A cool, light rain drizzled over the spectators and players in Gainesville as the Gators soccer team took on Washington in its season opener. The Gators might have felt the motivation of an opportunity to avenge last season’s 1-0 loss against the Huskies in Seattle.
Instead, Florida found itself trudging through the soggy grounds of Donald R. Dizney Stadium down a goal after the first half. The Gators, however, proved to be up to the early season test as they downed the Huskies 2-1.
Florida’s possessive offense provided decent scoring chances in the first half but couldn’t execute in the final third. The Gators had several near-misses by midfielders Briana Solis and Carina Baltrip-Reyes and forward Deanne Rose.
All those mishaps eventually turned into an equalizer as midfielder Sammie Betters got UF on the board at the 54-minute mark with a shot that rippled the upper netting. The attempt came off several ricochets in Washington’s 6-yard box.
Washington’s offense dominated the first frame. Eleven minutes in, the Huskies pinballed attempts back and forth between Gators defenders before Florida managed to clear its box. Two minutes later, a breakaway was stopped only by a streaking Betters desperately getting back on defense.
The effort from Betters seemed to stabilize UF’s turbulent start. A defensive stalemate played out for the next 20 minutes until the Huskies finally broke through. Washington defender Lisa Jensen received the ball after a few dribbles then crossed the ball to forward Ruby Hellstrom. The freshman buried her shot in the back of the net and put UW up 1-0.
In the second half, Florida found its energy and controlled the frame, relentlessly laying attack after attack.
The winning goal came at the 77-minute mark. A miscommunication between Washington goalie Siena Ruelas and a defender caused a clearance attempt to rattle to the feet of forward Madison Alexander. Alexander lightly tapped the ball into the open net for the game-winner.
UF coach Becky Burleigh said her team’s performance early on was indicative of the early stage of the season.
“It’s just a matter of executing a little bit better,” Burleigh said. “We were disappointed to give up the goal on the set piece… but we’ll learn from that. Game 1.”
The Gators take on Florida Atlantic on Sunday at 6 p.m. at Dizney Stadium.
Chris O’Brien is a sports writer. Follow him on Twitter @THEChrisOB and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.