No. 1 Florida State (0-0-1) dueled No. 12 South Carolina (0-0-1) to a scoreless draw tonight in Columbia, SC.
The two teams spent most of the first half feeling each other out. The Seminoles played very close to their accustomed possession style keeping the ball away from South Carolina for the first 20-25 minutes of the game.
However, it was the Gamecocks who generated the first good chance of the game.
In the 29th minute USC dispossessed FSU and roared up the field in transition. Jyllissa Harris spotted Catherine Barry on the right side. Barry took a couple of touches in midfield and then played a beautiful ball into the path of Shae O’Rourke who was streaking up the middle of the field. Heather Payne challenged O’Rourke on the left side of the box. O’Rourke took a touch to get some separation from Payne and then fired a right footed blast but FSU keeper Cristina Roque was perfectly placed to catch the ball and end the threat.
In the 31st minute Florida State almost made a critical mistake. Payne tried to send a back pass back to Roque but she didn’t get all of the ball. O’Rourke tried to slice in to intercept the pass but Roque came all the way outside of the box to clear the ball away.
In the 34th minute LeiLanni Nesbeth beat O’Rourke to a 50/50 ball but O’Rourke clipped Nesbeth and sent her to the ground. The whistle sounded and the referee booked O’Rourke for the infraction. On the ensuing free kick Jenna Nighswonger lofted a ball into the box. The ball was headed down by Gracie Falla. Payne battled with a couple of defenders and managed to head it back toward the six. Maria Alagoa pounced on it and executed a wicked bicycle kick toward the goal. Olivia Garcia and Carolina keeper Heather Hinz went for the ball. Hinz was able to knock the ball away before Garcia could get to it. The two players collided on the play but thankfully neither player was injured.
In the 45th minute Jody Brown drove down the field. She squared a pass to a wide open Summer Denigan in the middle of the field. Denigan took a couple of touches and blasted a shot from about 20 yards out that sailed just barely over the crossbar.
In the 47th minute Barry challenged Sophia Nguyen on the right side. Barry sent a cross into the box. Former Nole Claire Griffiths collected the ball at the edge of the six. Griffiths tried to slip a pass to Corinna Zullo but it was blocked by Heather Gilchrist. However, the ball ricocheted right into the path of Camryn Dixon who had come up to provide support. Dixon one timed a shot that went just a bit high over the crossbar.
In the 49th minute Ran Iwai sent a pass back for Payne. However, Zullo rushed in to intercept the pass. Payne and Zullo battled for the ball but Zullo got by her. Payne grabbed Zullo from behind to thwart a 1v1 situation. The whistle blew and Payne was shown yellow.
In the 58th minute the Gamecocks earned another free kick when Gilchrist was booked for fouling Eveleen Hahn. USC had a free kick from a dangerous spot a couple of yards to the right of the box. Griffiths took it and sent a curling ball into the box. Onyi Echegini headed the ball away but Hahn pounced on it and sent a wicked lift footed shot toward goal. However, Roque was there for the save.
In the 59th minute the Noles earned the best chance of the game. Nighswonger received the ball at midfield and barreled toward the goal. No Gamecock defender stepped to her so cracked a left-footed shot from about 21 yards out hit the crossbar and rebounded back onto the field.
In the 66th minute Iwai found Brown cutting into the box. Brown left the ball for a charging Nighswonger who uncorked a blast from the edge of the box that sailed over the goal.
In the 88th minute Brown laid the ball off for Nighswonger in the middle of the field. Jenna took a touch and sent a missile toward goal that went just wide right.
From there neither team could generate another good chance and the game ended in a scoreless draw.
Florida State outshot South Carolina 18-7 (6-3 shots on goal).
FSU also won the possession battle 71%-29%.
All things considered, this wasn’t a bad start to the season. This was a lose-able game. The Noles were on the road against a top 15 team with only 19 players available. On top of that Jody Brown wasn’t 100%. She was a game time decision with a hamstring injury.
The defense looked okay. Cristina Roque played her normal excellent game and that helped of course. However, there weren’t any major mistakes by the defenders outside of Ran Iwai’s pass that forced Heather Payne’s yellow card. FSU will be just fine (or better than fine) if the backline can avoid mistakes. They were able to do that tonight so they are off to a good start.
In the last 10-15 minutes of the game FSU looked like the team that we have become used to seeing for the last decade. They dominated possession in the attacking third and kept the pressure on the Gamecocks. The problem was that the Noles just couldn’t get enough shots on target. They were also a bit unlucky with Nighswonger’s shot that went off the crossbar.
Overall, Florida State looked like the better side tonight and with the pressure that they were able to apply at the end of the game the Noles might have walked away with the win if we were playing under the old overtime rules but of course we will never know.
Individually, Nighswonger obviously shone. The team was also not the same when Clara Robbins left the pitch. She is indispensable to this team. Payne was also great organizing things in the back. LeiLanni Nesbeth was active at her new holding mid spot.
The bottom line is that I don’t think that FSU outclassed USC enough to feel hard done by the result but the Noles were clearly the better team on the night. They just have to be more clinical in front of goal. But for the first game considering all of the drama and upheaval that the team has endured this summer, this was far from a poor performance. If Florida State can improve on this effort they may be better than the experts think.
Florida State will continue on its tour of the SEC when they travel to Athens to meet the Georgia Bulldogs on Sunday. The game will kick at 1pm and will be broadcast on ESPNU.