Florida earned the attention of the United Soccer Coaches’ national rankings for the first time this season, slotting in at No. 15 after a win and a draw against ranked Alabama and Georgia teams.
The Gators will put their national pedigree to the test in their first road game of the season against No. 11 Texas A&M. The Aggies dropped their most recent decision, losing 2-1 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, after failing to overcome two first-half goals from the third-ranked Razorbacks.
A&M and Florida have endured comparable off-field challenges this season, as the Aggies’ week two game was canceled after a member of the program had a false-positive COVID-19 test.
After shaking off the rust throughout the first half against Arkansas last weekend, Texas A&M showed enough quality to cause the Gators serious problems this Sunday, and UF will have to outplay its opposition in a few key areas to come out of College Station, Texas, with a win.
Dominance in the Wide Areas
The Gators get a reprieve from the back three setup this weekend, as the Aggies are expected to line up in a 4-2-2-2. This midfield box leaves A&M well-equipped in the center of the park but lacking numbers in the wide areas.
Left-back Jimena Lopez helps compensate for these weak points, as the Mexican international is one of Texas A&M’s best attacking players and an excellent crosser of the ball, providing essential width for the Aggies’ midfield quartet.
Florida’s preferred 3-5-2 also sees the Gators sacrifice width for midfield solidity. UF’s right wing-backs will have to keep tabs on Lopez, as allowing her to get in behind will stretch Florida’s back three and leave open runners in the box.
Taylor Ziemer, the left sided pivot in A&M’s midfield box, is the catalyst from the midfield. She serves as a creative force and a goal-scoring threat for the Aggies. Arkansas was effective in stopping Ziemer after inverting their midfield pyramid, dropping Ava Tankersley into a No. 6 role out of respect for the Aggie spark plug.
Florida and Arkansas both employ a 3-5-2 formation, so the Gators could steal a page from the Razorbacks’ playbook. UF may also want to consider dropping a player into the midfield, as a 5-4-1 foundation would match Texas A&M’s presence in that section of the pitch.
Exercise Caution in Possession
The Gators have conceded two goals this season and both have been gifts. The UF back line has been guilty of many sloppy and dangerous passes this season. On two occasions, Gators defenders passed directly to opposing attackers, leading directly to goals.
Both Alabama and Georgia put Florida under intense pressure, which coincided with the most suspect passing from UF. The Gators should expect Texas A&M to press, and will need to make more prudent decisions on the ball to avoid giving up another soft goal.
The Gators have proven to be a resilient team through the first two games, overcoming poor patches of form to earn results against two very good teams. But taking on quality opposition away from the friendly confines of Donald R. Dizney stadium is a different challenge.
“We’re gonna need to know how to compete and play on the road,” Florida head coach Becky Burleigh said. “And to play against a good team that’s really, really good at home, I’m excited about that and I think our team is too.”
Contact Declan Walsh at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @dawalsh_UF.