Seminoles Defeat stanford 5-1 To Secure Program’s Fourth National Championship and First Under Second Year Head Coach Brian Pensky.
If you are reading this then you probably already know who did what in FSU’s 5-1 win over Stanford in the 2023 National Final so let’s begin with the significance of the contest and the factors that determined the outcome.
There were a lot of storylines connected with this one with the most prominent being the something has to give nature of a contest that featured an explosive FSU attack that averaged 3.24 goals per game vs. a tenacious Stanford defense that had held opponents to an average of 0.43 goals per game while only allowing a total of 10 goals. That however was only a part of the equation and overlooked the fact that FSU had a defense that had limited opponents to 0.62 goals per game (13 total goals) and Stanford had a potent attack that averaged 2.22 goals per game (53 total). You don’t have the success that these teams have had without playing well on both sides of the ball.
One of the keys to a meaningful analysis is to keep it simple without being simplistic. In that regard one of the factors that impacted the outcome and played a key role as the contest progressed was the composure and consistency of an experienced FSU team that had been to three out of the last four College Cups. Stanford on the other hand had last played their way into the College Cup in 2019.
FSU did a much better job of settling into a rhythm of play and balance that, with the exception of the first ten minutes of the second half, resulted in the Noles playing to their strengths and doing the things well that had worked for them all season. It was a total team effort with FSU displaying the talent, leadership, belief and determination that head coach Brian Pensky has used to describe his team.
The pressure that FSU was able to place their opponents under all season was a key factor in the level of success they have had as was the case in the national championship match. The consistent pressure that they bring to the pitch has enabled them to dominate and wear down their opponents as they did Stanford in the second half.
The relentless firepower provided by Jordynn Dudley (14g, 9a), Onyi Echegini (16g, 5a), Beata Olsson (7g, 9a) and Jody Brown (7g, 5a) and the playmaking ability of midfielder Taylor Huff (7g, 14a) has made FSU a hard team to contain over a full ninety minutes of play. The stability and leadership that midfielder Leilanni Nesbeth has provided and the rock solid play of defenders Heather Gilchrist, Lauren Flynn, Ran Iwai and midfielder Mimi Van Zanten and goalkeeper Cristina Roque as well as others has been an equally important element in the level of success this team has had and their ability to place opponents under pressure.
Despite the fact that FSU prevailed by such a large margin, that does not diminish the fact that this was a national championship played between two undefeated teams that had earned the right and deserved to be on the greatest stage in college soccer to compete for a national championship based on what they had accomplished all season. (A sore subject in the minds right now of the FSU faithful whose 13-0 undefeated and ACC champion football team was not awarded one of the top four spots and therefore denied the opportunity to compete for a national championship).
Back to soccer, FSU’s hybrid offense has made them a very difficult team to defend and was a key factor in the outcome of this contest. The Seminoles were able to apply pressure and create scoring opportunities by using possession to put together combinations of passes that switched the point of attack and created gaps they could exploit. In addition, as the game progressed and Stanford pushed forward in an effort to generate scoring opportunities, FSU was equally effective at playing direct when the opportunity existed to take advantage of space behind opposing defenders. They were able to attack into open space via a through ball or the sheer ability of their attacking players to push forward at speed off the dribble to create the separation needed to score.
So that takes us to the who did what portion. Florida State clearly got the best of the run of play and possession during the first 28 minutes of the game but nonetheless they were unable to break through a stout bend but don’t break Stanford defense. That changed in the 28th minute when freshman phenom Jordynn Dudley was fouled in the box and awarded a penalty kick which she converted to give FSU a 1-0 advantage. Less than a minute later junior midfielder Taylor Huff, who has been a key playmaker for the Noles all year, played a nice ball down the left side which senior forward Jody Brown received and, as she has done all year, utilized her quickness to gain the space she needed to place a shot into the back of the net to give FSU a 2-0 advantage which they carried into intermission.
Stanford showed their mettle when they got the best of the run of play during the first ten minutes of the second half during which fifth year senior All-American midfielder Maya Doms scored from the top of the box after a nice combination of passes from sophomore midfielder Jasmine Aikey and redshirt sophomore forward Andrea Kitahata to narrow the gap to 2-1 and give the Cardinal new life.
Doms’ goal seemed to serve as a second half wake up call for FSU who regained the momentum and began what proved to be a dominant and explosive second half of play. It began in the 58th minute when it became senior forward Beata Olsson’s turn to display her quickness and touch to create the separation she needed to get behind the Stanford defense and send a shot into the net to stretch the FSU lead to 3-1.
Olsson had a foot in FSU’s next goal when she delivered a well played ball to Brown who pushed down the right flank and scored her second goal of the game to give FSU a 4-1 lead and plenty of breathing room. Onyi Echegini then converted her team leading 16th goal of the season from within the box in the 84th minute to conclude the scoring.
FSU completed the season with a 22-0-1 record and a win in the national championship that should leave no doubt in the mind of anyone that they were the best team in the country in 2023.
Stanford concludes an outstanding season with a 20-1-4 record. It was a disappointing way to end the season for the Cardinal but should not diminish what this team accomplished.
Picture from FSU Athletics