Sarah Troccoli took the ball into the attacking third, cut inside from the left flank and fired a shot 18 yards from goal just before halftime. The junior midfielder’s shot curled over the head of Kentucky goalkeeper Abigail Zoeller and dipped under the bar, giving Troccoli her first goal of the season.
“I didn’t realize that was her first goal,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said in a release. “It came at a good time because it was nice to go into the locker room with a lead instead of 0-0.”
The goal also broke Florida’s 238-minute scoreless streak, as the Gators took down Kentucky, 2-0, at Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach.
The match was moved to Embry-Riddle due to the controversial speaking arrangements of Richard Spencer on UF’s campus, but the unfamiliar facilities and two-hour bus ride didn’t affect the Gators’ performance.
“It was a little bit of an odd day. A 5 o’clock start, a neutral site,” Burleigh said. “But again, I think we handled it pretty well.”
UF (12-4, 6-2 SEC) played a staunch, defensive first half where it didn’t register many offensive opportunities but nearly held the Wildcats (7-11, 2-6 SEC) shotless.
The first Kentucky shot came 10 seconds before halftime, just after the Gators took the lead on Troccoli’s strike. The Florida press kept the Wildcats from building any meaningful attacks, causing turnovers and allowing UF to dominate the ball for the duration of the half.
“It was a little slow in the beginning,” Troccoli said. “But then we talked about pressing higher up at halftime so we kind of picked it up.”
Troccoli’s goal also caused Kentucky to play a more aggressive style, making it more vulnerable to counter attacks in the second half.
In the 52nd minute, another substitute, freshman Madison Alexander, exploited UK’s vulnerability.
Alexander controlled the ball atop the Wildcats’ 18-yard box on a pass from redshirt senior Gabby Seiler and rifled it into the top-right corner.
“We put a challenge to the team to score a goal in the first 15 minutes in the second half,” Burleigh said. “So it was kind of nice to see that two players that came off the bench could make a big difference.”
Alexander’s goal proved to be the insurance that Florida needed to see out the match, but that didn’t stop the goal-starved Gators from trying to add to their tally.
Florida recorded 10 second-half shots, putting four on goal and even rattling two off of the post. Seiler nearly replicated Alexander’s goal in the 66th minute and junior defender Sara Wilson almost deflected in a Briana Solis shot going wide just before full time, but both were saved by the woodwork.
By the end of the match, UF registered more shots on goal (7) than Kentucky had total shots (6) as Florida limited the Wildcats to only three meaningful chances on goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese, who registered her fifth clean sheet since returning to the starting lineup on Sept. 14.
“We had some really big game changers that went into the game that upped the urgency,” Burleigh said. “I think it was a good team effort, and obviously that’s favorable for us Sunday as well because we’ve got a quick turnaround.”
You can follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr, and contact him at [email protected].