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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Florida falls to UCLA 2-0, leaving Los Angeles winless

<p>Julia Lester.</p>

Julia Lester.

One team had just lost to the No. 5-ranked USC Trojans. The other had just beaten the No.1-ranked Florida State Seminoles. 

Florida’s soccer team headed into Sunday’s contest against UCLA fresh off a loss on Friday, while the Bruins earned an enormous win against FSU. This was UF’s chance to leave its California road trip not entirely winless — like FSU did — and essentially guarantee a spot in the top-25 poll. The Bruins killed those hopes, defeating the Gators 2-0. 

The first legitimate scoring threat came when the Bruins stole the ball just outside of Florida’s 18-yard box. UCLA midfielder Jessie Fleming took the ball with a one-on-one chance against UF goalkeeper Susi Espinoza. Even with a favorable angle for a shot, she passed to a covered Ashley Sanchez. Defender Sammie Betters kept Sanchez from reaching it and the ball harmlessly rolled out of bounds for a goal kick. 

Throughout the first 25 minutes, UCLA controlled the possession. The Gators’ best scoring chances posed no legitimate threat. One was a corner kick that landed inside the 6-yard box and was cleared by the Bruins almost immediately, another was left back Kit Loferski’s shot from outside the 18, easily saved by UCLA goalkeeper Teagan Micah. 

In the 26th minute the Gators began to shift the narrative. Freshman forward Kouri Peace lost the ball and then regained it in the Bruins’ half of the field. She played it to midfielder Alex Stubblebine — who got the start due to forward Deanne Rose’s hamstring injury — and Stubblebine drew the defense to the top of the 18 and then played it back right to Peace. The forward took a threatening right-footed strike, but Micah made an even better save to halt the attack. 

UF coach Becky Burleigh was asked by the Pac-12 broadcast team what it was like to play without Rose. 

“Certainly, she’s a world-class player who would add to what we have, but we’re taking a big picture approach,” Burleigh said. 

Even with no goal, that attack seemed to invigorate UF. The energy picked up after that possession and the Gators were noticeably more aggressive. Five minutes later, Florida stole it from the Bruins in Gator territory and got back up the field immediately. The counterattack resulted in a good look on the left side of the goal for Loferski, only to be saved by Micah once again. 

“We got behind them, served balls across the box, we need to be a bit more clinical in the final third,” Burleigh said. “We were able to play through their midfield and I think that is a very, very talented midfield.” 

Later in the first half, a controversial no-call happened by way of Florida midfielder Parker Roberts. While a UCLA corner kick was in the air on its way into the 18, Roberts ran into Bruins’ midfielder Viviana Villacorta and knocked her immediately to the ground. That decision by the referee to swallow the whistle kept UCLA from getting a potential penalty kick. 

Moments before the first half closed, Sanchez ripped a beautiful left-footed ground strike. Espinoza continued an impressive season of saves and got to the ground quickly to halt the shot to keep the Bruins from gaining a one-goal advantage heading into the half. 

In the first 2 minutes of the second half, the Bruins threatened to gain that advantage again. Fleming ran to receive an aerial ball in the 18 and Espinoza ran into her going after it. The referee blew the whistle this time and UCLA was awarded a penalty kick. Midfielder Marley Canales placed it to the right side of the net and squeezed the shot pass Espinoza to put the Bruins up 1-0. 

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Not long after, in the 57th minute, UCLA forward Kali Trevithick got into the 18 and struck a left-footed shot right at Espinoza. Espinoza saved it, but defender Delanie Sheehan was right there to hit the deflection back into the left side of the goal, putting the Bruins up 2-0. 

The rest of the game was uneventful with the exception of a second foul from Roberts, resulting in a yellow card, a few threatening chances from the Bruins and a few futile attempts from the Gators. The surge to start the second half in minute 47 and 57 from UCLA would tell the whole story in terms of scoreline, leaving the Gators without a win in Los Angeles. 

“There will be some real positives that come out of this,” Burleigh said. “I just think we are close and these games are really going to help us.” 

Follow Graham Marsh on Twitter @GrahamMarshUF. Contact him at

Julia Lester.

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