Florida will return home to face Vanderbilt Sunday after its first loss of the season against Texas A&M, but the Gators’ traditional white, orange and blue uniforms will take another week off.
This weekend’s game is the Gators’ 12th annual Kicking for the Cure game. UF players will wear a pink jersey and their hearts on their sleeves for Sunday night’s breast cancer awareness match.
“The pink game is one of my absolute favorite games because cancer has affected virtually everyone’s family at some point in time,” senior defender Parker Roberts said. “It hit close to home in our family and I’ve had a lot of people close to me affected by cancer.”
Roberts mentioned that the pink game feels “completely different” this season, and the Gators will be looking for something new after their worst showing of the season last weekend.
Coach Becky Burleigh called a team meeting on Monday afternoon to address her team’s performance in College Station, Texas, urging her players to play with better energy from the opening kickoff and return to the basics this Sunday against the slumping Commodores.
Vandy began the year with a come-from-behind, 3-2 win against Kentucky, only to lose its next three games.
Vanderbilt was competitive in those contests however, losing by just one goal in each loss and dropping two decisions in overtime against South Carolina and Missouri. The Commodores have equaled or surpassed their opponents’ shot tallies in all of their three losses, and are likely a better team than their record suggests.
An unfocused Gators team could certainly lose this weekend and will have to address these key areas to avoid an embarrassing return to Donald R. Dizney stadium.
Test the Keeper
Florida and Vanderbilt enter Sunday’s contest as very similar sides. Both employ a 3-5-2 formation and play a possession-oriented style with a focus on getting service from the wide areas. However, they differ in one key aspect: stability between the sticks.
UF’s keeper, Susi Espinoza, has been the starter in Gainesville for two years now and has made several vital saves so far this season.
Sarah Fuller of Vanderbilt made her first collegiate start last weekend against South Carolina and was beaten by a tame effort at a tight angle from Gamecocks striker Ryan Gareis.
Fuller’s number wasn’t called on many other occasions in the match, but Florida should pepper the inexperienced keeper with shots early and often in her first road game.
South Carolina defended the Commodores in two deep-lying blocks of four, applying little pressure to the Vanderbilt midfield. Given time and space, the Vandy playmakers were able to pass the ball up the pitch and into the wide areas.
Vanderbilt’s second-half goal saw fullback Alex Wagner make an overlapping run down the right flank and fire a cross from along the touchline, which South Carolina keeper Heather Hinz fumbled into her own net.
Many of the Commodores’ better chances came from crosses as well, with Vandy’s attackers proving to be adept headers of the ball.
Florida’s preferred 3-5-2 lacks natural width, and there will be a particular duty on UF’s part to be more reserved and defend the wide areas.
Florida’s Achilles heel — high pressure — cost the Gators once again last week. After playing a short goal-kick, Espinoza and Ashlyn Kane both turned the ball over inside the 18-yard-box, leading directly to an Aggies penalty kick and a 2-0 deficit.
This marks the third consecutive game that UF has gifted a goal to its opposition through sloppy interplay, and Vanderbilt demonstrated a strong pressing game at times last weekend.
Roberts noted that the Gators played on their heels and were lacking an identity last weekend, which could help explain the tentative passing from Florida’s defenders.
More decisive passes and clearances are essential for the Gators for Sunday’s game and the rest of the season, as these deficiencies have already cost UF four points this season.
History is on the Gators’ side this weekend. UF has never lost in their pink jerseys and are 28-3-1 all time against the Commodores.
An improved performance should be enough to preserve UF’s streak in the Kicking for the Cure match and return to winning ways in the SEC.
The game will begin at 5:00 p.m. at Donald R. Dizney stadium and will be broadcasted on the SEC Network Plus.
Contact Declan Walsh at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @dawalsh_UF.