Just before halftime, Mayra Pelayo measured up a cross with her weaker left foot while a cluster of hungry Gators waited in the box. She miss-hit the pass with such perfection that it arched over the heads of everyone in the area and into the top corner. Goal, Florida.
The Pelayo goal was the benefit of a game controlled by UF from start to finish, as they ended South Florida’s ten game winning streak on Friday night at Donald R. Dizney Stadium, 1-0. The Gators will advance to the third round of the NCAA tournament for the 13th time in school history, where they will meet Washington State.
Florida protected its home field with an attack that was aggressive from the opening whistle.
Freshman Deanne Rose and junior Melanie Monteagudo wreaked havoc on the wings, beating Bulls defenders one-on-one and creating a constant supply of balls into the box. Their presence in wide areas also helped UF generate 10 corners, tied for the season high, and nine shots on goal.
The effectiveness of the Florida wingers was most evident on a sequence in the 13th minute.
Rose beat a USF defender on the right wing and slipped a pass into the path of Pelayo. Pelayo dinked the ball past goalkeeper Kat Elliott, but it was cleared off the line by another Bulls defender. The save won the Gators a corner kick, taken by junior midfielder Briana Solis, who fed the ball into the box and found defender Sammie Betters. Betters’ shot had Elliott beaten, but again a USF defender was able to clear the ball off the line.
“I love the way we came out,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said. “We had a really aggressive mindset, and it was probably unfortunate not to score more than once in that time frame.”
Despite not converting on a flurry of chances, the Gators kept their positive momentum, which eventually led to Pelayo’s backbreaking goal just before the half, her fourth of the season.
In turn the physical Florida press protected its lead.
South Florida started the match with dangerous attacking sequences, creating a seventh minute shot by midfielder Andrea Hauksdottir that sailed just wide of goal.
However, from that point on the UF back line tightened. It was a defensive clinic put on by Parker Roberts and Rachelle Smith, who draped USF leading scorer Evelyne Viens and held her to only two shots for the match.
“Viens is a good player,” Burleigh said. “She’s tough and she was really held to very little tonight because of a whole team effort.”
Florida, which held a shutout for the 10th time this season, drew 17 fouls from USF and only allowed one corner kick, tied for the lowest total of any team that played the Gators this season. UF also held the Bulls to only two second-half shots, despite USF trying to bring every player into the attack in order to find an equalizer.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Burleigh said. “I thought we really absorbed that pressure well. Really big credit to our entire team.”
You can follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr, and contact him at email@example.com.