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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

After a turbulent opening seven matches, Florida kicks off conference play

Amato’s Gators take on the Vanderbilt Commodores Friday night in Nashville

<p>Kit Loferski runs with the ball during a 2019 game against Florida Gulf Coast.</p>

Kit Loferski runs with the ball during a 2019 game against Florida Gulf Coast.

Florida soccer opens conference play Friday night in Nashville, Tennessee, against the Vanderbilt Commodores. 

For head coach Tony Amato’s squad, SEC competition offers a welcome relief from the flurry of ranked opponents they have faced thus far. 

Four of the Gators’ seven non-conference opponents have been ranked, and Florida lost those contests by a combined goal difference of -12 en route to a single win and one draw against five losses. 

Vanderbilt has only faced two top-25 teams, and the Gators will look to build from their early season tussles with top-tier teams by taking care of business in Nashville.

The key for the Gators will be converting possession into chances on goal. Florida is averaging 9.6 shots per game compared to their opponents’ 16. Lackluster attacking play has seen the Gators concede three times as many goals as they scored. 

Both teams boast experienced goal-scoring threats. Florida graduate forward Kit Loferski notched three goals on the year while Vandy senior midfielder Raegan Kelley has scored four with an assist. Kelley scored in the last meeting between the two squads in October 2020.

If Amato’s Gators are to earn better results on the pitch, they must enter conference play with a renewed purpose on the attack. 

Following Florida’s heavy defeat to then-No. 2 North Carolina, Amato set out a path forward, 

“We had some individual moments that were positive,” Amato said. “Some of those were one player at a time sprinting hard blocking a forward pass or one player challenging at a time for a header. If we can have everyone on the field collectively doing those sorts of things, we can get better results as we start our conference schedule.”

Florida kicks off against Vanderbilt on Friday night in Nashville at 8 p.m. The game can be streamed through SEC Network+.

Contact Ryan Zehnder at Follow him on Twitter @ryan_zehnder.

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