Gator soccer glad to be home

Florida’s soccer team has won only one of its last six matches and is 0-2 in Southeastern Conference play, a first in the 13-year history of the program, but coach Becky Burleigh’s not reaching for the panic button.

Or the Maalox.

“What I told our team was we are playing way too well not to be winning games,” Burleigh said earlier this week after consecutive losses at Georgia and No. 9 Tennessee. “We’re playing well, and I know if you’re not a soccer fan, it’s hard to understand how you can play that well and not get the results. In football, it’s like you kicking the ball and the other team scoring. And then you having 500 yards offense and not scoring. It’s a crazy thing. Sometimes that happens in soccer.

“It’s one of those things that you have to have confidence that it’s going to click, that it’s going to come together.”

How close is the turnaround? Burleigh pressed her thumb and index finger less than an inch apart.

“That close,” she said. “Once we do put it all together, we’re going to roll. It’s a process we have to go through. It’s not something the players are doing technically or tactically wrong. I feel like we’re dominating teams. The bottom line is the scoreboard is the only thing that matters. We’ve to put balls in the back of the net, and quite frankly, after this weekend, we have to keep balls out of the back of the net. It’s tough to give up two goals and expect to win in this league.”

In fact, Florida (4-4-2) has outshot its foes 74-39 over the last four matches, but didn’t win any of those, mustering ties to Nebraska and Florida Atlantic while losing to UT and UGA. The league losses are the most disturbing. The Gators generated 44 shots and scored just one goal.

Part of the drought, Burleigh said, could be attributed to exceptional defense by Tennessee’s Jaimel Johnson, who palmed 11 saves Sunday afternoon.

“Their goalkeeper just put on a clinic,” Burleigh said. “She was outstanding. She made 11 saves, which was her career high. There’s a lot of frustration on this team in the sense that I thought we played well, we just didn’t get the results.”

Florida hosts Vanderbilt and Kentucky this weekend. Pressly Stadium will be a welcome sight for the Gators, who have been on the road consecutive weekends. Two weeks ago, they visited Nebraska and Drake; last weekend, they played in Athens and Knoxville.

‘I think it will help from a travel perspective,” Burleigh said. “The travel’s been rough in terms of where we’ve tried to get to and get back from. So I think everyone’s excited about sleeping in their own beds and playing on our home field. That does make a big difference for us. Being at home doesn’t put goals in the back of the net. That’s something we have to focus on.”

Still undecided is the goalkeeper’s position. Katie Fraine has started much of this season, but was replaced at halftime of Friday’s 2-1 loss to Georgia by Meghan Berlingo, who started Sunday during a 2-0 loss to Tennessee, then ranked 10th.

“I think that’s a position we’re going to have to evaluate week to week,” Burleigh said. “I’m not sure we have a starter named (this week). I’m confident either of those kids can get the job done. They’re young and we don’t need them to be young at this point. We’re going to work on speeding up that process.”

The Gators have received a welcome dose of experience with the return of All-America defender Melanie Booth, who has spent the last year playing with the Canadian National team, but returned to Gainesville a few weeks ago after Canada failed to advance in the Women’s World Cup.

Booth suffered a hamstring injury this summer. Apparently, she’s fully healed, but her conditioning lagged while she recovered

“That’s going to come,” Burleigh said.  “We have to look at the big picture with her here. It’s exciting to have her back for sure.”

Friday’s match against Vandy starts at 8; Kentucky visits Sunday at noon.