Top ranked Florida State (13-0-3) drew 1-1 with no. 11 Santa Clara (10-1-1) tonight in the championship game of the NCAA Tournament in Cary, NC at WakeMed Park. The Broncos won the championship by defeating the Seminoles 4-1 in the penalty kick shootout.
Florida State made some significant changes in this game. Yujie Zhao and Jenna Nighswonger started for the first time this year. Also, FSU changed formations. The Seminoles moved Clara Robbins to the backline and they used a man-marking strategy with Kirsten Pavlisko and Lauren Flynn marking the Santa Clara forwards Kelsey Turnbow and Izzy D’Aquila.
Florida State started off well in this game. In the fourth minute Jaelin Howell spotted Gabby Carle on the left flank. Carle drove the ball to the edge of the 18 before crossing it for Zhao who was darting in at the top of the six. However, Zhao’s shot was blocked and cleared by the defense.
FSU was dominating possession early but most of it was in their defensive third. The Seminoles were having a bit of trouble relieving the Santa Clara pressure early.
In the 26th minute Florida State generated another chance. Jody Brown knocked an SCU pass away and Nighswonger came up with it. Nighswonger took a couple of touches and passed ahead to Kristen McFarland who had created some space for herself at the top of the 18. McFarland received the ball but her first touch betrayed her as the ball got away from her a little bit. SCU keeper Marlee Nicolos charged off her line and defender Marisa Bubnis came in from behind and all three went for the ball but it was knocked out of bounds for a corner kick.
Later in the 26th minute there was controversy. Nighswonger kept a clearance in with a header. Jody Brown retrieved the ball and sent it over to Robbins on the right flank. Robbins collected the ball and put a move on defender Makoto Nezu beating her to get inside the box. Turnbow came over to help Nezu and she took Robbins down inside the box. Referee Christina Unkel did not blow her whistle and no foul was called.
This was a pivotal play in the game and therefore warrants more discussion. The laws of the game of soccer (football) are very clear. If an attacking player is fouled in the penalty box a penalty kick will be awarded to the attacking team. Period. However, there are many referees who will only award penalty kicks when the foul is obvious because of the gravity of awarding a penalty kick. Penalty kicks can obviously be decisive in who wins or loses and they shouldn’t be given out unless absolutely warranted. Also, it appeared that Robbins was not moving toward goal when she was taken down. Again, this is irrelevant according to the laws of the game but there are referees who will consider whether the attacking player is threatening the goal when they are fouled. But the laws of the game say that a penalty kick should be awarded if there is a foul in the box. In this case there was a foul in the box. The penalty kick should have been awarded. ESPN analyst Julie Foudy said that the penalty kick should have been awarded in real time and then after a replay Foudy stuck to her position that the penalty kick should have been awarded. If that penalty kick would have been awarded there is a good chance that the Seminoles would be national champions right now. But it wasn’t and they aren’t.
In the 31st minute the Broncos generated their first good chance of the game. Turnbow was battling for the ball with Lauren Flynn in the midfield. Turnbow wrestled her way past Flynn and charged toward goal. Turnbow took the ball into the box where she was challenged by Emily Madril. Turnbow got a small step on Madril but that was all she needed to fire a right-footed laser at goal. FSU keeper Cristina Roque was there to make a brilliant one-handed reflex save sending the ball harmlessly over the crossbar.
In the 37th minute Carle received the ball on the left side. She found Nighswonger in the middle of the field. Nighswonger turned and chipped the ball over the defense for McFarland who was posting up at the edge of the 18. McFarland couldn’t control it cleanly and the ball got away from her. Alex Loera came in to clear it for SCU but McFarland clattered into her from behind. Somehow the foul went against Loera. Makeup call for the missed penalty kick? In any case the Noles had a free kick from just outside the box. Nighswonger took the kick and drove it straight into the wall.
In the second half FSU came out and still dominated possession but it was much more threatening. Early in the second half the Seminoles were possessing the ball in Santa Clara’s half of the field and thereby putting the Bronco defense under significantly more pressure.
In the 49th minute the Noles earned another free kick. Nighswonger moved the ball upfield. Carle made an overlapping run on the left flank trying to catch up to the ball before it went over the endline. Julie Doyle tried to shield Carle off from the ball put the referee called a foul on her for pushing Carle to the ground. FSU had a free kick from a dangerous spot on the left side of the box about 19 yards away from goal. Zhao sent a searching ball into the six. Howell tried to get a head on it but it was headed away by Loera. LeiLanni Nesbeth headed it back into the six. McFarland got up for another header but the ball was knocked away by keeper Nicolos. The whistle blew and McFarland was called for the foul on Nicolos.
In the 55th minute the Noles earned another chance. Kirsten Pavlisko sent the ball over to Robbins who was open on the right side. Robbins immediately spotted a wide open Nighswonger at the edge of the 18. Nighswonger served the ball into the six and Carle ran onto it. Carle one-timed a right footed shot that went over the goal.
One of the second half adjustments made by head coach Mark Krikorian was to move Robbins up more into her normal midfield position. This allowed FSU to apply more pressure and that resulted in more chances.
In the 57th minute Florida State kept attacking. Madril received the ball in her defensive position and immediately attacked upfield. She took the ball into the midfield and played give and go with her good friend Robbins. Madril took the ball back and charged upfield drawing three defenders before laying the ball off for a wide open Zhao on the right side. Zhao was in the box one v one with the keeper but her first touch betrayed her and the ball got away from her as she tried to avoid Nicolos who had charged off her line. Loera tracked back and managed to clear the ball away.
In the 63rd minute FSU finally broke the ice. Zhao received the ball as she was posting up just outside the box. After drawing defenders to her she laid the ball off for Nighswonger on the right side. Nighswonger caught up to the ball and took a couple of touches and then fired a left-footed lethal curving ball toward goal. The ball hit just inside the left post and ricocheted into the goal for a 1-0 Seminole lead. It was FSU’s first goal in 304 minutes in the tournament.
63' | Jenna comes up HUGE!!! The Noles take the lead— FSU Soccer (@FSUSoccer) May 17, 2021
: ESPN 2 pic.twitter.com/agYOPt2c6J
In the 65th minute SCU generated a chance. Loera took the ball away in the midfield. Sally Menti took the ball up the field. Menti played give and go with D’Aquila before firing a blast that went over the crossbar from just outside the 18.
SCU kept pressing. In the 71st minute Keren Goor drove the ball into the FSU box. She found Menti on the left side. Menti made a cross into the box that went between Goor and D’Aquila. FSU cleared the ball away.
In the 72nd minute the Broncos earned a corner kick. Turnbow delivered a dangerous ball into the box. Skylar Smith got her head on the ball but the ball went over the goal.
In the 73rd minute FSU generated a dangerous counter attack. Robbins picked out Brown who was streaking down the field. Brown challenged a pair of defenders before passing it back to McFarland. McFarland sent it right back to Brown but she couldn’t control the pass and Bubnis cleared the ball away to safety.
In the 84th minute the Broncos found the equalizer. FSU was possessing the ball in the back. Pavlisko sent an errant pass to Madril in the middle of the field. The ball was tracked down by Turnbow. Madril challenged her but Turnbow turned her around and Madril slipped on the wet turf. That slip gave Turnbow the time she needed to fire a left footed shot that slipped past Roque to tie the score at one goal apiece.
In the 86th minute the Noles generated another chance. Madril found Kristina Lynch who was making a brilliant run from the right side. Lynch took a couple of touches before laying it off for an open Nighswonger who fired from about 14 yards away. But Nighswonger wasn’t able to strike it cleanly. McFarland tried to flick it forward with a header but the ball went just over the crossbar. Nicolos looked to have it covered anyway.
The game was tied at the end of regulation and went into overtime.
In the 97th minute Madril drove the ball into the box from the right side. She split a couple of defenders before laying it off for Brown in the box. Brown one-timed a shot but it was deflected by Nezu. The Noles kept the pressure on and earned a pair of corners. On the second one Nighswonger sent a beautiful ball into the box. Robbins got up for the header at the edge of the six. Her shot was blocked by the defense and the ball pinged around in the mixer. The ball eventually squirted out and Howell tracked it down sending a shot back toward goal that was blocked by Julie Doyle and then cleared away.
In the 100th minute FSU earned more chances. Robbins drove the ball through the midfield and found McFarland who was being swarmed by the defense. McFarland just barely got a touch over to Zhao who was lurking just outside the box. Zhao drove the ball into the box turning around and making moves before firing a left-footed rocket to goal that had the keeper beat but clanged off the crossbar.
The Noles weren’t done. Also in the 100th minute. Pavlisko stole the ball and drove through the midfield. She found Zhao in the middle of the field. Zhao turned and eventually laid the ball off for McFarland at the edge of the 18. Loera knocked the ball away from McFarland. Nicolos raced over to collect the ball to keep it from going over the touchline for a corner. Zhao went over to challenge her. It seemed that Nicolos lost control of the ball for a bit and Zhao took it looking to score in the open goal but the referee called Zhao for the foul saying that Nicolos still had possession.
In the 102nd minute Santa Clara generated a dangerous chance. Menti received the ball in the midfield. Kaile Halvorsen was streaking down the left side wide open as the Noles were pushed forward in the attack. Halvorsen and Brown were racing for the ball but Roque came off her line to clear it away.
In the 107th minute SCU was awarded a free kick when Turnbow was fouled when Lauren Flynn ran into her from behind. Flynn was assessed a yellow card and the Broncos had a free kick from just outside the 18. Loera drove a shot that went straight into the wall.
From there neither team could generate a dangerous chance and the game went to a penalty kick shootout.
The Broncos defeated FSU 4-1 in the shootout as the first two Seminole shots hit the right post. Florida State came up just short in this game but the Seminoles still enjoyed a great season in this year like no other that we have ever seen.
Florida State outshot Santa Clara eight to six but both team had only two shots on goal.
FSU had 65% of the possession for the game.
This game will be tough to swallow for Nole Nation. Florida State outplayed Santa Clara for most of this game but one defensive mistake was enough to allow the Broncos the chance to stay in the game. FSU definitely generated more chances and more dangerous chances in this game but the Seminoles just couldn’t finish them. Also, the non-call on the foul in the penalty box didn’t help.
This was a season the likes of which we have never seen. If this had been a normal season and first team All-American Malia Berkely had been on the team for the entire year things might have been different. We will never know.
What we do know is that this team was about as close as you can get to a title without winning it. It definitely hurts to get so close and not be able to close the deal.
However, going forward things are obviously very bright for this program. While we still need to see which seniors will opt to stay and which will leave the program is well positioned for future success as there is talent up and down the roster and there is an impressive recruiting class coming in next year.
Congratulations to Florida State on an impressive season. Stay tuned to Tomahawk Nation as we will have updates on any important news affecting the Seminole program going forward.
Finally, as a point of personal privilege, let me thank you for sticking with me through this long and very different season; especially reading these long recaps. I appreciate your support.
Lastly, Go Noles!