No. 1 Florida State (21-1-2) defeated no. 5 Rutgers (19-4-2) by a 1-0 score in Santa Clara, CA to advance to the championship game of the NCAA tournament.
Florida State started off on the front foot in this game. In the fourth minute Clara Robbins and Emma Misal were battling for the ball in the right corner. Robbins eventually got by Misal and delivered a cross into the box. Surprise starter Ran Iwai was there on the left side of the box to head the ball back toward goal. Beata Olsson was standing inside the six and she headed Iwai’s service on goal but Olsson’s shot clanged off the crossbar and caromed back onto the field. LeiLanni Nesbeth pounced on the ball and one-timed a right footed shot to goal but her shot was deflected over the crossbar by Allison Lynch.
FSU earned successive corners. On the third corner, Nesbeth sent a searching ball into the box. Jaelin Howell beat Becci Fluchel to the ball but Howell’s header went straight to Rutgers keeper Meagan McClelland who had no trouble catching it for the save.
In the 10th minute the Scarlet Knights generated a promising chance. Kirsten Pavlisko attempted to play the ball out of the back. However, Riley Tiernan was able to block the ball and take it away. Tiernan drove into the box shedding Pavlisko. Tiernan got herself open for the shot from about eight yards away but Cristina Roque was positioned perfectly and easily caught the ball for the save.
In the 49th minute the Scarlet Knights generated another chance. Emily Mason drove the ball up the field from her spot on the backline. Howell came up to challenge her but Mason coolly delivered a perfect ball to Amirah Ali who had established inside position against Gabby Carle. Ali received the ball and turned for goal with a full head of steam. Emily Madril came out of nowhere for a sliding tackle but Ali just barely got a very dangerous shot off before Madril could tackle the ball away. However, Roque came up with a sparkling save diving to her left to get a hand on the ball to knock it away.
In the 69th minute the Seminoles earned another opportunity. Madril spotted Heather Payne making a run down the right flank. Madril delivered a perfect ball for Payne to run onto. Payne laid the ball back for Jenna Nighswonger who was open on the edge of the box. Nighswonger sent the ball over to Yujie Zhao who was open in the box. Zhao one-timed a right footed blast that sailed over the crossbar. Zhao would probably like to have this chance back but she just leaned back a little bit and got under it which is why it went high.
In the 71st minute the Seminoles broke the ice. FSU earned a corner kick. Nighswonger stepped up to take it. Jenna sent a dangerous ball into the box. FSU played it like they usually do flooding the box with players to disrupt the goalkeeper. This time the Noles had five players in the six. The ball went into the box and the Knights had a chance to clear it but the clearance was blocked by Howell and she was able to control it. Howell banged the ball into the back of the net to give the Noles the 1-0 lead.
In the 74th minute FSU kept up the pressure. Howell found Payne streaking down the right flank. Payne delivered a perfect ball for Maria Alagoa who was charging down the the middle of the box. However, Mason broke up the play with a beautiful sliding tackle to deny the insurance goal.
In the 77th minute the Knights pressed forward looking for the equalizer. Allison Lowrey knocked the ball past Madril and had acres of space in front of her on the left side. Lowrey drove into the box and sent a low hard drive for the right corner of the goal. However, Roque was up to the task coming up with a massive save diving to her left to deny Lowrey. But the threat wasn’t over. Frankie Tagliaferri was there for the rebound and she knocked the ball back toward goal. However, Roque displayed her quality yet again by jumping off the ground to block Tagliaferri’s shot and eventually rolling over to grab the ball finally ending the threat.
But the Knights weren’t done. In the 85th minute RU earned successive corners. On the second one Sam Kroeger sent a dangerous curling ball into the box. Roque jumped up to punch the ball but instead of going out the ball went straight up into air. Lowrey got up to head the ball toward the goal but it went across the face of goal instead. Mason was there for a header but her shot was deflected over the crossbar by Pavlisko’s shoulder.
In the 87th minute RU generated yet another chance. Tiernan beat Carle to the ball on the right side. Tiernan crossed the ball into the box for Lowrey who was being marked by Madril. The ball was partially blocked by Madril who tried to clear it. However the clearance was kept in and Kroeger unleashed a one-time left footed blast that sailed just over the crossbar.
From there the Noles were able to salt the game away and advance back to the College Cup Final.
Both teams had nine shots and both teams had four shots on goal.
Florida State won the possession battle 59%-41%.
Roque was huge in this game saving FSU’s bacon with at least three incredible saves. If she keeps playing like this FSU will be hard to beat in the final.
Rutgers was able to frustrate FSU in the first half. The beginning strategy was for the Scarlet Knights to press up the field trying to disrupt FSU’s possession tactics as well as hopefully forcing a turnover. Later in the game RU fell back and operated out of a low block often having five players on the backline. That strategy worked for most of the game as Rutgers was able to stifle the Seminole offense by closing down opportunities and denying the Noles space.
The Seminoles were also a bit off in this game with their passing. The pace of the game was a bit slow as well. Part of that was dictated by RU’s tactics as the Scarlet Knights were mostly content to allow FSU to have possession as long as the Noles couldn’t convert the possession into dangerous chances.
However, in the final ten minutes the Scarlet Knights pressed forward and generated the most opportunities they had all game. It is fair to wonder what would have happened had the Knights played that way the whole game.
Florida State has only conceded one goal in this tournament and that came on a penalty kick. The defense has been extremely good but most of the teams that the Noles have played in the tournament have conceded possession to FSU and that has limited the opportunities for opposing teams to score. Expect that to continue if FSU meets Santa Clara on Sunday. However, BYU will likely press forward and play a more aggressive style.
Florida State will play the winner of the BYU vs. Santa Clara semifinal. If Santa Clara wins the championship game will be on Sunday at 8pm. If BYU wins the championship game will be on Monday at 8pm. Either way the game will be broadcast on ESPNU.