Florida’s soccer team returned from Los Angeles late Sunday night after a winless weekend. Then-No. 1 Florida State was in LA as well over the weekend and left with two losses against UCLA and Southern California.
The two Florida schools have a chance to get right this week when they play each other in Tallahassee on Friday night at 7. The Gators need a big win to get more top-25 votes, as the most recently updated United Soccer Coaches poll gave them four votes, 40 less than last week’s poll. The Seminoles dropped five spots in the poll, dropping to No. 6. This is FSU’s first ranking outside the top five since it won the national championship in 2018. A convincing win over Florida is necessary to prove it is still among the nation’s elite teams.
From UF’s side, here are a few things that need to go in its favor to win a game that presents the Gators as major underdogs:
A healthy Rose
Junior forward Deanne Rose limped off the field after a right-footed strike against USC early in the second half. Later diagnosed as a hamstring injury, Rose missed the UCLA game three days later. On Wednesday, coach Becky Burleigh addressed the health of her top goal-scorer.
“She’ll try to do a little workout today and we’ll train tomorrow,” Burleigh said. “We’ll see Friday.”
Whatever Florida’s chances were to actually go up to the state capital and win this match, They are significantly lower without Rose. This team has struggled to even get threatening chances without her getting penetration. UCLA was the only opponent the Gators played without Rose this season, and Bruins goalkeeper Teegan Micah had a clean sheet, registering only three saves.
An extraordinary Espinoza
Senior goalkeeper Susi Espinoza in all likelihood will need a special performance to beat the Seminoles. Espinoza registered six saves in the UCLA game but only two against USC in the Gators’ 3-1 loss to the Trojans. Whether Rose plays or not, all of Florida’s games in 2019 up to this point suggest that UF will struggle to win if the ball gets past Espinoza multiple times.
A strong performance from Stubblebine
Senior midfielder Alex Stubblebine was a bright spot for Florida during its California trip. She scored her first goal of the season against USC and has shown an ability to facilitate effectively. For the Gators to generate offense against the Seminoles, a lot of it will be either orchestrated or finished by Stubblebine.
“Her scoring ability is her being in the right place at the right time, which is a skill,” Burleigh said. “She’s done a good job with that.”
The Loferski counterattack
The closest that UF came to scoring against UCLA was when the Bruins had set pieces or a strong attack in Florida territory and then presented a counterattack. Redshirt junior defender Kit Loferski spearheaded those counters and came close to scoring multiple times.
A huge boost for UF in this game could come against a better finish on one of those from the speedy Loferski. Despite missing 2018 thanks to an ACL tear, her ability to blaze up the field quickly was clearly a problem for UCLA, and Burleigh thinks that won’t stop with the Bruins.
“She’s really come back strong from her injury, we’re excited to have her back because it’s been a long time coming,” Burleigh said. “She’s somebody who’s so dynamic and I think causes the other team problems.”
In the two LA games, these four elements would come and go. It never seemed that all four clicked at the same time to make UF a real threat. These points will be key for the Gators to have a shot against the final team in this three-game stretch of top 10 opponents.
“This stretch we knew was going to be a really difficult stretch,” Burleigh said. “We’re kind of relishing that.”
Follow Graham Marsh on Twitter @GrahamMarshUF. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Junior forward Deanne Rose exited Thursday night's game against USC with a hamstring injury. Her status for tonight's game is unclear. She leads the team with three goals.