No. 1 Virginia to play No. 5 Florida State in top five showdown

The match will be the Cavalier’s biggest test of the season as they look to beat the reigning national champions

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Virginia's defense, led in part by captain and senior defender Zoe Morse, will need to be at the top of its game as it takes on Florida State's attacking offense. 

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

No. 1 Virginia travels to play No. 5 Florida State Sunday in a top five ACC showdown. The Cavaliers (10-0-3, 2-0-3 ACC) will look to preserve their undefeated record as they challenge the reigning national champions. 

The Seminoles (11-2-0, 5-0 ACC) are the highest ranked opponent Virginia will face in its regular season. Florida State entered the 2019 season ranked No. 1 in the United Soccer Coaches preseason top 25 poll after winning their second national championship in 2018. The team has fallen twice this season to then-ranked No. 4 UCLA and No. 5 USC.

Virginia is 12-9-5 all-time against Florida State but has fallen to the Seminoles in the most recent pair of matchups. The Cavaliers are 41-4 in goals against opponents compared to Florida State’s 34-15 edge. 

Florida State is coming off an nine-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 28-10 and recording four shutouts on the season. A recent 3-2 road win over No. 20 Virginia Tech gives the Seminoles momentum as they return to home turf to face their second Virginia opponent this week. Florida State is also 5-0 in the ACC and will look to hold onto their No. 1 spot as they face the Cavaliers. 

Key Players

Freshman forward Diana Ordoñez has been an impressive addition to the Cavalier offense this season, leading the team with 12 goals. The freshman is a key starter and will play a major role in creating goal-scoring opportunities and challenging senior goalkeeper Caroline Jeffers. 

Junior midfielder Anna Sumpter has also found her place as a starter this season and hasn’t disappointed. Sumpter generates offensive drives and has served five assists on the season. Her ability to steal the ball away and beat defenders has contributed to the team’s dominance in ball possession. 

Junior goalkeeper Laurel Ivory will have to play with the same intensity and consistency she has carried with her all season. Having only conceded three goals compared to Jeffers’ 15, Virginia should be confident in their veteran keeper’s ability to protect the goal. 

Senior forward Deyna Castellanos is a crucial part of the Seminole offense. In 2018, the forward helped lead the team to a national title, recording 10 goals, 8 assists and 28 points on the season. The Venezuelan native was also named to this season’s MAC Hermann Trophy watch list, one of college soccer’s highest individual honors. Castellanos currently has eight goals, eight assists and 51 shots as she commands the attacking front. The senior will be a challenge for Virginia defenders and likely test Ivory’s goalkeeping in the match. 

Keys to the game

Score Early

Scoring early will be key to the Cavalier’s success as they go into Sunday’s match. Virginia has trailed an opponent just once this season, when Wake Forest took the lead with a penalty kick in the 87th minute. Sumpter responded in the 90th minute to preserve the team’s undefeated record, but Virginia has shown that getting on the board first is crucial for commanding the tempo and winning games.  

Strong attack in the final third

Coach Steve Swanson has emphasized the importance of speed and efficiency in the final third of the pitch. There have been moments when the Cavaliers have maintained strong possession but have limited themselves by passing inefficiently. Florida State will look to break down Virginia’s attack, so it will be important for the Cavaliers to stay organized in goal-range to create scoring opportunities. There is little room for error against the Seminole defense, and Virginia needs to be purposeful with every touch as it advances into Florida State territory. 

Strength on defense

The Seminoles will undoubtedly challenge the Cavalier defense. That said, Virginia’s defense has been impeccable this season. Senior defenders Phoebe McClernon and Zoe Morse as well as sophomore defender Claire Constant have all contributed quality minutes on the back line. Breaking down Florida State’s offense won’t be an easy task as the Cavaliers will have to be aggressive in clearing and intercepting passes. Ivory has proven herself as a crucial last line of defense, conceding just three goals on the season, but her defenders have played a major role in keeping the ball out of the box. Furthermore, Florida State has had 72 corner kicks this season, so it will be important for Virginia to limit set-piece opportunities in range. 

Virginia has shown dominance on both sides of the ball, playing with unmatched intensity and breaking down opponents with an aggressive attack. Sunday’s match will be much of the same if the Cavaliers can find a way to get on the board first and keep their foot on the gas, as they did against ranked opponents Penn State and Georgetown earlier in the season. The reigning national champions will look to tarnish Virginia’s undefeated record as they play on home turf. Win or lose, the match will be a good indication of how both teams will advance through tournament play following the regular season. 

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday at the Seminole Soccer Complex in Tallahassee, Fla., and the match will be broadcast on the ACC Network. 

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