The UCLA Women’s Soccer team continues its three game road trip against ranked opponents with a date against the Florida Gators in Gainesville. Kickoff is this afternoon at 4 p.m. PT.
UCLA comes into the contest have beaten then #3 Penn State in State College, PA, last weekend, by the score of 2-1. Florida, on the other hand, dropped two games last weekend, and, as a result, dropped in the rankings.
Let’s first take a look at this year’s Florida Gators team.
The Gators, who were ranked #4 until last weekend, lost their last two games, one last Friday at home to Ohio State and one two days later, at Oklahoma State, 1-0, on a “golden goal” in the 103rd minute, within the second 10 minute overtime period.
I imagine that the quick turnaround and travel to Stillwater, OK did not help the Gators one bit, especially in an overtime situation. No other league in the world would have games two days apart with over 1,100 miles of travel in between, but that’s another story.
As a result, Florida (perhaps unfairly) now finds itself ranked #23, but that ranking is incredibly misleading, in my opinion. This is a dangerous team.
The Gators are the preseason favorites to win a very competitive SEC this year, after advancing to the Elite Eight in 2017. Florida missed out on a chance to go to the College Cup by falling, 2-0, to a South Carolina team led by Savannah McCaskill, now a USWNT regular. Plus, the 2017 Gators did something that no one else did last season—beat Stanford.
But last year was last year. “What about this year?” you ask.
Well, the Gators return a lot of talent from the 2017 squad. Eleven regular contributors (i.e., players who played more than 1,000 minutes in 2017), have returned, with just two such players gone from the program. Ten of the 13 Gator goal-scorers from 2017 return as well.
Senior Parker Roberts, who led the team with over 2,000 minutes played in 2017 and made the All-SEC First Team in 2017, returns to anchor the midfield. Sophomore Deanne Rose, a teammate of UCLA’s Jessie Fleming on Canada’s 2016 Olympic Bronze Medal team, is expected to provide scoring punch, finding the net five times last season en route to All-SEC First Team honors as well as being named SEC Freshman of the Year. The Bruins will need to watch out for those two players.
Goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese also returns for her senior season, after playing every minute of every game in 2016, and returning to her starting position in 2017 after missing the first six games with an injury to her hand. Marckese has an impressive 22 clean sheets in her Gator career.
Florida is led by Head Coach Becky Burleigh, now in her 24th season at the helm of Florida women’s soccer. She is the only coach Florida has ever had, as the program did not begin until 1995. The Gators won a natty with her at the helm in 1998, but have not been to the College Cup since 2001, which made last year’s postseason loss to South Carolina that much tougher to swallow.
UCLA will be without two of its best players against the Gators. Jessie Fleming, who was already going to miss both the Florida and Florida State games due to Canadian national team duties, left the Penn State game last Saturday with an injury and did not return.
To date, there have been no injury updates on Fleming, either from UCLA or the Canadian national team. It should be noted that, although they prevailed against Penn State, Fleming’s absence in the midfield was noticeable, as UCLA did not maintain possession as much and were not as organized as they were with Fleming on the field.
The Bruins will also miss goalscorer Hailie Mace, who was invited the the USWNT camp for a pair of upcoming games versus Chile. Mace missed the Penn State match and will miss both Florida and Florida State.
Even without those players, the Bruins still have tons of talent and should match up well against the Gators. Expect Ashley Sanchez and Anika Rodriguez to carry the load offensively.
A 7 pm ET (4 pm PT) start means the Bruins will not need to face the crippling midday heat in Florida this time of year. Win, lose, or draw, UCLA will need to come together after the game because they will play Florida State in Tallahassee just 46 hours later. Two games in two days against ranked teams. Lovely.
Games like this are literally a toss up. I think UCLA has better talent, even without Fleming and Mace, but the Gators have the home field advantage. I am going to go “homer” on this one, and predict a hotly contested, 2-1 victory for the Bruins.
Not only is this the game preview, this is also your UCLA women’s soccer versus Florida open thread.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.