The keepers took center stage against a dark and windy backdrop in Florida’s regular-season finale at Missouri.
UF’s Alexa Goldberg made her first career start, and Mizzou’s Sophia Worth made her collegiate debut Sunday afternoon as the Gators fell 5-2 to the Tigers at Audrey J. Walton Soccer Stadium. The result extended Florida’s all-time record for consecutive losses to six.
With the Gators stuck in 13th place out of 14 teams in the SEC overall standings, they had no chance to move further up the table and avoid the opening round of the conference tournament. Therefore, coach Becky Burleigh decided to rest redshirt senior Susi Espinoza.
Espinoza has been the first-choice keeper the entire year, having started in each of UF’s previous seven games. This time, though, it was Goldberg between the sticks against Missouri.
Donning Florida’s all-pink keeper kit and a pair of blacked-out gloves, Goldberg managed six saves but allowed five goals to a relentless Mizzou attack highlighted by midfielders Cassidy Nurnberger and Bella Alessi.
Nurnberger and Alessi scored two goals apiece for the Tigers after UF’s Parker Roberts headed the ball into her own net in the eighth minute to tie the game at 1-1.
Goldberg’s inexperience at the collegiate level was evident throughout the afternoon. The first-year keeper hesitated to come off her line and gave the ball away on multiple occasions trying to play out of the back.
Worth, on the other hand, put together an inspiring performance in the Missouri net.
Coach Bryan Blitz, who was already without starting keeper Isabella Alessio, turned to Worth in the 10th minute after backup McKenna Sheehan left the game following a collision with UF forward Madison Alexander.
In just over 80 minutes of action, Worth made eight saves and conceded only once.
Mizzou’s freshman shot-stopper looked more comfortable than her counterpart in Goldberg, commanding her back line from the moment she stepped onto the pitch.
When UF midfielder Nicole Vernis found the back of the net against Sheehan just four minutes into the contest, it seemed as if the Gators were in store for a productive day offensively. However, Worth’s presence in the 18-yard box proved the difference-maker, as Florida scored just one goal the rest of the way to end a forgettable regular season.
“As much as this one hurt, we are going to have to find a way to get past it and draw a line under it,” Burleigh said in a release after the defeat. “It will be up to us to find our way back to a winning mentality, and it will take all of us together to do it.”
The 13th-seeded Gators will return to action Friday night against 12th-seeded Kentucky in the opening round of the SEC Tournament.
Contact Bryan Matamoros at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @bryan_2712.
Gators coach Becky Burleigh made her return to in-person coaching this weekend when Florida played Kentucky on Friday and Missouri on Sunday. UF dropped both out-of-town games, extending its program record for consecutive losses to six.