The No. 8 Florida Gator soccer team hosts the No. 23 Kentucky Wildcats on Friday night, aiming for their third consecutive victory in a top 25 matchup with future postseason implications resting on the result.
Florida (10-3-1, 4-2 SEC) has proven to be statistically strong, led by leading scorer Savannah Jordan and stalwart goalkeeper Taylor Burke, who has accounted for five shutouts this season. However, a pair of conference losses to Missouri and South Carolina bumped the Gators to a tie for fifth in the SEC, one game behind South Carolina, Texas A&M, and Friday night’s foe.
The Wildcats (11-2-1, 5-1 SEC) have played strong on the road all season, dropping only one road game in 2013, the season opener versus Wake Forest, who currently rank 13th in the country.
Seven of Florida’s nine multi-goal victories this season have come at James G. Pressly Stadium, and junior goaltender Taylor Burke has said the team feels confident when playing at their own campus.
“I think we love to play at home. Personally, I like to play at home and away, but playing at home is always fun. We want to protect the home turf, so that will be our mission this weekend” said Burke. “We have a lot of goals into the future, but we're trying to focus on one game at a time. The goal right now is just to beat Kentucky on Friday.”
Freshman forward Savannah Jordan is spearheading a potent offensive attack for Florida and is tied for sixth in the nation with 13 goals scored. The Gators’ goal scoring is complemented by a defensive unit along the backline that has allowed only 10 goals in 14 games.
Kentucky is led by the well-rounded trio of Stuart Pope, Arin Gilliland, and Zoe Swift, the only three players on the roster with double digits in points. The Wildcats have won four consecutive games in conference play and are one of the strongest first-half teams in the SEC. Over the course of the season, UK has outscored opponents 16-3 in the opening stanza, which means a good start for Florida is crucial to neutralize the Kentucky stars up front.
“We need to keep doing what we're doing,” said Burke. “Hopefully we can get some goals early and see what we can do, but we know that they will be quality and we'll have to play our best.”
Five matches remain in the regular season, leading up to the SEC Tournament in the first week of November. Although positive results in the final slate of games are pivotal for postseason seeding purposes, Florida seems poised for a fruitful venture in the playoffs.
“There aren’t many improvements that need to be made,” said Burke said. “I think we just need to keep playing as a team and just keep coming together as a team like we have been, and I think we’ll be successful.”
Friday’s match against Kentucky is scheduled for 6:30, kicking off a two game weekend slate in Gainesville that culminates with a 1pm battle on Sunday afternoon versus SEC leader LSU.