The Vanderbilt Commodores soccer team fell to the ninth-ranked Florida Gators 3-0 behind two goals from Deanne Rose, her seventh and eighth of the season, and a penalty slotted home by Gabby Seiler.
Although they are a historically stronger side, winning 14 SEC regular season titles and 11 tournament titles, the Gators sat below Vanderbilt in the league table with 12 points on four wins and a loss.
The Commodores came into the game with a seven-game unbeaten streak and without a defeat in SEC play, collecting 13 out of a possible 15 points from their first five games in conference play. They were on a run of three consecutive victories, the latest of which was a two-goal shutout at Kentucky.
The stronger side on paper started the game on the front foot as the Gators fired two shots on goal in the first five minutes. They would be rewarded for their early dominance with a goal just seven minutes into the game.
The two players with the first two shots would combine as Myra Pelayo put a cross into the box that was not dealt with by the Vanderbilt defense and fell to Rose, who settled the ball and beat goalkeeper Taiana Tolleson at the far post.
The Commodores would go on the attack after conceding the first goal. Vanderbilt Head Coach Darren Ambrose brought in Olivia Simmons came for Kaylan Boyd before the 15-minute mark to help the team going forward.
“I think we showed way too much respect to Florida for the first part of the game,” said Ambrose of his team’s start. “It was almost like we were waiting for them to score so we could get permission to play.”
A header by Stephanie Amack off a long throw by Simmons forced Florida goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese to make her first save. Moments later, Simone Charley headed a cross just wide of the post. Ambrose was pleased with his team’s response to going down.
“After they scored, for the rest of the half, we were basically camped out up here.”
The pressure culminated with a Grace Jackson goal that was waved off for an offside call. Lydia Simmons played the ball into the box, where it was flicked on by Olivia Simmons to find Jackson unmarked. The sophomore from Atlanta fired a shot across Marckese and into goal but she was deemed to be behind the last defender when the ball was played to her.
“I thought we felt we worked hard enough to get one,” Ambrose said. “Again, when you get in those situations against Florida, against the top-20 teams, you have to score and find a way to put it on goal but we just didn’t in the first half.”
Florida regained their footing in their game with a couple of shots towards the end of the half. Vanderbilt keeper Tolleson would ensure they went into the locker room only down a goal after pulling out saves where she came to the edge of her penalty area to deny Rose, then Seiler.
“We told her that the way Florida played, if they’re going to beat us, they’re going to put balls in behind us. So we told her she had to stay high,” said Ambrose of Tolleson. “She was excellent. Made probably three saves that kept it, in the first half, one or two that kept it tight.”
Florida came out on the front foot in the second half, firing a couple of shots wide early on. They would get their second goal from a counter attack at the hour mark.
Rose picked the ball up at the halfway line and streaked past the Vanderbilt players down the right wing before cutting in, unchallenged, and putting the ball past Tolleson, who came out to close the angle.
With that second goal, the Gators took control of possession in midfield, denying Vanderbilt a chance to create something. Ambrose noted the position his team was in following the goal.
“The difference is we had to chase the game in the second half,” said Ambrose. “The second half was deflating because we came out of the locker room and thought, maybe we could grab one but it became clear that Florida changed and they made us chase.”
They would get a third goal to kill the game with 15 minutes left to play. Seiler played a through ball for Rose to set up a one-on-one opportunity with the keeper. As she had done all afternoon, Tolleson came out to the edge of the penalty box, but her aggressive approach cost her as she tripped Rose, who cleverly moved the ball past and waited for the contact.
The penalty kick was relatively straightforward for Seiler, who slotted the ball through the middle of the goal for Florida’s third goal.
The game was done and dusted after that goal as both teams made wholesale changes to give opportunities to players who might not otherwise see much playing time. Ambrose highlighted the fatigue in the players’ legs following their game Thursday.
“On a Sunday game, you could see how fatigued the girls were,” Ambrose said. “As we tired and brought some kids in, we didn’t get the job done. We didn’t do what we needed to do.”
The loss is Vanderbilt’s first in league play and ended their unbeaten streak at seven games. The Commodores have fallen to fifth place in the SEC standings, level on points with fourth-placed Tennessee.
The good news for the Commodores is that they get another chance to pull an upset against a ranked opponent when they go to South Carolina to face the Gamecocks, who are ranked third in the nation, next Sunday.
That is the second of four consecutive games against ranked opposition, as they face No. 21 Tennessee and No. 19 Texas A&M the following week before hosting Auburn to close out the regular season.
“I think we’ve gotta be better when we come out of the locker room. When we first start the game, we sat back a little bit too much for me. I think we were too differential. And I still don’t know that our kids believe that we belong in games like that and that’s part of building the program. We just don’t have the mentality.”
Vanderbilt will have to get something in their next three games if they are to comfortably secure a place in the SEC Tournament. It is a tall task, but the Commodore faithful can turn to previous wins against ranked opposition under Ambrose for some encouragement. They beat No. 8 South Carolina in 2015 and No. 14 Texas A&M in 2016 in Ambrose’s first two seasons at the helm.