In the past 10 matches, Florida’s soccer team is 8-2. That success followed a 2-3 start to the season. The Gators — ranked No. 20 in the most recent United Soccer Coaches poll — head into the final three contests of the regular season in the upper echelon of the conference.
On Thursday, Florida flies to Knoxville, Tennessee, to play the Volunteers (8-5-2, 2-4-1 SEC). Three days later, the Gators will be back home in Donald R. Dizney Stadium for the final time in the regular season to face South Carolina (11-1-2, 5-0-2 SEC). UF should handle Tennessee, but the Gamecocks are another top-tier SEC team that Florida could certainly lose to. To avoid that, here is what needs to happen:
Let the midfield shoot
The Gators beat Auburn this past Friday 2-1 after trailing 1-0 early on. Both goals, as well as assists, came from the foot of a midfielder. The first goal was a cross from Carina Baltrip-Reyes to Kouri Peace, the second was from Cassidy Lindley to Parker Roberts.
All of the midfielders, especially Lindley, pose legitimate threats to strike from distance, which has caused recent opponents to push further up defensively when they hover around the top of the 18-yard box. That has allowed the midfielders without the ball to make runs past the final level of defense and get one-on-one chances with the goalkeeper.
Help Espinoza earlier
Goalkeeper Susi Espinoza has had to make too many one-on-one saves early in matches. For example, against Auburn, a Tigers striker had a near goal that Espinoza barely saved with her left foot. Teams that score more effectively, such as South Carolina, are much more likely to make those chances count, and the odds of a Gators win could be much steeper than they have recently.
Graduate transfer Vanessa Kara has scored in spurts this season. She leads the team in scoring with eight goals, yet has only scored in five matches. Three of those five times she entered the scoring column, she doubled down, scoring two goals against Florida Gulf Coast, LSU and Texas A&M. For Florida to beat a team like South Carolina, the Gamecocks need to feel threatened by UF’s highest scorer.
The midfield shots have been there for the past few games, but the other two factors have not. Espinoza has been tested early as of late, and Kara has not scored in three straight games.
Follow Graham Marsh on Twitter @GrahamMarshUF. Contact him at [email protected]