Florida State is soccer royalty in the women’s game. In the past 19 years, the Seminoles have 10 appearances in the Final Four (or College Cup), at one point appearing five times in a row. They have been national champions twice, and are the reigning champs.
Oh, and they were on a 9-game winning streak. Virginia was #1 and one of two undefeated teams in the nation. Something had to give.
Last year, it was Virginia who sucked at corners. This year is Florida State’s turn, as in the 104th minute, UVa was awarded the first of two corners. Courtney Petersen hit a deep corner to Anna Sumpter (who was wide open) and instead of heading to goal, elected to loop it back into the scrum, targeting Meg McCool. The ‘Noles deflected the ball and Virginia got a second corner. Petersen again crossed it deep to Anna Sumpter at the back (still open, by the way) who opted to loop the ball with her foot. This time she found McCool, who headed it crisply into the far corner of the net. College soccer OT is sudden death, or as they prefer to call it, Sudden Victory. Whatever. All that was left was the celebration as UVa gained some measure of redemption for last year’s pair of losses to the Seminoles.
Fans of the program no doubt know that since 2011 Virginia has scored more goals than any other team in the country, but this win comes courtesy of a stifling, swarming defense that defended the edge of the penalty box like Bennett’s Boys do the 3 point line. Tony would be proud.
Florida State possesses tons of skill on the ball, defenders who attack, and two of the more gifted attackers in the country in striker Deyna Castellanos and midfielder Yujie Zhao. While UVa didn’t necessarily struggle to maintain possession per se, at game end the possession battle was probably 55% to 45% in FSU’s favor. Zhao ranges across the midfield more than any other player in ACC and many times she received the ball on the right with acres of space. Forwards Jenna Nighswonger and Makala Thomas had several great runs, but on the night, the ‘Noles only managed three shots on goal from inside the penalty box. Sure, they had several nice, long range shots, and goals are scored from distance, but taking over 70% of your chances from long range is a losing man’s game.
Zoe Morse was simply outstanding, and it was fun to see her as the fastest player in our third (Florida State, for as fine a team as they are, do not possess an overabundance of speed either.) She and Talia Staude closed down FSU strikers all night. It was like watching a football team march up and down the field and then simply melt in the red zone. Virginia’s red-zone D was better than Florida State’s red-zone offense.
Courtney Petersen will always be an offense first left back, but in the past couple of games, her defense effort, and effectiveness, has greatly improved. She nullified NC State’s Tziarra King midweek, and while (by design) Nighswonger and Zhao often received the ball wide open on the right, Petersen was able to get back and snuff out most attacks. If she can defend at this high a level, it will make our defense that much better.
Laurel Ivory, who I have wondered about in these digital pages before, had a solid game. She exudes confidence and her positioning is first rate. This game had to go a long way towards exorcising the Florida State demons from last year.
And the defense really ought to be the story. We have played 14 games and conceded four goals. That is Pack Line-Cavalanche worthy. One of those was for a correctly called penalty, and one was from a free kick (albeit it a finely taken one) but other than that, we’ve only conceded two goals from open play all year. As near as I can tell, only one other school, Arkansas, boasts a stingier defense than that of the Cavaliers.
You can read Prince Akeem Joffer's report of the game here, and you’ll see just how many chances Virginia created. But I think he was more impressed by our defensive prowess as he relates:
Ivory is really good. She probably doesn’t have much to do most of your games but she is a quality keeper.
I was impressed with how UVA defended the middle of the field. It seems that the best way to attack the Hoos is on the wings but FSU didn’t have the speed today to get it done. Two of FSU’s fastest players are nursing knee injuries and they could have really helped today.
Big win for Virginia especially since it’s the third straight road game. I asked Swanson if that led to more subs than usual today and he said yes but the heat was also a big factor in all of the subbing.
Both of these teams will go deep into the Tourney and how far they get will be determined a lot by who gets the best breaks because the talent is there on both sides.
On the day, the Cavaliers had more, better chances than the Seminoles, but keeper Caroline Jeffers made numerous saves, including three in a five-minute span where the Cavs had five quality shoots on goal. As I’ve written before, we’re going to force a lot of great performances from other teams’ defenders.
This game concludes a three-game road trip and leaves UVa well prepared for a strong finish to the season and positioning for the ACC tourney. We have a full week to recover before next Sunday’s game vs Notre Dame. It is home, as are the next three before a trip to conclude the season at Syracuse. We’re not catching UNC at the top of the table (especially since we don’t get to play them) but we should be well-positioned for a top-4 finish and a chance to host the first round of the tournament.
I’ll leave you with the celebration.
Edit: Full highlights.