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Thursday, October 06, 2022

With offense excelling, UF soccer hoping to bolster defense

<p><span>Mayra Pelayo (27) runs to celebrate with her teammates during Florida's 3-2 win over UCF on Sept. 18, 2016, at James G. Pressly Stadium.</span></p>

Mayra Pelayo (27) runs to celebrate with her teammates during Florida's 3-2 win over UCF on Sept. 18, 2016, at James G. Pressly Stadium.

At the official halfway point of the regular season, the Florida soccer team knows it has some holes to fill if it wants to compete for a national championship in two months.

Offensively, the No. 12 Gators (6-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) possess one of the nation’s most potent scoring attacks, averaging slightly over three goals per game to rank first in the SEC and fifth in the NCAA.

However, UF hasn’t had that same success on the opposite side of the ball.

Florida’s defense has allowed 1.57 goals per game this fall, the second-worst rate in its conference.

Sophomore goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese hasn’t put up the same dependable numbers she did in her first season protecting the net for the Gators either.

Marckese has made saves at almost a 10 percent lower rate than she did in 2015 and has allowed multiple goals in four of her past five appearances.

Marckese only allowed multiple goals three times in 17 appearances last season.

While the St. Petersburg native isn’t having the season UF hoped for, the team still knows it takes all 11 players to protect its goal.

“Defensively, we can definitely get more sharp as a whole team collectively over all parts of the field,” senior midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard said.

“We’ve been putting a lot of emphasis on that, and just taking more pride in our defensive responsibilities."

Florida doesn’t have to wait long to work out its defensive kinks in a game setting, as it is set to host the unranked Auburn Tigers (5-4, 1-1 SEC) at 6 p.m. for its first home match against a conference opponent this season.

Auburn hasn’t posed a strong offensive threat to teams thus far in 2016, only averaging slightly over one goal per game.

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However, the Gators gave up three scores in a loss to the Tigers last year, and they’re not taking AU’s poor offensive numbers this season for granted.

“They’re very physical and they’re very fast, so we’re just going to have to keep each other very compact,” sophomore midfielder Mayra Pelayo said.

Coach Becky Burleigh has confidence that her team’s defense will turn itself around, with tonight’s match representing the perfect opportunity to get started.

“We’re a really hard-working team,” Burleigh said.

“I think this team has shown a lot of resilience. I think this team has a little bit more grit to it, in terms of being able to deal with adverse situations.”

Contact Dylan Dixon at ddixon@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.

Mayra Pelayo (27) runs to celebrate with her teammates during Florida's 3-2 win over UCF on Sept. 18, 2016, at James G. Pressly Stadium.

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