Stanford and Florida State arrive at the 2023 NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship with undefeated records. Who will emerge with a perfect streak? Who will be left in the dust?
Before the Championship game on December 4, let’s take a look at how both teams did in their semifinal matches.
Stanford vs. BYU
After BYU’s shocking comeback against North Carolina in the Elite Eight, they looked to use their explosive offense against one of the best defenses in the country. Unfortunately for them, Stanford lived up to their reputation as a brick wall. Most notably, Cardinal goalkeeper Ryan Campbell made some impressive saves to preserve her team’s lead.
Speaking to Stanford’s offensive talent, forward Allie Montoya and midfielder Maya Doms scored two world-class goals within the first six minutes of the match. BYU’s defense could do nothing against their powerful shots. After getting the 2-0 lead, Stanford tried to keep the goalfest going to no avail. However, their defense was able to keep the clean sheet and relieve pressure on the attackers.
Stanford’s defense against BYU was not as comprehensive as it usually is. There were many lucky bounces (including one subject to video review before being ruled a no-goal) and one phenomenal shot off the crossbar. Despite these woes, the Cardinal still managed to keep a clean sheet and maintain control.
Florida State vs. Clemson
Florida State continued their offensive dominance against Clemson. Both of their goals were outrageous. One came from midfielder Kaitlyn Zipay off an over-the-head, no-look assist from defender Heather Gilchrist. The other was a top-bin shot from forward Jordynn Dudley after her clever run through the Clemson backline.
Like Stanford, the Seminoles’ defense was initially shaky. It seemed like the backline wasn’t on the same page at times, especially on recycled balls at the edge of the box. In fact, goalkeeper Cristina Roque was forced to come up big several times because of this.
Even towards the end of the game, the Seminoles tried to use their excellent positional awareness to score one last time but were foiled by the crossbar. Some questionable defending in the first half didn’t cheapen the Seminoles’ attacking power and ability to see a match out.
How will these teams match up in the Championship?
This Championship could be an answer to the age old question: does offense or defense win championships?
Florida State’s elite attacking unit includes such players as forwards Jordynn Dudley and Jody Brown and midfielder Onyi Echegini. They have a sophisticated positional awareness not typically seen in college players, not to mention their cleverness and speed.
On the other hand, Stanford’s defense has been spot-on. They only let in one goal in the entire tournament. This is in no small part due to goalkeeper Campbell, who kept four clean sheets in five NCAA tournament games.
As demonstrated in the Zipay goal, the Seminole offense is keenly aware of the potential of recycled balls. In fact, the Seminoles’ most sure-fire path to victory is to continue being clinical on second-chance opportunities and catch the Cardinal off-guard.
On the other hand, Florida State’s defense needs to think about recycled balls more. They need to communicate more in those moments and have a plan on how to reduce volley opportunities. Despite the obvious shortcomings in their defense, the attacking power of the Seminoles’ offensive unit could be enough to find and exploit cracks in the Stanford defense.
Stanford should also rely on the art of surprise to ensure they win. Their offense is explosive - attacks often start from nowhere. Because Florida State’s defense seemed shaky in transition and in second-ball situations, Stanford will need to capitalize on their circumstances.
Creating chances is one area in which Stanford can improve. They only registered three shots on goal for the entire match against BYU. Two of those were goals. Capitalization on chances isn’t the Cardinal’s problem, but rather making those chances. The more surprising chances Stanford can create, the better.
Stanford and Florida State are equal opponents. It’s truly impossible to predict an outcome. This should make for an exciting match!
The Championship game can be viewed on ESPNU at 6:00 PM Eastern.