Florida State scored two goals off corner kicks while Virginia scored once. That was pretty much the margin of defeat as the Seminoles held off the Cavaliers to claim the win in the only game all fall featuring two of the ACC’s Big Three: North Carolina, Florida State, or Virginia.
Florida State 4
The good news for the Cavaliers could be seen on the team sheet with both Talia Staude and Taryn Torres available for this oh-so-critical matchup with a squad FSU head coach Mark Krikorien has called maybe his most talented team. Torres started, and played, her first game of the season and Staude came in as a sub after missing four games. While this was Virginia’s 8th different starting lineup, FSU was able to field the same lineup for the sixth consecutive game.
And that was the bad news for Virginia. Florida State’s Jaelin Howell was supposed to miss this game due to national team tryouts, but she was flown in for the game and then flown right back to Commerce City, Colorado. Howell is strong, fast and incredibly disruptive, and to be frank, we needed her to be to gone. FSU is already faster and more physical than a full strength Virginia team and when Torres and Alexa Spaanstra are not match fit, the chasm between the two teams was too much for Virginia to overcome.
Florida State opened the scoring in the 11th minute as Malia Berkeley played a deep ball to Kaitlyn Zipay who crossed it perfectly first time to an unmarked LeiLanni Nesbith who ripped the ball into the roof of the net. In football, the unit that needs the most repetition is the offensive line; in soccer it is the back four. Injuries and coronavirus have ravaged Virginia’s back line and the communication is lacking. Our guys have been robbed of the reps they need and Florida State made them pay.
Two minutes later, Virginia was victimized again. A hard cross, again from behind the defensive line, was deflected by Claire Constant straight into the path of Clara Robbins, who was also open, and she one-timed her shot perfectly. UVa keeper Laurel Ivory simply had no chance on either of these and it looked like the rout was on. Florida State was winning most of the 50/50 balls and easily dispossessing Virginia on the balls that they didn’t win outright. Torres was looking sluggish; FSU was bodying Lia Godfrey every time she got the ball; Sarah Clark was beaten repeatedly; FSU’s offsides trap was clicking; and the back four were looking surprisingly nonchalant with the ball.
But here’s the thing about a Steve Swanson coached team: these women never give up. We saw this last year as the Cavaliers ripped the hearts out of Penn State and Wake Forest fans when they scored, literally within seconds, as Penn State equalized (late) and Wake went up (late), to secure the win and tie respectively.
Rebecca Jarrett was especially dialed-in all game and she put in her best defensive effort in a Cavalier jersey. On one of the few times Godfrey was able to dribble free, she found Jarrett cutting in and Jarrett went for the near corner and was just wide. And then just as I had written in my notebook – Spaanstra: still a step slow – Alexa hit a beautiful cross to Jarrett who took the ball into the penalty box ahead of the FSU defense. She never got the shot off as she was taken down by Gabby Carle. Now in the professional game, Carle could easily have received a straight red card for denial of a goal scoring opportunity. This has not trickled down to the women’s game as too many refs feel that the women are playing a more genteel game.
Nevertheless, the penalty was awarded and Spaanstra strode to the spot to take the kick. Seminole keeper Cristina Roque had obviously seen Spaanstra’s PK versus Louisville. As Spaanstra approached the ball – exactly as she had vs the Cardinals – Roque went left (and she didn’t even dive) while Spaanstra went right. Virginia was back in the match…
For all of 8 minutes. Florida State got a corner with 3 minutes remaining in the half and a wickedly dipping Yujie Zhao ball caught Staude by surprise and the ball caromed off her hip into the goal. It was an egregious mistake but this is what happens when your two central defenders haven’t played together in 5 matches. It was rust, pure and simple.
In the second half, Swanson mixed it up a little, replacing Sarah Clark with Lizzie Sieracki. Clark, by her own standards in her brief UVa tenure, had played a poor first half and Sieracki was the spark the team needed. She got forward aggressively – more than I’ve ever seen her – and 13 minutes into the half, Sieracki found Diana Ordonez between a pair of Seminoles. Ordonez easily won the aerial battle and headed home. Virginia was once again in the game.
Five minutes later, Jarrett tried to return the favor to Spaanstra on a great through ball that was defended out for a corner. On Godfrey’s corner, both Ordenez and Sieracki made contact with the ball, it went towards Zhao — guarding the post — who knocked the ball into Emily Madril and Florida State had conceded an own-goal corner to match Virginia’s. UVa had clawed back from 2 – 0 and 3 – 1 deficits, but the team may have been spent.
Florida State was just faster and stronger on the ball, they started winning more of the 50/50 balls again and over the next 15 minutes they forced a couple of last second blocks, won three corners, and had a penalty shout-out. The corners were ominous and it was an adventure to clear them. With each successive corner I was feeling greater and greater dread, until the 81st minute when I was put out of my misery by a misplayed corner. A deep corner was headed back into the face of the goal, the ball ping-ponged a bit as two Cavaliers failed to clear and Clara Robbins was again Johnny-on-the-spot as she scored the game winner. Robbins, it should be noted, is a fifth year senior who had never scored for the Seminoles in her career, and on this night she nabbed a pair.
Virginia needed this test. After cakewalks versus Miami and Louisville, and sans a meeting with the Tar Heels, this team needed a game that would be fought tooth and nail. A “most talented [Florida State] team ever” is a frightening prospect. Doubly so when Taryn Torres is nowhere near match fit, Talia Staude and Claire Constant are together after missing a combined five games, and Alexa Spaanstra is still ¾ speed. This game constitutes a moral victory and puts us in line to challenge for the ACC tournament title. We obviously still have players quarantining and hopefully they can return as the Cavaliers finish their regular season schedule against ACC patsies Boston College and Syracuse.