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Florida State soccer routs Notre Dame to open the season

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The Noles start the season in scintillating fashion

2018 NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Florida State (1-0) defeated Notre Dame (0-1) by a 5-0 score tonight at the Seminole Soccer Complex in Tallahassee, FL.

Game Recap

Yujie Zhao came off the bench but it didn’t take her long to make her mark in this game. In the 20th minute Malia Berkely drove the ball into Notre Dame’s defensive third. She laid the ball off to Zhao who was open in the middle of the field with her back to goal. Zhao turned, took a touch and fired a left-footed cracker from about 20 yards out. The strike beat a diving Mattie Interian in goal landing in the right side of the net to give the Noles a 1-0 lead.

In the 33rd minute Ran Iwai found Gabby Carle cutting down the left flank. Carle turned and delivered a cross to Jenna Nighswonger who was fighting for position with Eva Gaetino in the box. Nighswonger managed to get a foot on the ball as she was falling down but her right footed shot went just wide.

In the 34th minute Emily Madril picked out Clara Robbins up the field. Robbins laid it off for Zhao who was lurking in the middle of the pitch. Zhao found Jody Brown about a yard inside the box. Brown made a move and then turned and fired but her shot was well wide.

In the 38th minute Madril received a pass from Berkely and drove up field. She put a move on Kiki Van Zanten then beat Camryn Dyke with speed. Madril took another touch and then fired a low left-footed shot that ended up perfectly placed in the lower left corner of the goal. Madril has missed the last two seasons with a pair of ACL tears but you wouldn’t have known it from this foray toward goal.

In the 57th minute Clara Robbins spotted Zhao open in the middle of the field. Zhao spotted the keeper off her line so she took a touch and immediately fired for goal from distance. Her right footed shot sailed over Interian’s outstretched arm for the third Seminole goal and the second from Zhao.

In the 68th minute Nighswonger got in on the action. Ran Iwai received the ball on the left flank from Gabby Carle. Iwai put a move on Jenna Winbrenner and sent a dangerous cross into the Irish six yard box. ND keeper Interian dove to her left for the ball but she couldn’t get it. A hustling Kaitlyn Zipay saved the ball from going over the touch line. Zipay somehow beat Irish defender Eva Wirtz to the ball barely nudging it back into the field of play. Nighswonger was lurking in the box and she jumped on the ball pounding a right-footed blast past a helpless Interian to give the Seminoles a 4-0 lead.

In the 75th minute Zipay drove the ball down the right flank eventually laying the ball off for a trailing Nighswonger who was open in the middle of the field. Jenna took a touch and fired a left-footed blast from about 19 yards out. Her shot was blocked by Jade Gosar but Leilanni Nesbeth tracked down the ricochet. Nesbeth took a couple of touches and then fired a right-footed shot that went just wide of the goal after being deflected off of Gosar’s shin.

In the 77th minute Berkely drove the ball down the field eventually finding a wide open Clara Robbins in the middle of the pitch. Robbins found Zipay on the right flank. Eva Hurm and Jenna Winebrenner tried to shut Zipay down with a double team. However, Zipay saw it coming and split the double team with an impressive move firing a left footed shot from about eight yards out. Interian got down to make an impressive save with her left leg to deny Zipay.

In the 79th minute Clara Robbins stole the ball in midfield. She delivered a perfect pass to Jody Brown who was waiting in the middle of the pitch. Brown took a touch putting the ball ahead of her planning to use her speed to run onto it. Brown somehow used her speed and athleticism to fight past Irish defender Caroline Gray and get a toe on the ball. Irish keeper Interian made a mistake by coming off of her line and Brown’s toe poke went right past her sending the ball into the net for the fifth FSU goal of the night.

In the 81st minute Gabby Carle found Ran Iwai on the left flank. Iwai put a nifty move on Ellie Ospeck firing a right footed shot from the edge of the box. The ball was ticketed for the right side of the goal but Interian made a sparkling save diving to her left to deny Iwai.

From there the Seminoles closed out the match going home with an extremely impressive 5-0 victory.

Post Game

I know that there are some caveats here. It was only one game. Notre Dame, while no slouch, is only a middle of the road ACC team picked to finish sixth in the ACC by the coaches. The game was at home and it can be argued that road teams are going to be at a disadvantage this year due to to covid protocols. However, all that aside, this was an extremely impressive opening night performance from Florida State.

In the preview that I published earlier today I said that FSU was loaded. Based on this performance I may have undersold this team. A healthy Florida State is something to see.

Here are some knee jerk thoughts. I call them knee jerk because it is only one game and we will have to see if these thoughts remain true for the season (they probably will).

FSU is really deep when everyone is available. The Noles scored five goals and four of them were from “bench players”. I put bench players in quotes because while they came off the bench tonight Yujie Zhao, Jenna Nighswonger and Jody Brown are not really bench players. However you slice it though this team has a ton of depth. The coaches must be giddy at the prospect of mixing and matching lineups with this kind of talent up and down the roster.

Welcome back Emily Madril! Of course her goal was a thing of beauty as she showcased her confidence driving down the field from her spot on the backline. But she was more than that goal tonight. Madril played a full 90 minutes and you would never have known that this was her first game in Garnet and Gold since 2017. She was always in the right place on defense and looked 100% healthy. Madril provides another confident leader on the backline next to all-American Malia Berkely. Her presence could conceivably elevate the team to another level.

Speaking of defense, the whole team was much better on that end of the field. Obviously they kept a clean sheet but they were much better organized on set-pieces. Set-pieces were an achilles heel for FSU last year but early on they seem to have made a marked improvement in that area. The Seminoles held the Irish to only two shots all game with only one of them being on goal. Freshman Cristina Roque made her debut in goal for FSU. While there were one or two issues early in the game Roque settled down and showed why she was so highly regarded coming out of high school. Roque is simply dripping with talent. Head coach Mark Krikorian confirmed after the game that Roque won the job in training camp and will be the starting keeper going forward.

We have discussed ad nauseam in this space about how Florida State is a possession team. That remains true but FSU has improved in that area as well. The Noles are now possessing the ball with purpose and in a threatening manner much more than they did last year. Last year there were too many times where it seemed that FSU was just knocking the ball around without being threatening. It was almost like possession for possession’s sake. That didn’t happen tonight. Against Notre Dame it seemed like almost every pass had a purpose. The offense was much more threatening tonight even though FSU probably had less possession than an average game from last year.

Speaking of threatening, one of FSU’s weaknesses from last year was that the Noles lacked the ability to threaten defenses from either wing. This problem became particularly acute when Gloriana Villalobos left the team last year. Her departure combined with injuries really zapped FSU’s attack last year. Well that was last year. Ran Iwai, Kristina Lynch and Kaitlyn Zipay are just a few of the players now on the roster capable of attacking very effectively from the flanks. Again, it’s only one game but FSU’s offense looks much more diverse than what we saw last year.

Speaking of diversity, another issue that FSU had offensively last year was a lack of creativity in the final third. If Deyna Castellanos couldn’t pull some type of sorcery out of her hat it seemed that the Nole offense bogged down all too often in scoring territory. That shouldn’t be nearly as much of a problem this year. Besides the improvement on the flanks that we just discussed, Florida State now has players who are ready, willing and able to take on defenders one on one and get results. FSU now has a number of players who can generate offense on their own without fancy buildup. Again, this makes the offense more dangerous because the Seminoles can now score from individual skill and athleticism as well as from buildup and precision passing.

Speaking of athleticism, Jody Brown brings an element to the game that Nole fans haven’t seen since players like Jamia Fields and Tiffany McCarty wore Garnet and Gold. She is fearless and can beat defenders with speed, athleticism and sheer audaciousness. This will be a player to watch for the next four years.

I could go on but I think that you get the picture. This is a team to be reckoned with both in the ACC and nationally.

Speaking of nationally, an announcement was made that the NCAA Division 1 council has approved a plan to move the 2020 fall championships to the spring of 2021. The plan must still be approved by the Division 1 Board of Directors to be implemented.

The relevant proposal for soccer is below:

Women’s soccer

Action at the finals site for the Women’s College Cup is May 13-17. The bracket will consist of 48 teams, with 31 automatic qualifiers and 17 at-large selections.

Normally, the bracket size for the women’s soccer championship is 64 teams, with four teams advancing to the finals site.

Regular-season competition can be played Feb. 3-April 24, with selections on April 25.

Previous to this announcement the plan was to allow all Fall sport athletes to not count this year toward their eligibility clocks. For example, all seniors would be allowed to return for a final season next year. It is unclear whether these new changes will affect that part of the plan.

Next Game

Florida State will welcome Louisville (1-0) to the Seminole Soccer Complex on Sunday. The game will kick off at 1pm and will be broadcast on the ACCNetwork. The Cardinals beat Miami 3-0 tonight in Coral Gables.