No. 1 Florida State (13-0) defeated Penn State (12-3-1) by a 3-1 score today at WakeMed Park in Cary, NC.
Florida State got off to a quick start in this game. In the third minute the Seminoles were establishing the tone of possession that they would enjoy throughout the game. Emily Madril drove the ball through the midfield. She found Clara Robbins ahead of her up the field. Robbins turned and after a couple of touches spotted LeiLanni Nesbeth in the middle of the field. Nesbeth turned and after a touch unleashed a right footed shot that was deflected by a defender and went just wide left of the goal for the first (of many) corner kick of the game.
In the fifth minute Robbins received an outlet pass up the right sideline from Kirsten Pavlisko. Robbins took a touch and found Nesbeth wide open in the middle of the field. Nesbeth took a couple of touches and then laid the ball off for Kristina Lynch who was streaking down the left flank. Lynch received the ball in the box and tried to put moves on the defense eventually poking it back to Nesbeth just inside the box. Nesbeth one-timed a left footed shot from about 17 yards out that curled just wide right.
In the 15th minute Gabby Carle picked out Robbins in the middle of the field. Robbins took a touch and then ripped a left footed cracker that was snagged out of the air with no rebound by PSU keeper Katherine Asman.
In the 20th minute the Noles were pressuring in the Nittany Lion third of the field. However, Frankie Tagliaferri intercepted a Seminole pass. She drove the ball upfield eluding a couple of defenders. Tagliaferri found Ally Schlegel with an outlet pass. Schlegel took a couple of touches and then laid the ball back for Sam Coffey. Coffey was being harassed by Jaelin Howell and Pavlisko in the midfield. Somehow she eluded both players and drove the ball upfield before chipping it for Tagliaferri. The ball was played behind Madril who slipped trying to react to the ball behind her. That slip allowed the ball to get through to Tagliaferri. She received the ball and took a touch to settle herself before uncorking a left footed blast from about seven yards out that went past FSU keeper Cristina Roque into the back of the net.
In the 27th minute FSU generated another chance. Pavlisko drove the ball from the back eventually finding Ran Iwai on the right flank. Iwai spotted Yujie Zhao up the field. Zhao chipped a pass over to Jenna Nighswonger at the edge of the 18 yard box. Nighswonger one-timed it over to Lynch on the left side. Lynch back heeled it to Nighswonger who one-timed a left footed drive that forced Asman to dive to her right to block it with two fists. The defense was able to clear it away.
In the 29th minute Penn State earned another chance. The Nittany Lions enjoyed one of their few bits of extended possession. Maddie Myers took the ball down the right flank. She crossed the ball over for Tagliaferri who one timed a chip at the edge of the 18 but Roque was there for the save.
In the 31st minute Florida State found the equalizer. FSU earned yet another corner after a Zhao shot was deflected out of bounds. Zhao went over to take the corner. The Seminoles filled the box with five attackers. I am told that Kristina Lynch got up to head a perfect service from Zhao into the back of the net but unfortunately the feed went out at the most inopportune time and I didn’t actually see the goal. However, it counted anyway and FSU was level at one with Penn State.
In the 42nd minute the Noles tried for more. Howell received a pass from Madril in the midfield. She turned and slotted a pass for Nighswonger. Gianna Mitchell was posting up in the box with her back to goal. Nighswonger got her the ball. Mitchell fought off a pair of defenders before turning and firing for goal. However, Asman was there to catch it for the save.
In the 50th minute the Seminoles generated another chance. Howell received the ball in the midfield. She reversed field and found Heather Payne on the right flank. Robbins made a run and Payne found her as she slipped through two defenders. Robbins danced on the ball at the edge of the 18 before driving it to the endline and delivering a cross. Both Payne and Cori Dyke went for the ball. Somehow it got past both of them and trickled into the path of Nesbeth. Nesbeth one-timed a right footed blast that somehow just missed wide right. Frankly, it was a sitter that Nesbeth would probably bury nine times out of ten. Unfortunately for Nole fans this was the tenth time.
In the 54th minute PSU earned a goal kick. Before Asman could take it the referee came over and seemed to give her a talking to. I believe that he was lecturing her about time wasting but I can’t be sure. In any case Asman eventually took the kick. FSU took control of the ball and Lynch drove it up field before laying it off for Nesbeth. Robbins was lurking behind Nesbeth and received the outlet pass. Robbins executed a nice give-and-go with Payne who was posting up just outside the box. When Robbins got the ball back she one-timed a right footed rocket that caromed off the right post. The ball then went across the goal face and ricocheted off the left post before Kerry Abello could track back and clear it away.
In the 60th minute FSU earned another corner. Zhao took it and sent the ball for the right side of the box. Lauren Flynn was there to head the ball back into the mixer. Immediately several Noles started calling for a handball in the six yard box. I couldn’t see for certain whether it was a handball from the vantage point we had but FSU certainly thought that the call should have been made.
In the 62nd minute Florida State finally took the lead. Ahman took an errant goal kick which went straight out of bounds for a Seminole throw-in. Carle took the throw-in and immediately got it to Nesbeth. She touched it back to Carle who drove the ball into the PSU third of the field. She chipped it back for Robbins who was lurking on the edge of the 18 yard box. Robbins took a touch to settle the ball and another one to elude the defender before blasting a right footed rocket that blazed by a diving Asman to give FSU the 2-1 lead.
In the 69th minute Flynn drove the ball into the PSU third. She slipped a pass to Lynch about 20 yards out. Lynch drove the ball into the box and was eventually fouled just inside the box by Maddie Myers. The whistle sounded and the ref pointed to the spot. The Nittany Lions complained bitterly about the call but the official was unmoved. There didn’t seem to be a ton of contact on the foul. Was it a makeup call for the missed handball? We will never know (since refs don’t have to answer questions from the media) but the Noles took the opportunity anyway. Carle stepped up to take the penalty and calmly slotted the ball past Asman into the right corner of the goal to give FSU a 3-1 advantage.
After a hydration break, FSU generated another chance in the 70th minute. Payne stole the ball from PSU defender Kate Wiesner. Payne drove the ball upfield before spotting Jody Brown who was wide open in the middle of the field. Brown’s first touch failed her as it was too hard and Asman was able to scoop the ball up before Brown could catch up to it for a shot.
In the 78th minute Brown received the ball down the left flank. She eluded a defender (despite her arm getting tugged) and eventually laid it off for Nighswonger in the middle of the field. Jenna one-timed a right-footed shot but Asman was positioned perfectly for the save.
In the 87th minute FSU tried for some insurance. Zhao drove the ball upfield eventually executing a give and go with Nighswonger. After receiving the ball back Zhao put a move on a defender before delivering a dangerous ball for Gianna Mitchell at the edge of the six. Mitchell took a one-timer with her left foot but she leaned back just a bit too much and her shot hit the crossbar and bounded harmlessly over the goal.
From there the Noles closed the game out for the 3-1 win to advance to the Elite Eight.
Florida State had 32 shots (11 on goal) with 12 corners. Goal keeper Cristina Roque had one save.
Penn State had 2 shots (both on goal) with zero corners. Goal keeper Katherine Asman had eight saves.
Florida State dominated this game whether the metric is possession or shots.
Let’s get the nit-picking out of the way early. FSU had 32 shots and only three goals (one of which was a penalty kick). FSU was unlucky at times but that is not great finishing. Normally I would say that FSU needs to find a way to finish more of those opportunities. However, when a team can generate so many opportunities especially against a quality team like Penn State it is a good day at the office. One of these days I will get around to writing an article about FSU’s possession style but one of the benefits of this style is that when executed correctly it puts a lot of pressure on the defense and that leads to goal scoring opportunities. That is precisely what happened today.
If opponents don’t figure out a way to disrupt FSU’s possession it well be very hard to beat the Seminoles. One way to do it is to take control of the midfield. However, the midfield is FSU’s strength. The Seminoles have several extremely good midfield players. It is Florida State’s strongest position group. It is very hard to control the midfield against players like Jaelin Howell, Yujie Zhao, Clara Robbins, Jenna Nighswonger, etc.
The other way to beat FSU is to catch them on the counter attack. Penn State actually did this today for their first goal. The Nittany Lions executed the counter perfectly and were rewarded with the goal. The problem is that teams will probably need to hit the counter attack more than once or get lucky in some other way because it is very hard to successfully absorb FSU’s pressure for 90 minutes. PSU wasn’t able to do it today and I’m not sure that there is a team in this tournament that can do it but we’ll see.
It looks like Florida State is really starting to find a groove in this tournament. However, as we all know it only takes one bad game to get sent home. FSU will try again to avoid that bad game on Sunday.
FSU will meet No. 9 Duke in the Elite Eight on Sunday, May 9th at 1pm. Duke beat Ole Miss 1-0 in the early game. FSU beat Duke 1-0 on October 29th and FSU beat the Blue Devils 4-0 in the ACC Tournament Semi-Finals.