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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Goal line scramble sees Vanderbilt edge Florida in overtime

<p>The Gators lost, 2-1, in double overtime to the Vanderbilt Commodores Sunday evening. This marks the first time Florida has lost back-to-back SEC matches since 2018.</p>

The Gators lost, 2-1, in double overtime to the Vanderbilt Commodores Sunday evening. This marks the first time Florida has lost back-to-back SEC matches since 2018.

In an unorthodox season full of cancellations and quarantines, Florida’s historic dominance on “pink day” was foiled by the Vanderbilt Commodores. 

Florida lost 2-1 in the 12th annual Kicking for the Cure match, wearing all pink kits for breast cancer awareness. 

Neither team looked inspiring from the opening kickoff, as the ball largely pinballed around the midfield. The chippy nature of the game contributed to the lack of flow, as Vanderbilt and Florida combined for seven fouls in the first 15 minutes of play.

Parker Roberts made a vital intervention in the 25th minute to keep the score deadlocked at zero by blocking a first-time effort from around the penalty spot.

Just two minutes later, a successful corner kick routine saw Vanderbilt fire a first time strike from the top of the 18, which Florida keeper Susi Espinoza was forced to parry over the bar. 

Following a spell of Commodore dominance, the Gators were the stronger team in the final stages of the first half. A 36th minute cross found Maddy Rhodes at the far post, who connected sweetly with the volley and forced Vanderbilt keeper Sarah Fuller into an uncomfortable save.

Florida was rewarded in the 40th minute, when Parker Roberts played a dangerous ball from the right flank, forcing the Vandy defenders to deal with the cross facing their own net. The attempted clearance fell nicely into the path of Rhodes, who toe-poked the ball past an oncoming Fuller. Goal, Florida. 

“It feels really great,” Rhodes said about scoring her first collegiate goal. “Parker Roberts just played a great ball. It was fantastic. All I had to do was touch the ball and it felt great.”

UF was in control of the match going into the locker room, and even as Vanderbilt saw more of the ball in the beginning of the second half, resolute UF defending ensured that the Commodores couldn’t get a clear sight of goal. 

Coach Becky Burleigh cited this improved performance and felt her team was unfortunate to lose the game. 

“It’s a very disappointing way to lose, Burleigh said. “I felt like we were much more ourselves tonight than we have been.” 

Florida squandered a golden opportunity in the 63rd minute to double its advantage, as a square ball across the six-yard box found Madison Alexander at the back post. With the net gaping, Alexander misplaced her shot, which allowed a scrambling Fuller to make a save. 

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In the 80th minute, Vanderbilt’s Abi Brighton made a strong run down the right wing, which, coupled with poor Gator tackling, allowed her to run at Florida’s goal and find Reagan Kelley. The Commodore striker fired first time towards the far post, beating Espinoza and tying the score with ten minutes remaining in regulation. 

Vandy nearly took the lead three minutes later, as Olivia Simmons beat her first defender with a Cruyff turn, touched the ball past a Florida center back and hit her shot well, forcing a really good diving save from Espinoza. 

The SEC heavyweights continued to trade blows, as Cassidy Lindley headed an 87th minute cross down towards Fuller’s net, drawing a good save from the Vanderbilt keeper. 

Ultimately, it was the Commodores who landed the knockout blow early in the second period of overtime. A Leila Azari cross bounced around the face of Florida’s goal before Vanderbilt defender Myra Konte prodded home the winning strike from a yard out. 

Sunday’s loss marks the first time the Gators have lost consecutive SEC matches since Oct. 7, 2018 and drops UF to sixth in the SEC East standings. 

Florida will face a tremendous challenge next week as well, with the Gators traveling to Columbia, South Carolina, to face the league-leading Gamecocks on Oct. 25 at 2 p.m.

Contact Declan Walsh at dwalsh@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @dawalsh_UF.

The Gators lost, 2-1, in double overtime to the Vanderbilt Commodores Sunday evening. This marks the first time Florida has lost back-to-back SEC matches since 2018.

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