South Carolina’s women’s soccer team will look to forget about its recent conference struggles and focus on the now when it hosts No. 5 Florida Thursday.
Once ranked inside the top-10 nationally, the now unranked Gamecocks have seen narrow defeats pull them down in the standings and into a fight to stay in the race for conference tournament play.
Offensive struggles have haunted the Gamecocks (9-4-1, 2-3-1 SEC), as they have only found the net twice in their first six conference games. Their inability to score has slid them down in to ninth place in the 14-team conference. And the record will be hard to improve with the top SEC team in the Gators (11-2, 6-0 SEC) coming into town.
Head coach Shelley Smith said at times soccer can be “frustrating” because it’s a game of inches. Smith added that South Carolina has to make a lot of progress from its latest struggles if it wants to muster a victory against the Gators.
“We’re facing a good Florida team. There’s things that we’ve done since we’ve started conference play that have to improve,” Smith said. “We’ve shown through several minutes of play that we can play with anybody and against anybody.”
Even with the slow conference start, the team still has only given up one goal in each of its three conference losses. The defense has continued to limit scoring opportunities but can only hold out for so long. Until the offense starts to capitalize on the play of its stout defense and finishes chances, the team may continue to see defeats.
Junior midfielder Raina Johnson said that the goals are there in practice, but the team needs to begin transferring those results to the game.
“We’re definitely practicing what we know how to do, and we capitalize on this stuff at practice,” Johnson said. “It’s just a matter of implementing it in the game.”
Although the ball hasn’t always bounced in South Carolina’s favor, Smith said the shots have been there. Compared to over 6.6 shots per game by their opponents, the Gamecocks are averaging almost double with 13 shots per game.
The problem has been their struggles to get good shots on net. The team’s shots on goal percentage is slightly under 42 percent while its opponents are getting almost 47 percent of their shots on frame. Smith says the solution to South Carolina’s scoring worries is to make better decisions when shooting.
“We just have to connect and our shots that we do take have to be of better quality to finish,” Smith said. “Those keepers are hard to beat and you’ve got to make sure that you’re putting quality chances on the frame.”
The Gamecocks hopes of facing a shaky goalkeeper and a soft defense won’t come against Florida. Like South Carolina, the Gators have done their share of defending their net as the team has only given up five goals in its six conference games so far. The difference has been Florida’s ability to score at ease offensively, already tallying 16 goals in conference play.
Johnson knows the team’s offensive performance has to change in order to beat Florida but sees the difficult matchup as an opportunity to make a statement that the team isn’t ready to fold yet.
“Thursday is going to be a big opportunity because they are going to be an awesome team,” Johnson said. “It’s an opportunity for us to jump back up the standings where we belong.”