No. 1 Florida State (12-0-0) defeated UW-Milwaukee (9-2-1) by a 3-0 score today at Wake Med Soccer Park in Cary, NC.
Milwaukee’s strategy was clear early in the game. The Panthers were bunkering looking to cut off any offensive opportunities for Florida State. Of course this strategy has a downside which is that MKE was forced to concede almost all of the possession to FSU. Florida State was content to take this deal as the Seminoles enjoyed almost all of the possession early.
The Noles earned their first good chance in the sixth minute. Kirsten Pavlisko received the ball in the midfield. She found Clara Robbins who quickly laid the ball off for Heather Payne on the right flank. Payne drove the ball down and crossed it where LeiLanni Nesbeth pounced on it just outside the six. Nesbeth one-timed a right footed shot that missed wide right.
In the 19th minute Jaelin Howell sent a long ball from the midfield targeting Payne on the right flank. Payne received the ball and immediately tried to get a step on Gaby Schwartz who was defending her. Schwartz reacted by pulling down Payne by her shirt. FSU took the free kick from about 25 yards out. Nesbeth took the kick serving the ball into the box for Howell but Howell’s header was knocked away by the defense.
In the 27th minute Clara Robbins found the ball in the box after a missed clearance by the Panthers. Robbins squared the ball over to Pavlisko who sent it quickly back to Robbins. Clara put a move on Natalie Auble and took a shot at the right edge of the six yard box. The shot was blocked and eventually cleared away.
In the 35th minute Florida State generated another chance. Robbins squared a ball for Yujie Zhao in the middle of the field. Zhao laid it off for Pavlisko who was making an overlapping run. Pavlisko drove the ball into the box before playing it back for Zhao. Yujie then played a quick two-man game with Emily Madril. After receiving it back Zhao served a dangerous ball into the box. Robbins hustled over to get a foot on it but her shot was saved by Panther keeper Elaina Lamacchia.
In the 38th minute the Seminoles earned a free kick. Lauren Flynn drove the ball through the midfield finding Gabby Carle on the left flank. Carle sent the ball to Robbins who received it just outside the 18 yard box. Robbins was immediately taken down by the defense and the whistle sounded. After a quick conference Zhao stepped up to take the free kick. Zhao went straight for goal and her shot skidded off the top of the crossbar just missing scoring FSU’s first goal.
In the 49th minute FSU earned another free kick. Howell drove the ball into the Milwaukee third. Howell was taken down at the edge of the 18 by Auble. Jenna Nighswonger and LeiLanni Nesbeth stood over the ball. Jenna eventually took the kick squaring the ball for Robbins who was unmarked just outside the box. Robbins drove the ball into the box. She was dispossessed by the defense but as she was falling to the ground she managed to get a toe on the ball and it bounced off a defender’s foot. Kristen McFarland pounced on it and sent it into the back of the net for FSU’s first goal of the tournament. It was McFarland’s first goal of the season.
In the 60th minute Florida State had another chance. Ran Iwai received the ball on the right flank. Iwai put a move on the defender before crossing the ball into the box. Nesbeth was there and one-timed a right-footed shot as she was getting challenged by the defense. Her shot trickled wide left.
In the 72nd minute Iwai received the ball in the midfield. She immediately advanced the ball up to Jody Brown who had her back to the goal. Brown laid it off for Zhao who one-timed it over to a wide open Kristina Lynch in the box on the left flank. Lynch crossed a wicked ball across the face of the goal for Brown but the ball was deflected by the defense before it could get to Brown for the easy tap in goal.
Florida State secured some insurance in the 77th minute. The Noles earned a corner kick. Zhao took the corner sending it to the near post. The ball bounced out and Gabby Carle pounced on it one-timing a blast into the back of the net.
In the 80th minute the Seminoles added another one. Howell intercepted an attempted clearance and rocketed a missile from about 21 yards out that beat the keeper for FSU’s third and final goal.
From there the Noles cruised to the comfortable 3-0 win to open the NCAA Tournament.
Florida State had 20 shots with nine on goal while limiting Milwaukee to zero shots. FSU also had six corner kicks to zero for MKE.
While the Seminoles didn’t have their A game this was still a very good way to open the Tournament. FSU accomplished the two main goals: win the game and avoid injuries. In addition, because this wasn’t Florida State’s best performance there will be areas for the coaches to harp on for improvement.
Specifically, FSU was a bit rusty early with a couple of bad touches and a couple of errant passes. The Seminoles haven’t played an official game since the ACC championship on November 15th. The last game that I believe FSU actually played was an exhibition game against a men’s club team on April 11th. That is quite a break between games so there is no shock that there was a bit of rust early.
However, there is quite a talent gap between these two teams. Milwaukee was game today and they didn’t quit but FSU is number one for a reason. The Seminoles are the most talented team in this tournament and that showed today. The Panthers played 11 players behind the ball for almost the entire game. MKE was obviously playing for penalty kicks but holding off FSU by bunkering for 90 minutes (plus 20 overtime minutes) is a tall order.
Early in the game it seemed that the Noles had reverted to just knocking the ball around and being content with possession for possession’s sake. That was more like what we saw last year from this team. As the game went on the Noles became more threatening.
Of course the Panthers applied very little pressure on FSU so we didn’t get a good idea of how the Noles will fare defensively without Malia Berkely. However, Lauren Flynn did not look out of place at her new position of centerback replacing Berkely.
Florida State will face the winner of the Vanderbilt/Penn State game on May 5th at 3pm from Wake Med Soccer Park in Cary, NC.