Lais Araujo sprinted straight for the Florida bench. The UF midfielder leapt into the arms of her sidelined teammates and was surrounded by pink pennies just seconds after scoring the decisive goal against No. 1 Stanford.
The match was filled with drama from beginning to end as No. 8 Florida (3-0) earned its first win in program history against Stanford (2-1) by a score of 3-2 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. Heading into the match, Florida had only scored four times in its five previous matches with the Cardinal, all of which ended in Gators defeat.
And it looked as if this match would follow the trend when Stanford struck first in the 25th minute.
All Susi Espinoza could do was watch the ball bounce casually into the back of the net for the opening goal. The UF goalkeeper had just parried a high, powerful shot from Stanford’s Tierna Davidson away from the net. However, the ball fell conveniently onto the right foot of Catarina Macario for a short-yardage tap-in.
In response to the Stanford goal, UF coach Becky Burleigh made a triple substitution.
“We have an advisory group to our team and one of them said that on another team she played on they called reserves game-changers,” Burleigh said. “I thought that was an amazing concept, so we were telling the people as they were going in, ‘Be a game-changer. This is your opportunity.’ And I really think that shifts your mindset a little bit.”
The fresh legs led to a Florida goal just before halftime. Freshman and substitute Madison Alexander dribbled the ball from the right wing, through the defense and into the Stanford box. Instead of taking a shot, Alexander passed the ball to fellow substitute Samantha Chung at the top of Stanford’s 18-yard box. Chung took one touch and curled the ball past Stanford goalkeeper Alison Jahansouz for her second career goal, leveling the score at 1-1.
At halftime Burleigh made a change to Florida’s formation. Rather than going with four defenders the Gators moved to three at the back.
“I think the biggest thing we recognized is as soon as we started pressing them they began to panic a little bit,” Burleigh said. “And that press… kept giving us turnover after turnover that we were winning in their half and I think our offense was starting at a much higher point because of that.”
However, Stanford was able to exploit the formational change early in the second half. In the 59th minute, Stanford’s Jaye Boissiere made progress with the ball on the wing as Cardinals filtered into the box. Boissiere played a low, grounded cross to teammate Beattie Goad, who placed the ball just under the outstretched hand of Espinoza, giving Stanford the lead once again.
“There’s something about this team. Any time we go through any sort of adversity we respond,” UF captain Gabby Seiler said. “We’re the type of team that if you’re going to come at us and you’re going to score on us then we’re going to bounce back.”
Burleigh made another triple substitution in response to the Cardinal goal, this time in the 74th minute. Again the substitution allowed Florida to find new energy. Five minutes later, the game was tied.
A high-arching cross from Mayra Pelayo found Seiler at the back post. The captain headed the ball into the top corner, capturing her team-leading third goal of the season.
Just two and a half minutes later, mayhem ensued at Dizney Stadium.
Florida substitute Melanie Monteagudo picked up the ball 40 yards from the Stanford goal. Monteagudo played a speculative diagonal ball into the box for Araujo. The Brazilian native tracked down the ball and faced up a Stanford defender.
Araujo cut inside, creating just enough space to get a shot off. Her shot curled into the side netting, giving Jahansouz no chance and giving Florida the lead in the 82nd minute.
“Her composure on that is why we recruited her,” Burleigh said of Araujo. “I mean not many have that composure inside (the box) and she buried it.”
In the dying embers of the match Florida found itself defending desperately. With less than a minute remaining, Macario fired a shot from the top of the UF box. Her shot found the gloves Espinoza, who caught the ball and punted it away, ensuring Florida victory.
“Gator Day for us in once a week where it’s just a really hard practice,” Burleigh said. “The end of this game felt like a Gator Day and I think that really helped carry them through that a bit.”
The Gators will make a quick turn around after their victory as they prepare for a match with Syracuse on Sunday at Dizney Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
You can follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr, and you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UF midfielder Gabby Seiler dribbles down the field during Florida's 5-2 win against Iowa State on Aug. 19, 2016, at James G. Pressly Stadium.