Florida soccer plays UNC to a draw

The 2012 Gators women’s soccer team does not have nearly as high of expectations as a few of the teams they will be seeing to open up the season.

North Carolina is considered one of those teams, and on Friday night the Gators played the Tar Heels to a 0-0 draw.

Following ninety minutes of soccer without so much as a sniff on goal, and finally with just one minute left in overtime, the North Carolina’s exhausted players all ran into the box for a free kick looking to put in a last-ditch effort for the first goal of the game. The UNC player backed up, trotted forward and launched the ball right into the Gators’ goal box.

The ball went off the head of one player. Then a second head. And then it landed at the feet of a hungry Maria Lubrano looking to put an end to the game. She buried the ball into the back of the net past a diving effort by UF goalkeeper Taylor Burke.

The 4,184 fans at Fetzer Field went wild as Lubrano put her hands on her head, not believing she scored the goal. The team was ready to tackle her and celebrate the win when suddenly, she hadn’t. A whistle was blown.

The sideline referee stood with the flag straight above his head with confidence. Lubrano had been offsides.

The Florida Gators (0-1-1, 0-0) were able to sneak out of Chapel Hill, N.C., with a 0-0 draw in second overtime against No. 14 North Carolina Tar Heels (0-1-1, 0-0). The last time a Florida team had tied was at the end of the 2010 season, when Florida tied Duke 0-0 in the NCAA Tournament. This particular game can be summed up with a decent defensive performance from both sides and, perhaps more importantly, missed opportunities.

The shot count was even for the most part with Florida having eight shots to North Carolina’s 11. North Carolina was able to take aim at the goal unlike Florida. UNC blasted five shots which Burke had to save. Two of the Tar Heels shots ended with a ricochet off the woodwork too. Florida’s Holly King took the only shot on goal for the team, and it was easily saved.

“Offensively, I know we can produce more,” said coach Becky Burleigh. “We are still working our way into getting in sync and that is the biggest issue. It is just going to take a little time.”

Florida’s offense found no rhythm or flow during the game. Senior Erika Tymrak worked to get as many opportunities for her teammates as possible, but one player cannot do it all. Tymrak ended with four shots in the game.

Throughout the game UNC dominated the time of possession by feeding off of the crowd’s energy. Florida’s defense stepped up this time around and was able to keep the Tar Heels in check. The stout defense was led by senior Kathryn Williamson, who played all 110 minutes for the Gators.

Only after a week, Florida was noticeably improved on its defense, especially against set pieces. With the leadership of Williamson directing players where to go, there were no collapses.

“It was a good step forward after last Friday,” said Burleigh after the game. “We were disappointed with the tie, but at the same time, I thought we improved in some critical areas like dealing with set pieces. They had quite a few corners and set pieces and we did a much better job of not giving up opportunities from those. I also think we were more disciplined in our organization and our shape.”

Florida’s Burke also stepped up and took on a leadership role which Burleigh desperately needed from her keeper. She took charge in aligning the defense for the set pieces and preparing for the fast breaks. The few times that the Tar Heels were able to get through for a shot, she was able to make the big play. As the final whistle blew, Burke had finished out the match with five saves and her first complete game of the season.

Florida’s road trip in North Carolina does not get any easier as the team will be playing No. 2 Duke (3-0-0, 0-0) in Chapel Hill at the Carolina Nike Classic on Sunday. Kickoff is 1 p.m.