The Florida Gators soccer team picked up its first SEC win of the 2021 season, and first for head coach Tony Amato, after a thrilling overtime win against Kentucky.
The Gators have dominated the all-time series with Kentucky, with Florida winning 24 of the 32 prior meetings. Neither team had won an SEC game yet this season. The Gators held for a 0-0 draw against Vanderbilt while Kentucky lost to Texas A&M in their first SEC match.
Florida had also not scored a goal since Sep. 9th against North Carolina, which came off an own goal. After this, the Gators had back to back goalless draws: the previously mentioned game against Vanderbilt, followed by a scoreless draw against North Florida last Sunday.
Despite no scoring, the first half saw a lot of action. Kentucky came out firing. The Wildcats fired off 10 shots at the goal, but none managed to get past Florida goalie Alexa Goldberg, who picked up three saves in the half. The Gators also had some first half chances. They put four shots on goal, two of which were on target to force saves for Kentucky goalie Laura Nielsen.
Kentucky also earned four first-half corners to Florida’s three. Kentucky also had fewer fouls in the first half, only committing four as opposed to Florida’s six. Despite Kentucky leading statistically, they failed to break the scoring deadlock and the match remained 0-0 going into halftime.
Shortly after the second half began, Florida’s Nicole Vernis became the only player to be booked by the referee on the night. In the 50th minute, Vernis received a yellow card after some apparent unsportsmanlike conduct after committing a foul.
Both teams put in a valiant effort to open the scoring, with Kentucky adding another nine shots and Florida taking seven. The Gators also earned another three corner kicks, while Kentucky earned two. Despite the number of changes, neither team has able to score and the match would go into overtime with the score still 0-0.
For the third match in a row, the Gators were headed to a 0-0 overtime. After failing to to win the last two, the Gators came out with determination. One minute into overtime, Florida’s Maddy Rhodes received a pass from Julianne Leskauskas and put a hard shot at the goal. Her shot was blocked and the deflection fell back to Leskauskas who had now ran to the end line. She took a shot from the tight angle, which hit the crossbar, then the back post, and finally the net to score. Leskauskas scored her first goal for the Gators and it was a golden one.
Florida picked up its first SEC win, and first home win, of the season. Also worthy of recognition is Florida goalie Alexa Goldberg, who picked up her fourth clean sheet. The Gators now improve to 2-5-3 on the season with their next match being on the road against Mississippi State on Sunday.