Two Razorbacks placed three daggers into the heart of Florida’s SEC title hopes.
Top-seeded Arkansas and No. 5-seeded Florida faced off in Orange Beach, Alabama, on Thursday night. And after a back-and-forth first half, a dominant second half from the Razorbacks brought on a 3-1 final result in favor of Arkansas, ending UF’s time on the Gulf Shore.
In the first four minutes of the match, Florida looked overwhelmed. Arkansas, the No. 6 team in the country, looked as strong as its ranking. The Razorbacks weren’t just pressuring UF’s forwards and midfielders but its defenders as well.
The Gators had a Razorback within a few feet of them each time they received a pass. This resulted in a few turnovers that kept the ball in the orange and blue half for a majority of the first 10 minutes.
However, the constant pressure slowed up, and Florida pushed up into the Arkansas 18-yard box. Forward Madison Alexander brought the ball up and played a pass just outside the box to forward Vanessa Kara.
Kara played it immediately back to Alexander, who then had a favorable shot. She struck it from the right side of the box to the left post and barely hooked it too far to roll out of play. That chance didn’t result in a goal, but it did switch the momentum quickly.
Soon after, at the 14 minute mark, midfielder Kit Loferski dribbled from the far right wing, near the corner kick flag, and got it all the way to the box. She megged a Razorback defender to get just outside the 6-yard box and placed a pass to Kara. The forward almost spun a full 360 degrees to whack a left-footed hit toward goal and forced Arkansas goalkeeper Katie Lund into a difficult save.
Later on, with eight minutes left to play in the first half, the Gators had a wonderful opportunity. Midfielder Cassidy Lindley played a cross in from the left wing. The ball scooted across the field all the way to just outside the 6-yard box to the left foot of forward Kouri Peace. The freshman had subbed in for Kara minutes before and had an opportunity to give UF an advantage heading into halftime.
Peace, having to hit it with her non-dominant foot, got no steam on the ball and popped it up into the air where it softly landed in Lund’s gloves. Three minutes later, with less than five minutes remaining in the first half, the momentum switched again.
Freshman midfielder Cara Young crossed a ball in from the left side off a corner kick. Gators and Razorbacks alike leaped to get a head on the ball but missed. It fell to Arkansas midfielder Stefani Doyle. She got a left foot on it over goalie Susi Espinoza. Money.
Advantage Arkansas, scoreline 1-0.
The referee’s two blows meant halftime, and a half where Florida seemingly dominated most of the possession and got the best chances, presented a 1-0 deficit.
The Razorbacks’ strong finish to the first half, didn’t stop in the second. In the 58th minute, forward Anna Podojil got another one past Espinoza from just inside the 18-yard box. Avantage Arkansas, 2-0.
The 63rd minute breathed life into the suffering Gators, as a foul by the Razorbacks inside the 18-yard box found Kara at the penalty spot. Her shot was good enough to squeak past goalie Katie Lund and brought UF back within one, despite looking overwhelmed since the first half. Then, 15 minutes later, the Razorbacks gave UF reasons to warm up the plane to leave Orange Beach. Podojil put the ball past Espinoza one last time in the 78th minute.
Whistle, whistle, whistle.
Thirteen minutes later, the decision was final. UF was finished in the SEC Tournament. This may not be the end of Gators soccer in 2019, as Florida still has the chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The 64-team field will be announced Monday at 4:30 p.m.
Follow Graham Marsh on Twitter @GrahamMarshUF. Contact him at [email protected]