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Sunday, January 24, 2021
<p>Redshirt senior Parker Roberts at the Gators' home game versus Tennessee this season. Roberts and her teammates are excited for a clean slate at the 2020 SEC Tournament.</p>

Redshirt senior Parker Roberts at the Gators' home game versus Tennessee this season. Roberts and her teammates are excited for a clean slate at the 2020 SEC Tournament.

With Florida’s current losing streak standing at a program-record six games, senior Parker Roberts and her teammates have embraced Friday’s SEC Tournament opener as a new start.

“It's like a new season,” Roberts said. “I’m just gonna tell the team that anything that's happened thus far does not matter. You know, it's pretty irrelevant.”

But with a new season comes a familiar foe, as UF will play Kentucky at 9:30 p.m. on Friday night. Florida played the Wildcats in its second-to-last game last Friday, losing a 3-1 decision that gave UK its lone win of the regular season. 

The Gators were dominant in a number of statistical categories, recording 10 shots on goal to Kentucky’s 5, earning two more corners and dominating possession, especially in the first half. 

“I'm excited to play Kentucky again,” coach Becky Burleigh said. “I think there are some things that we can really improve upon there. And I'd like to see how we can implement those.”

Despite the staff’s optimism, Florida was beaten soundly last week, so the Gators need to make a number of adjustments in order to avoid elimination from the tournament and secure a second-round matchup against Missouri. 

Possession with a Purpose

Burleigh’s philosophy at UF always has been a Tiki-taka style of play with very methodical ball progression. The team's passing figures are tracked by the coaching staff and her program has seen consistent success. However, Florida has a tendency to keep possession for possession’s sake, stringing together a number of passes without threatening the opposition.

Last weekend, the Wildcats settled into a low-block, ceding possession in the midfield but stonewalling UF’s attack in the defensive third. This approach is difficult to break down, but Florida did itself no favors by failing to exploit numerical advantages and attack on the counter. 

UF was more incisive going forward in the second half, but still fired many errant long-balls or ill advised shots out of frustration. 

Preventing Dead Ball Opportunities

Florida has conceded 16 goals in its last five games, a defensive record that won’t win many soccer matches. However, eight of these goals have come from set-pieces, including UK’s opener last weekend, meaning that UF’s defense from open-play is relatively resolute. 

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Kentucky striker Jordyn Rhodes converted a 43’ penalty after a UF handball trying to defend a corner. But even outside of the goal the Gators back line remained shaky in defending corner kicks, rarely making first contact and often producing weak and ineffectual clearances. 

Playing God with soccer results is risky business, but removing concessions from corners would have given Florida five points from its last four games, showing the impact of this weakness.

Play through Roberts

Burleigh abandoned her usual 3-5-2 and lined up in a new-look 4-2-3-1 last weekend against Kentucky, moving Parker Roberts up from center back into an attacking midfield position. 

Roberts repaid her manager’s faith with a 56’ wonder-strike to level the score at 1, while generally serving as a creative and positive outlet in a UF midfield often devoid of direction. 

The second-team All-SEC selection demonstrated her technical ability with a number of flicks and back-heels. UF should look to Roberts and Madison Alexander as catalysts in the attack.

While history has meant very little in a turbulent 2020 campaign, the Gators have made Orange Beach, Alabama, a second home over the past few years, reaching the semifinals every year since 2014 and recording back-to-back championships in 2015 and 2016. 

Two UF players, Kit Loferski and Susi Espinoza, suited up for Florida’s last championship and an experienced UF line-up is full of players that have performed admirably at this stage. 

“Always happy to be back at the beach,” said Roberts. “Doesn't matter if we won all of our games or lost all of our games, we can beat anyone, so our goal is just to come out winners.”

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

Redshirt senior Parker Roberts at the Gators' home game versus Tennessee this season. Roberts and her teammates are excited for a clean slate at the 2020 SEC Tournament.

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