The last time Florida’s soccer team faced Auburn was in the 2018 SEC Tournament play-in match.
That game went the distance, with the Gators advancing to the quarterfinals in a penalty-kick shootout despite playing a man down after former midfielder Sarah Troccoli received a red card in the 57th minute.
Now, nearly a year later, 24th-ranked UF will have to dig deep once again, as the Tigers come to Donald R. Dizney Stadium on Friday night for a rematch of last season’s thrilling meeting between the two sides.
“Auburn always comes in here fired up, I mean, always,” coach Becky Burleigh said. “I cannot ever remember an easy game against Auburn. I think they’ll be ready to go.”
The Tigers have lost two consecutive games in the past week, falling to Mississippi State and then-No. 17 Texas A&M. Their recent form, however, has not changed Florida’s preparation for Friday’s conference battle.
“We’re doing lots of scouting, lots of mimicking what Auburn does,” forward Kit Loferski said. “Teams tend to play their best whenever they play us, so it makes practice that much better for us.”
Tigers midfielder Bri Folds, who Burleigh dubbed “one of their best players,” leads Auburn in goals (6) and shots (31). Folds has also shown flashes of her passing abilities, which is evident by her three assists this season.
The Lakeland, Florida, native may cause problems for a UF defense that has failed to record a clean sheet in three straight games. The Gators have been exposed at the back as of late, committing hapless mistakes and failing to track the runs of opposing attackers.
“Teams like Auburn will capitalize on that,” forward Deanne Rose said. “So that’s just something that we talked about (that) we needed to clean up.”
When available, Rose has been the focal point of Florida’s offense due to her combination of speed and strength. But injuries and national team duties have hampered her playing time the past two seasons.
She struggled in Sunday’s game against Kentucky, missing two clear-cut chances to find the back of the net. One of those was a breakaway in which she kicked the ball right at the Wildcats goalkeeper. The other was a shot from inside the box that sailed over the crossbar.
Luckily for the Gators, a trio of freshmen stepped up to provide a spark offensively.
Midfielders Laney Steed and Ava Kuyken scored their first collegiate goals for the program against UK in the 26th and 39th minute, respectively, while forward Kouri Peace registered her second career goal in the 50th minute.
“It’s just good to know we can trust everyone, not just rely on D(eanne Rose),” Steed said. “Everyone is an amazing player, but knowing that I can hit one from outside the box or Vanessa (Kara) can hit a tap-in is just a good feeling.”
Follow Bryan Matamoros on Twitter @bryan_2712. Contact him at [email protected]