What a difference one week made for the UF soccer team.
Once a top-10 team shutting out conference opponents and eyeing a top seed in the SEC Tournament, No. 20 Florida has dropped 10 spots in the United Soccer Coaches Poll and down to fourth in the SEC standings after losing its last matches to Florida State and Auburn.
“Honestly, the mood of the team is good because we’re playing well,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said.
The Gators also lost the central presence of their back line, redshirt senior Kristen Cardano (torn ACL), forcing them to rearrange their defense and midfield.
Thursday, UF will attempt to pick up its first win without Cardano when it faces Kentucky (7-10, 2-5 SEC) at 5 p.m. in a neutral-site match before playing at No. 11 Tennessee (13-1-1, 5-1-1 SEC) on Sunday. The match was rescheduled to the Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach because of white nationalist Richard Spencer's speaking event held on UF's campus.
“It’s going to be an interesting environment with that game because of all that’s happening Thursday,” Burleigh said. “So the important thing for us is keeping our focus and making sure we’re ready to go.”
Redshirt sophomore midfielder Parker Roberts will be the replacement tonight for Cardano in the center of the defense.
“She was 90-minute player,” Roberts said. “Her leadership on the field, we’ll miss it a lot, but we have to adapt to the situation and move forward.”
The loss of Cardano not only takes one of the Gators’ best midfielders in Roberts and puts her on the back line, it also causes them to change from a formation with three defenders to four.
“Obviously, when you lose somebody that plays so many minutes it’s going to impact our team,” Burleigh said. “It’s just going to be one of those things you move forward with. It’s opportunity for other people.”
Midfielder Tess Sapone and defender Julia Lester, both sophomores, are moving into UF’s starting lineup. Sapone and Lester bring plenty of experience, having played in all of the Gators’ matches this season.
And despite making these changes against Auburn, Florida seemed comfortable with its new formation and starting lineup on both sides of the ball and has no reason to change its scheme for the Wildcats.
The Gators’ offense had little trouble creating scoring opportunities while the defense held Auburn to just one scoring chance, which ended up being all the Tigers needed to get the win.
“I really feel like there is no need to push a panic button,” Burleigh said. “We’ll work on finishing. But I think we’d be really worried if we weren’t creating the chances.”
You can follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr, and contact him at email@example.com.