangerous searching ball into the Seminole box. Clayton tried to run onto it but Carle blocked her path. Clayton eventually won the ball and got off a shot that was blocked by Roque but it didn’t count as she was called for a foul for pushing Carle in the back.
In the 67th minute Brown stole the ball and raced up field. She beat a couple of defenders and found Robbins at the edge of the box. Robbins sent the ball into the box but her pass missed Brown and a charging Yujie Zhao.
In the 69th minute the Noles earned some insurance. Howell chipped the ball forward from the midfield to Zhao who slotted a pretty pass for Lynch on the left flank. Lynch was challenged by McKay but she found Jenna Nighswonger in the middle of the Pitt box. Jenna took a touch and then sent a right footed lazer toward goal. Lazzarini made a kick save but unfortunately for her the ball glanced back up over her and into the back of the net for FSU’s third goal of the night.
In the 74th minute Berkely switched the play for Zhao on the right flank. Zhao sent the ball into the box for an unmarked Howell who sent a header over the goal.
In the 80th minute Nighswonger earned a brace. Carle played the ball ahead to Jenna who split a pair of Pitt defenders. Nighswonger was eventually taken down in the box but there was no whistle. Brown came out of nowhere with her speed to dart in and steal the ball. She took a touch and leapt over Lazzarini eventually sending a right footed shot toward goal. Unfortunately for FSU, Hailey Davidson was there making a great hustle play and she blocked the ball from entering the goal. The ball bounced right back to Nighswonger who had gotten up off the ground. Jenna collected the ball and was challenged by Lazzarini. Nighswonger chipped a cheeky ball with her left foot over Lazzarini and past a pair of defenders into the back of the net.
To their credit the Panthers didn’t quit. In the 81st minute Chloe Menas intercepted a pass. She took a touch and fired from about 36 yards out. Roque was there but she was forced to knock the ball over the crossbar for a corner kick. Davidson took the ensuing corner and sent a dangerous ball into the six. It bounced off Dixon Veltri and Pais got off a shot from close range that was blocked from going into the goal by Kirsten Pavlisko who was guarding the right post.
From there the Noles were able to seal the game and walk away with their fifth victory of the season.
FSU outshot Pitt 21 (8 on goal) to 3 (3 on goal). The Seminoles had four corners and Pitt had one.
The second half was played entirely in a steady rain shower.
Happy birthday to Kirsten Pavlisko.
The game was played with artificial crowd noise from the Bundesliga piped into the stadium. Obviously fans are limited this season but I am not a big supporter of having artificial crowd noise used at these games. I felt the same way about the crowd noise used in the NBA bubble. Let us hear the natural sound of the game on the field. We would probably hear some interesting comments from the players.
We learned something about Florida State in this game. Pitt scored a goal on the Noles at the end of the first half and had momentum starting the second half. However, the Seminoles took control of the game quickly and asserted their dominance scoring three goals in the second half. It is easy to say that of course that should happen as FSU is considerably more talented than Pitt. However, this shouldn’t be dismissed because we haven’t seen this team have to play under pressure yet and they responded. This is a good sign for the future.
Florida State is simply loaded with talent. Even after only five games the quality is evident. I alluded to this in the article but they are able to play several different styles and it is really impressive.
Jaelin Howell has been called into the United States Women’s National Team camp. She will be joined there by former Nole Casey Short. Howell will miss the big game against Virginia and will likely miss the Duke game as well.
Virginia will be an interesting test. They have lost three starters off their back line from last year to graduation and they are dealing with injuries. However, they are still the most talented team FSU has faced to date and they will be playing at home. Howell’s absence could also be a factor. The Noles dropped both games they played against the Cavaliers last year so revenge may be on their mind.
Florida State will head to Charlottesville, VA for a date with the Cavaliers on Sunday. The game will kick off at 3:30pm and will be broadcast on ESPN2 so all of you in Tallahassee will be able to see it (Yay!).