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Friday, September 29, 2023

The No. 6 Florida soccer team (8-1-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) is back home this week after a daunting five-game road trip very optimistic about SEC play.

The Gators finished the road trip 3-1-1, with their only loss coming against two-time defending champion and No. 3 North Carolina, the nation’s top-ranked team at the time. However, they swept their first two conference opponents on the road, a better weekend of SEC play away from Gainesville than the team experienced all of last season.

“They handled this road trip really well,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said. “A year ago we were hoping to win two on the road in a row, and this year we were disappointed with two wins and two shutouts on the road because we feel like we left a lot of goals on the field.”

Efficiency in front of the goal has been the Gators’ Achilles’ heel. UF averaged almost 14 shots a game on the road trip, but only 41 percent were on target.

A defensive-minded team, Florida has struggled to convert tenacity on the back line into consistent composure on offense.

The Gators have still found the goal — the loss to UNC was the only game this season in which they failed to score — but Burleigh described the difficulty in finishing as “a long process” because it takes synchronized cooperation from just about every player on the field.

“Finishing requires a big thought process and fine motor skills,” Burleigh said.

“That’s where we are working on being a little more disciplined, and it’s going to be something we spend a lot of time on from this point forward.“

Even though the team has had its struggles with finishing, Burleigh believes the Gators have been able to dominate all facets of play.

“The hardest part about soccer is finishing,” Burleigh said. “We’re going to continue to work on it in practice, but it’s still that one little missing piece that we have from being a great team.”

While the Gators may be a young team, they don’t lack in leadership, and the guidance of captain and leading scorer McKenzie Barney has paved the way for freshmen like Taylor Travis to thrive.

“McKenzie brings a lot of energy to the field; she is like the Energizer Bunny out there,” Burleigh said. “I really like the leadership on this team. I think they’ve done a great job at getting the younger players ready for what we have to face.”

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Going into this weekend’s matchup, the Gators are just happy to be home and ready to take care of business against Mississippi State.

“I think the team is a little road-weary,” said Burleigh. “And getting back to playing at Pressly Stadium will be nice.”

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