No. 7 Florida State (8-0-2) defeated Miami (3-5-2) by a 1-0 score today in Coral Gables, FL.
Miami came out with an effective strategy. The Canes mostly stayed behind the ball but they did high press at times. UM also frustrated FSU with opportunistic fouling. The Canes had seven fouls in the first half compared to three for the Noles. In truth, none of the fouls were individually bad enough to warrant a booking but there were so many that it frustrated Florida State.
However, probably the biggest factor holding the Seminoles back was that midfielder Jenna Nighswonger wasn’t available. Nighswonger basically functions as FSU’s point guard and the Noles really struggled to generate opportunities without her. In fact, FSU trailed Miami 2-1 in shots in the first half and the only shot for the Noles wasn’t on goal.
However, in the second half the Miami committed one foul too many.
In the 48th minute Onyi Echegini played give and go with Jody Brown. Echegini was taken down just outside the box. She and Brown appealed to the referee for a foul but received no satisfaction. However, the ball trickled into the box where Maria Alagoa pounced on it. Alagoa turned toward goal but she was knocked down by Taylor Shell. The ref blew his whistle and the Noles had a penalty kick. Heather Payne stepped up to take it and she buried the ball into the lower right hand corner of the goal. UM keeper Melissa Dagenais actually guessed correctly but Payne’s shot was too perfectly placed to save. It was Payne’s second goal of the season.
The goal seemed to give the Noles momentum. The passing was still slightly off but at least FSU spent more time in the attacking third of the field.
In the 66th minute Lauren Flynn hustled over to beat Megan Morgan to a loose ball. Flynn knocked the ball upfield for Brown who immediately used her speed to run at the Cane defense in transition. Brown laid it off for Echegini on the left flank. Echegini one-timed a left footed shot toward goal that went into the side netting. It was so close that it fooled the score keeper into putting the goal on the scoreboard.
In the 78th minute FSU generated another chance. LeiLanni Nesbeth eluded a few defenders and slipped a pass for Emma Bissell on the left flank. Bissell fired a cross into the box and Echegini flicked a shot that hit the crossbar.
Miami refused to concede. In the 89th minute. The Canes earned a free kick. Gabriela Rusek played the ball into the box for Emma Pidding who was making a slashing run. Pidding deftly dribbled through a couple of defenders before finding enough space for a left footed shot that was caught by Mia Justus.
From there the Noles were able to defend the 1-0 lead to earn a tougher than expected victory.
Florida State outshot Miami 7-3 but the shots on goal were tied at two.
FSU won the possession battle 65% to 35%.
The elephant in the room is that Jenna Nighswonger didn’t play. She did make the trip but she stayed on the bench for the entire game as the Seminoles are being cautious with her after the knock she suffered in the last game against Clemson. This game proved that Florida State needs its point guard. FSU isn’t terrible without her but they aren’t elite. The Noles are just another good team without Nighswonger. They are much more vulnerable to an upset without her and we almost saw that today. It goes without saying that if the Seminoles hope to have success against the tough portion of the schedule coming up with five straight top 10 quality opponents on deck they need Nighswonger on the field.
However, the Noles were able to avert disaster by eking out the win against a lower rated opponent. This could have been a very damaging game for NCAA seeding purposes but the Seminoles fortunately avoided the awful loss (or draw).
Now the Gauntlet begins. The Seminoles will travel to Charlottesville, VA on Thursday for a date with the Virginia Cavaliers. The game will kickoff at 8pm and will be broadcast on the ACC Network.