On a wet Friday evening, the twelfth-ranked Florida Gators soccer team hosted the University of Mississippi Rebels at James G. Pressly Stadium. Coming off of their last game against Jacksonville, in which the Gators scored four goals in the first half all by different players, it was going to be intriguing to see how they would fare jumping back into SEC play. Also, being home for the first time since their 2-1 loss to now fifth-ranked Texas A&M, it was exciting for the Gators to take back their house in a big way. Technically, though, since Florida’s loss to A&M came in the Donald R. Dizney Stadium, the Gators don’t actually have to “take back” Pressly Stadium, since they have not yet lost on that field this season.
Regardless, how was Florida going to play at home and in the SEC again for the first time since that close loss on September 10?
Execution problems, which had been an issue- albeit a very fixable one- during the Gators’ loss to the Aggies, showed up from time-to-time in the first half of Florida’s Friday night matchup against Ole Miss. That’s an unfortunate observation as the Gators looked to be the better team in the first period and still went into the break down 1-0. Even the goal that was scored on Florida wasn’t one that was caused by a lapse in assignment. It was simply a throw-in that was bounced around a few times at the top of the box before it found its way off of the foot of the Rebels’ Addie Forbus and inside the far post. A few other risky situations for the Gators in the first period were also caused by execution miscues as well as solid defense by Ole Miss, but there was no more scoring and it gave the Gators coaching staff a good point to focus on heading into the half.
As the second period began, the Gators looked like a different team. Florida Head Coach Becky Burleigh stated that “the players came out with a really great response, scoring so early, and that was just them trusting each other, trusting that we could get this done and just showing some urgency.”
Senior Gator defender Christen Westphal also commented that “we talked about it at half – just attacking them, not sitting back and just attacking them.”
Urgency. Attacking. The two things that had seemed lacking in the first half were immediately identified by the staff and players, and then remedied.
A mere 29 seconds into the second period, Christen Westphal lobbed a shot 25 yards across the field as the Gators’ Savannah Jordan faked to receive the pass and threw the Rebels’ goalkeeper off just enough to have the shot go sailing past her instead. Westphal’s goal was the quickest score recorded by a Gator in the second half since Gator Great Abby Wambach’s goal against Tennessee on September 11, 1998. For reference, it took Wambach until the 45 minute and 13 second mark to score. As for Friday night’s game, Westphal’s goal helped the Gators establish some rhythm, which set the pace for the rest of the game
“Finding our rhythm was really important,” coach Burleigh said. “In the first half, we didn’t quite have that.”
Fortunately for Florida, it’s easy to get in a rhythm when it takes you less than 30 seconds into the half to score. Now the Gators’ execution had become much more crisp and it was only a matter of time until they found the goal again. Actually, though, there wasn’t another score until 77 minutes and 13 seconds into the contest. But from then on, the Gators dominated, scoring three goals in a span of exactly 11 minutes.
In fact, all four goals were not only scored by different players- Christen Westphal, Brooke Sharp, Betsy Middleton, and Savannah Jordan- they were all scored in a single half for the second consecutive game as well- the first time for the Gators since 2003. This also happens to be the third game in which Florida has scored four goals in one half of a game this year — the other two coming against Miami on August 27 and against Jacksonville last week.
A point that has been made exceedingly clear through Florida’s last five games alone. When they attack, that is when they are most lethal. When Florida attacks and plays confidently, that is when fans can truly see why the Gators are picked to win the 2015 SEC Title.
- The Gators defeated the Rebels 4-1 Friday night.
- The Rebels attempted 13 shots while Florida attempted 17
- The Gators had 3 saves while the Rebels had 8 The Gators’ Brooke Sharp’s four total goals on the season have all come in the last four games.
- Christen Westphal has now scored two goals in her career- her first came in a match against Georgia in 2013.