Florida soccer faced ranked competition for the first time this season Sunday afternoon.
The rival was none other than Florida State, the defending NCAA champions. Although both teams welcomed new faces during the offseason — Samantha Bohon at UF and Brian Pensky at FSU — one squad looked considerably superior on the pitch.
The No. 10 Seminoles (2-0-2) dominated the Sunshine Showdown from kickoff to final whistle and handed Florida (2-3-0) a 5-0 loss at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. The Gators had a flawed performance, totaling only three shots during the match and allowing four goals in the second half.
“It wasn’t our night,” Bohon said. “No matter what formation or what tactic we had, Florida State just executed better.”
The Seminoles established their dominance in the first half by controlling the tempo and finding openings on the sidelines. In the fifth minute, FSU junior forward Beata Olsson knocked on Florida’s door with a left-foot shot inside the box that went high.
Six minutes later, the Seminoles threatened to score again with a free kick from senior midfielder Jenna Nighswonger. The ball soared past the right post and amplified FSU’s pressure on the Gators.
Florida waited patiently for any passing errors to create counterattacks and primarily relied on long passes to break the Seminoles' defensive core. However, the Gators couldn’t keep up with FSU’s physical pressure and conceded a goal in the 15th minute.
Nighswonger found the back of the net after a pass from FSU freshman forward Olivia Garcia in the penalty arc. Nighswonger struck a left-foot low shot to beat Florida junior goalkeeper Alexa Goldberg.
In the first half, the Seminoles found open spaces and totaled nine shots and three corner kicks. Florida, on the other hand, struggled to carry the ball into the opponent’s side, registering only one shot in 45 minutes.
Heading into halftime, Bohon gathered her team to make some midfield adjustments. The Seminoles, however, interrupted her plans with a pair of early chances in the final 45 minutes.
In the 48th minute, Garcia extended the Seminoles lead after junior forward Jody Brown fed her a perfect pass to the penalty spot from the right flank. The wide-open Garcia pushed the ball past Goldberg to disrupt Florida’s comeback plans.
“I was honestly disappointed with how we came out in the second half because I kind of liked the plan we'd come up with at halftime,” Bohon said. “We never really got to see it because we fell behind another goal early in the second half.”
FSU continued its offensive momentum with a 56th-minute goal. Nighswonger carried the ball in the right flank before feeding a pass to Brown, who beat Goldberg with a powerful right-foot shot to the left side.
The next score was a reflection of Florida’s afternoon. Gators freshman defender Njeri Butts scored an own goal after failing to clear a high cross in the box. Goldberg got a grasp of the ball but didn't have enough time to react.
In the final moments of the match, Seminole sophomore midfielder Emma Bissell delivered a perfect cross to Olssen, who finished off the play with a powerful header.
FSU totaled 19 shots and moved the ball freely for almost all 90 minutes. During several points of the match, the Seminoles placed five players inside Florida’s box. The Gators, who defended with nine players, still left open spaces for the FSU attackers.
Offensively, Florida had its worst performance of the year, finishing with just three total shots, two of them in the final six minutes.
The Gators will look to shake off the loss Sunday when they face East Carolina on the road. The match is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will stream on ESPN+.
Jose Tovar is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Florida specializing in sports and media. He has covered softball and soccer as a beat writer and aspires to work in the sports media industry.