In the team’s first match since downing No. 1 Stanford Friday for the first time in program history, the University of Florida soccer team found itself tested early and often by a pesky Syracuse midfield.
And like they did so well against the Cardinal, the Gators came up big in the clutch against the Orange.
“The biggest challenge for us was, we had a lot of opportunities early we just didn’t put away,” Gators coach Becky Burleigh said. “And you have to credit Syracuse for that. But I think also, we have to be a little bit sharper. Because I think that really changes the game if we put away those opportunities we had early.”
Florida needed just minutes to get on the scoreboard first against the Orange. After Florida won an early corner, Syracuse (2-1-1) defender Shannon Aviza committed a handball in the box to give the Gators a penalty kick just eight minutes in. UF redshirt senior Gabby Seiler subsequently buried the penalty, putting the Gators in front early. But the Orange had no intentions of simply conceding the match to a team that just 48 hours earlier had downed No. 1 Stanford. In the 24th minute, Syracuse defender Alana O’Neill’s pass found a streaking Sydney Brackett across the box, who buried the shot past Gators goalkeeper Susi Espinoza to pull the Orange back even before halftime.
“I’m trying to keep my composure and do everything I can to help my team out,” Espinoza said. “Coming into the game, we knew they were going to take it wide and try and serve balls into the box. We were hoping to deny all together, but I think in the second half we came in a little more confident.”
When the teams emerged at halftime, the Gators (4-0-0) quickly threatened the Syracuse backline, resulting in four corner kicks in the first seven minutes of the second half. The Orange defense bent but wouldn’t break until the 57th minute when UF midfielder Parker Roberts found the back of the net on an assist from Briana Solis. The goal gave Solis her team-leading third assist and secured Florida’s first 4-0 start since 2010.
Despite the early goal, Florida’s defense had little trouble quelling the Syracuse attack, as the Orange managed just six shots compared to 17 by the Gators.
UF will embark on a two-game road trip to Seattle to face the University of Washington Friday at 11 p.m. before taking on the University of Portland at 9 p.m. Sunday.
“All these experiences are really good for us, because it will be our first major travel,” Burleigh said. “And how we handle that will tell a lot about our team in the future.”