Top seeded Florida State (17-2-3) defeated third seeded Arkansas (13-4-5) by a 1-0 score tonight at the Seminole Soccer Complex in Tallahassee, FL.
Arkansas came out in a 3-5-2 formation. The goal was to dominate the midfield and not let Florida State crank up their well known possession tactics. This strategy was risky because playing with only three in the back means that there will be space for the excellent Seminole front line of Jody Brown, Beata Olsson and Onyi Echegini to exploit. However, the Hogs executed the plan perfectly. Florida State was not able to maintain possession in the first half. Therefore, most of the first half was played on the FSU side of the field.
However, even though the Hogs were successful in pressuring the Noles in the first half they weren’t able to translate that pressure into very many dangerous chances. FSU keeper Cristina Roque was forced to make three first half saves but most of them were routine.
The Razorback high press was working fairly well especially in the first half. The downside of the high press is that it is a strategy that requires a ton of effort to execute. Unfortunately for Arkansas they couldn’t keep it up. The Hogs also only used two substitutes in the game that played more than five minutes so they were never really going to be able to use the high press for most of the game even though it had the Seminoles on their heels.
In the second half Arkansas switched to a low block 4-4-2. Head coach Colby Hale was trying to save the legs of his players with the new formation. The Noles took advantage by generating more possession. Arkansas led in possession at the half 52% to 48%. I’m surprised that they didn’t have a bigger lead. However, FSU led in possession for the game at 54% to 46% as the Razorbacks were forced to lay back in the low block for most of the second half.
This allowed the Seminoles to flip the script a bit in the second half as they applied most of the pressure. This pressure led to the goal. In the 53rd minute FSU earned a corner kick. Jenna Nighswonger stepped up to take it. Nighswonger sent a low driving ball into the box. Bryana Hunter attempted to clear it but unfortunately the clearance went backward and the ball ended up bouncing over the goal line for the goal.
From there the Noles kept up the pressure but they couldn’t tack on an insurance goal. For their part Arkansas tried to net the equalizer but the Hogs ran out of gas a bit. “We had a 4-4-2 low block,” remarked Coach Hale. “We had a couple of dodgy moments. It’s not really our style of play.”
Florida State will now move on to the College Cup for the 13th time in program history.
FSU outshot Arkansas 13 to 11 (9 to 5 on goal).
The Noles had 54% of the possession for the game to 46% for Arkansas.
Both teams earned five corner kicks.
Florida State was obviously lucky to get the own goal but in sports (as in life) you often make your own luck. FSU did that in this game as they were able to pressure Arkansas putting the Hogs in a position to make a mistake. Also, the Noles avoided the big turnover in the back when they were facing serious pressure from Arkansas. That was a big key to this game.
Another key was Florida State’s versatility. Coach Hale commented on that, “The thing with FSU is that they can play both. They can possess but they can also beat you with the counter. And they have some wingers (Jody Brown and Onyi Echegini) that are rapid fast.” We saw that versatility on full display tonight. In the first half Florida State was forced to absorb the Arkansas pressure and look for offense on the counter. In the second half the Noles had much more possession and were able to play their normal game breaking down the Razorback low block.
The final key was that Arkansas really struggled to finish the opportunities that they were able to generate. Especially in the first half the Hogs were almost living in FSU’s box but they just couldn’t get dangerous shots on goal. The Florida State backline (Ran Iwai, Lauren Flynn, Heather Gilchrist and Heather Payne) really stood tall tonight. Cristina Roque is the cheat code. She is almost always great and tonight was no exception.
Florida State will now prepare to face a familiar foe in the national semifinal game.
Florida State will travel to Cary, NC to take on North Carolina in the national semifinal game. The Tar Heels eliminated Notre Dame tonight by a 2-0 score to advance to the College Cup. This will be the third time that the Heels and the Noles will meet this year. FSU lost to UNC 2-1 on October 2nd. However, Florida State got a measure of revenge in the ACC Championship game on November 6th taking down the Tar Heels 2-1.
The third game in the trilogy will happen on Friday, December 2nd. Kickoff will be 6pm. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.