Last week Florida State beat Florida Gulf Coast 4-0 and held on to beat #10 Auburn 2-1. FGCU was a game team but the Eagles don’t really have the personnel to keep up with FSU. The Auburn game was obviously closer and more interesting so we will spend more time discussing it.
FSU got off to an early lead against the Tigers leading 2-0 at the half behind goals from Beata Olsson and Maria Alagoa. However, it was a tale of two halves as Auburn was a different team in the second half and managed to keep the Noles on their heels for the entire half eventually getting a goal in the process.
In the second half Auburn switched to a high press strategy to disrupt Florida State’s potent possession attack. It worked like a charm and allowed Auburn to get back into the game and have a legitimate chance to win.
Therefore, the question can be fairly asked: Why didn’t the Tigers employ the high press for the entire game? Further, have the Tigers exposed a weakness that other teams can use against the Seminoles?
Let’s answer the first question and in doing so we will basically answer the second question.
The high press is a strategy that is used to put pressure on opposing backlines as they are trying to bring the ball up the field. It is used primarily to force mistakes and to make it harder for opposing teams to get into their offense.
Auburn was able to use the strategy most effectively to accomplish the second objective. FSU had a lot of difficulty cranking up the possession offense in the second half and this difficulty was due almost entirely to Auburn’s high pressure tactics.
However, no strategy is perfect and the high press is no different. There are at least three significant downsides or risks to using the strategy. In no particular order they are:
- It requires very good players who can carry out the strategy.
- The high press is difficult to maintain for long stretches because it takes a lot of energy to apply the necessary pressure on the opposing backline.
- Because the high press requires players to pressure up the field, if it doesn’t work it leaves more space in the defending third of the field that the opposing team can exploit.
Auburn is a top 10 team. They have good players so the Tigers meet the first requirement.
The second issue is the reason that Auburn probably didn’t want to try to employ the tactic for the entire game. It is very difficult for most teams to keep the high press going for the entire game. It is very easy to wear out your players keeping the press going so it is likely that more substitutes will be needed. Unless a coach has great faith in the depth of their team it is a risky strategy to employ for long stretches.
However, in Auburn’s case they were already down 2-0 and they probably felt that they needed to shake up the game and therefore they could take the chance for just one half.
This is why it will be hard for other teams to use this tactic against FSU. Most teams don’t have the personnel to try it in the first place and the teams that do have the personnel don’t have the depth to keep it up for long. The one exception is North Carolina. The Heels use the high press against everyone as a normal strategy. UNC also has one of the deepest rosters in college soccer. North Carolina currently has 37 players on their active roster. For comparison, FSU has 24 players on the active roster. We will talk more about UNC later in the season but there is no doubt that the Noles will need to be ready for the high press when they go to Chapel Hill to meet the Tar Heels.
The film from the second half of the Auburn game will give the coaches several opportunities to point out mistakes to the team so that they can get better. It is always great to have this chance after a win rather than having to learn from a loss.
Florida State recently released the roster for the 2022 season. The Noles lost several seniors from last year’s dramatic run to the College World Series Championship Series. Dani Morgan, Elizabeth Mason, Caylan Arnold, Anna Shelnutt, and Cassidy Davis all graduated. That is a significant amount of talent to replace. FSU could have done it internally as there is still a lot of talent remaining on the roster and the Noles have an impressive recruiting class coming to Tallahassee.
However, head coach Lonni Alameda has built the Seminoles into an elite program. One of the perks that comes with that status is that players are more likely to want to play for this type of program because it offers the chance to win more games. FSU has leveraged this advantage to recruit some impact transfers to supplement the roster.
Bethaney Keen (South Florida), Mack Leonard (Illinois State) and Ali DuBois (Boston University) have all transferred to Florida State. All three players have the chance to be contributors. Keen is a senior who brings a lot of experience to Tallahassee.
Both Leonard and DuBois look like ringers. Leonard is a first baseman who will very likely be inserted into the starting lineup to replace Mason. This is a huge pickup for FSU not just because there was a need at first base but also because Leonard is a very good player. Last year Leonard started all 41 games for the Redbirds at first base. She hit .425/.532/.756 with 10 HR, 38 RBI and 96 total bases. For reference, last year in 63 games Mason hit .230/.291/.435 with 10 HR, 36 RBI and 83 total bases. Of course Leonard was facing Missouri Valley pitching while Mason was facing ACC competition and in her last 10 games she faced only teams that finished in the top 11. Even so, if Leonard can produce numbers even approaching the ones she posted for ISU she will be a huge asset to the team.
DuBois is a senior pitcher who was the ace for the Terriers last season. DuBois was 25-2 with a 1.05 ERA, .98 WHIP, and 17 complete games in 159.1 innings. Like Leonard, the competition was a bit suspect as DuBois was pitching in the Patriot League. However, again like Leonard, if DuBois can come close to replicating the numbers she posted last year she will be a major asset for the Noles likely sliding into the second slot in the rotation behind ace Kathryn Sandercock.
To be sure, Florida State would have been okay without these transfers. The Noles would have likely moved Kalei Harding to first base from right field as there is depth in the outfield. The rotation would have been fine without DuBois as well because Danielle Watson has the faith of the coaching staff and would have likely been okay as the second pitcher on the staff. However, these new additions raise the talent level on the team, provide extra insurance against injury and give the coaches extra positional flexibility which is valuable over a long season.
In short, these transfers make it even more likely that a return trip to Oklahoma City is in the near future for the Seminoles.