Soccer

Sophomore forward Alivia Gonzalez nailed a game-winning shot in Alabama's goal to protect Florida's unbeaten record.

In a tale of two halves at the Diz, Florida overcame a sloppy and toothless first-half performance to notch a 2-1 victory over No. 15 Alabama. 

During a rainy Sunday afternoon in Gainesville, the Crimson Tide used the weather to their advantage early on, pressing high up the pitch from the opening kickoff and disrupting Florida’s possession-based style of play. 

The Gators ceded possession several times deep in their defensive third, granting Alabama chance after chance.   

UF was undone just five minutes into the contest after a Georgia Eaton-Collins back pass was intercepted by Sidney Vincent. The Crimson Tide striker slotted a composed finish past keeper Susi Espinoza to give her team a 1-0 lead. 

Florida should have equalized moments later, as following a nice bit of interplay down the left wing, Alivia Gonzalez’s cross pinballed around the penalty area. The ball found its way inside the six-yard area to an unmarked Maddy Rhodes, who failed to convert the tap-in.

UF looked better after conceding the goal, becoming more sure-footed in possession and direct in its passing. However, the Gators failed to create further clear-cut opportunities in the attack. 

Espinoza was called to action in the 22nd minute, as a deflected shot from the Crimson Tide looked destined for the bottom corner. Espinoza reacted quickly and forced the ball wide, maintaining Florida’s one-goal deficit. 

UF was fortunate to trail by just one at the half, registering just one shot on goal and being outplayed and out-hustled through the first 45 minutes.

The Gators were much improved out of the locker room, putting Alabama’s back line under siege. A 49th-minute penalty shout and a curling effort from Cassidy Lindley in the 52nd minute were the most potent attempts following the restart. 

Coach Becky Burleigh applauded her team’s second half performance, giving all the credit to the players. 

I’m not sure it was our message in the locker room,” Burleigh said. “I just thought our girls did a great job stepping up to the challenge.”

Florida scored an equalizer in the 62nd minute after a well-worked attacking movement. 

Kouri Peace won possession in the midfield and ran at the center backs before releasing Rhodes down the right flank. Rhodes played a driven ball across the face of goal, which Madison Alexander forced across the line with a tidy back-heel finish. 

In the final 30 minutes, UF looked more likely to break the deadlock, surging forward, winning tackles and testing Alabama keeper McKinley Crone. 

The crowd at Donald R. Dizney stadium clamored for a penalty in the 80th minute when Parker Roberts went down in the box. The senior midfielder made a strong run from deep and appeared to get pushed over in the penalty area. The referee was on top of the action and instructed Roberts to get up, preserving the deadlock. 

UF continued to pile on the pressure, as Cameron Hall found herself unmarked in the box, only managing a tame effort toward Crone’s goal. 

Six minutes later, Gonzalez rose the highest for a header, but she was unable to generate enough power, as Crone made a comfortable save. 

But, as the game appeared destined for overtime, UF snatched a win at the death. 

Kouri Peace was instrumental in this goal’s buildup and played a pass to Kit Loferski, who lofted a service toward the far post.  Gonzalez made no mistake this time, attacking the cross and firing a right-footed finish into the net two minutes from full time. 

Gonzalez’s goal completed a remarkable turnaround for the Gators, but it was a situation Florida prepared for. 

“We had worked on this situation (playing a goal down) in training just yesterday,” Gonzalez said. “We didn’t panic and we knew how to respond.”

Florida will hit the road for the first time Oct. 11, taking its unbeaten record into College Station, Texas, to play Texas A&M at 2 p.m. on the SEC Network.

Contact Declan Walsh at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @dawalsh_UF.