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Florida State is arguably the best women’s soccer program in the ACC this past decade.  They have won the ACC tournament 5 times, the regular season title twice, and were national champions in 2014. During the regular season, though, the Cavaliers have owned the Seminoles, going 10 – 0 - 1 at home and we have an overall series record of 19 – 6 – 6.

Which trend line was going to prevail?

Florida State 2

Virginia         0

This Florida State team began the year as the preseason #2 team in the country, and just scanning down the roster, there is speed and quality throughout the lineup.

If there is a better central defender in the ACC than Phoebe McClernon, it is FSU’s Natalia Kuikka, a full Finnish international who moves across the pitch with an elegance that even McClernon must admire.  (For the record, McClernon played the better game, but I would not complain if I had to watch Kuikka twenty times a year.)  Yujie Zhao is the odds-on favorite to be the ACC Rookie of the Year and possesses exquisite touch and control. And then there is Deyna Castellanos, one of the most accomplished internationals in the entire NCAA, who has scored goal-of-tournament type goals in the 2014 U17 Women’s World Cup (at the 4:00 minute mark):

 

and then the 2016 U17 Women’s World Cup:

 

And yet we bottled them up, contained their speed, and were on the front foot right from the start. At 10 minutes, Taryn Torres had a lovely strike from 30 yards out that was just inches away from finding the back of the net.

But in the 18th minute, disaster struck.  Keeper Laurel Ivory had the ball at her feet at the top of the box, and having scanned downfield, took a step or two back, preparing to send the ball long. Castellanos darted in, she’d been maybe 8 – 10 yards out, swiped the ball and poked it into a virtually empty net.

This was catastrophic. A keeper blunder like this is soul-crushing, and at this level, between evenly matched teams, most just don’t come back. I’m sure there are examples of teams recovering, but at this moment I can’t think of any. All I see are images of Roger Mila dispossessing Rene Higuita at midfield or Karim Benzema stealing the ball from Loris Karius. (I’m too depressed to link to those, but they are all over youtube….)

I’m trying to think of a good sports analogy to illustrate how horrific this was, and sure, there’s been many a pick-6 that could be equally backbreaking, but usually the quarterback is under some pressure.  But there was none here. All that comes to mind, by way of illustration, is this: You are playing pickup basketball, and maybe you’re new to the gym and you don’t know everyone and the teams keep changing and you’re dribbling down the court when some wag yells at you:  “Pass it to me!  I’m open!”  And you do, only he’s actually on the other team and he runs down the court for an easy layup.  Or in my case, a dunk.

Except that there is a world of difference between playing to 11, and a soccer game, where a single goal is all that’s needed for a win. Laurel Ivory is going to be haunted by this blunder for a very long time.

We went into the locker room at halftime down 2 – 0 and mostly hanging our heads, but we came out with fire in our eyes and pressed Florida State across the pitch. The game got a little feisty and at about the 58th minute I jotted in my notebook: “The ref is allowing a physical game, which is OK, because we can do physical.”

I spoke too soon.  Almost immediately, the ref started misfiring. Deep in our half,  McClernon was called for a foul when she was the one fouled; Lizzy Sieracki was bumped so hard that she was left writhing in pain; and Montana Sutton was pulled down from behind. But these missed calls pale in comparison to the penalty that the ref missed in the 70th minute.

A through ball was played a step too far in front of Megan McCool, and as the keeper came out and extended her body to win the ball, McCool pulled up her run, as she is supposed to, spun a bit to minimize the collision with the keeper, bumped into the keeper, and then fell to the ground. Now in soccer, the keeper is like the quarterback in that she has to be protected, and every soccer player knows that. McCool did exactly what sportsmanship demands and ceded the ball to the keeper. Then a FSU player walked over to the still-prone McCool and said something to her, which is equally allowable since she has to stick up for her keeper. And then the Seminole stepped on McCool. It was more reminiscent of a petulant Grayson Allen than the malevolence of a Justise Winslow, but it was still a penalty.

I know how the ref missed it. Once he had seen that the keeper had the ball in her hands and was ready to play it out, the ref turned upfield, ready to see where the ball was going to go. As he should.  Except that he has a linesman who must have seen the play and she failed to call it. Now the difference between the ref and the linesman, in terms of authority and importance, is huge in soccer, and it’s a greater disparity than between crews of referees in any other sport. It’s only been recently that linesmen have started being called assistant referees; before they were just linesmen. And this linesman was not good – she was timid about calling the possession when the ball went out of bounds and she missed a very easy offsides at one point – but she was miked to the referee. She just didn’t want to make a call that would result in a penalty.

A goalkeeper gaffe and a missed penalty. That’s huge. And on this day, against a Florida State team that we outplayed, it was too much to overcome.

Coach Swanson started the day only two victories shy of 400 for his career. When he reaches this plateau, he will be one of only nine coaches with 400 Div I wins.  He's going to have to wait a little bit longer.

Up Next:  NC State at home on Thursday to round out the regular season.  We’re still going to the ACC tournament, and we’re still likely to nab homefield for the first round, but to do so, we’ll most likely have to beat the Wolfpack.

Senior Day: The Wahoos recognized eight players and one manager for their UVa careers. I didn't understand what the announcer was saying, but it sounded to me like three of these women have already completed their undergraduate degrees, and the GPAs for several of the remaining women were, in a word, stellar. Congratulations to our seniors:  Ayan Adu, Betsy Brandon, Mia Hoen-Beck, Hana Kerner, Lorato Sargeant, Montana Sutton, Brianna Westrup and Jasmine Wright.  You are proud examplars of Mr Jefferson's University.