Missouri soccer knocks off Florida 5-2, solidifying 5 seed, double-bye in looming SEC Tournament

A five-goal performance from the Tigers saw them take all three points in a confidence-building win.

Missouri soccer gave up an early goal but stormed back to end the regular season with an impressive 5-2 win heading into the SEC tournament.

Florida scored the opener just four minutes in. Sophomore forward Alivia Gonzalez assisted freshman midfielder Nicole Vernis with a perfect ball into the box from the left wing, and Vernis made a composed finish.

Missouri equalized instantly. A Tigers set-piece deflected off two Florida defenders, and an apparent miscommunication between the Gators’ defense resulted in an own goal.

Bella Alessi fired the Tigers into the lead in the 15th minute. She dribbled past two Florida defenders and curled her shot into the top left corner to give Missouri a 2-1 lead.

Missouri’s signature high press proved to be lethal against a Florida team that struggled to play out of the back.

“They’re the Barcelona of the SEC,” head coach Bryan Blitz said, alluding to the Spanish side known for its possession-style play. “But we were very good on the press. It all came together. They won’t change their style, and we won’t change ours. We want to keep them as far away from our goal as we can.”

Following a Florida turnover in their defensive third, senior midfielder Cassidy Nurnberger doubled Missouri’s lead with 15 minutes remaining in the first half with a missile from 25 yards out. Her shot chipped the goalkeeper and went bar-down to give Missouri its third goal of the half.

Alessi picked up her second goal midway through the second half, receiving the ball from Julissa Cisneros and calmly placing it to the far post to extend the lead to three.

“We’re on a little bit of a high here,” Alessi said. “We’ve got to focus more and take that energy into next week.”

Nurnburger scored again in the 70th minute. Freshman forward Hannah Joella sent a corner kick to the top of the box, and Nurnburger struck a volley straight into the back of the net to put the game out of reach.

Florida got a consolation goal in the 77th minute, with Gonzalez slotting a cross into the net to tighten up the score just a little.

Sophomore McKenna Sheehan made a surprise start in goal. Isabella Alessio had started all but one game for the Tigers but did not dress for the match and was unavailable.

“McKenna came on really strong,” Blitz said. “It was just a coaching decision. We’ll see her back this week and move on from there.”

Sheehan collided with a Florida forward just minutes into the game. She was looked at by the training staff and cautiously cleared to play. However, just ten minutes later, she ran off the field holding her head, apparently in too much pain to continue playing.

Freshman Sophia Worth replaced Sheehan, making her collegiate soccer debut. Both teams had true freshmen in goal for the remainder of the game.

Worth did not look like a freshman making her debut. She made eight saves, many of which required her to leave her feet or step to an attacker.

“It showed a lot of mental toughness for her to come in,” Blitz said. “She was a big part. She made a lot of important saves and handled her nerves in an important way. She has the right mentality for a goalkeeper.”

Asked about what it felt like to end the season with a five-goal game, Alessi paused, reflected, and gave an emotional answer.

“The best way I can describe it is that it makes me want to take another year,” she said. “Everything we do, it’s as a team. It makes me excited, but it’s also heartbreaking. It makes me want to stay.”

Florida was certainly the more tired side, as expected. They were in action at Kentucky on Friday, losing 3-1.

Sunday’s match at Missouri marked the fourth day in a row on the road for the Gators, who had to shuffle their schedule around after going through a team COVID-19 outbreak and a subsequent quarantine process at the beginning of the season.

Missouri was supposed to travel to Athens, Ga. to take on Georgia on Friday, but the Bulldogs had COVID-19-related problems within their coaching staff and had to cancel the match. Because this is the final weekend of the regular season, the match will not be made up.

The Tigers locked up the No. 5 seed in the SEC tournament after Texas A&M defeated Auburn on Monday. They get a double-bye and will begin tournament action on Sunday, Nov. 15 in Orange Beach, Ala.

“At 12 o’clock tonight, we stop celebrating and focus on who we think we’re going to play,” Blitz said. We always know it’s the SEC; it’s going to be hard. Whoever we play on that day, we’ll be ready.”

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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