Scoring the most goals of the season with four on Sunday night, the Miami Hurricanes defeated the Florida International Panthers 4-0 for its first win of the 2020-21 season at Cobb Stadium.
After a shutout loss at Florida Atlantic on Feb. 28, Miami (1-10-1, 0-8 ACC) netted two goals to keep the match out of reach. Junior defender Selena Fortich and sophomore midfielder María Jakobsdóttir scored their first goals of the year at the 20th and 41st minute marks in the first half.
“I didn’t even realize it went in at first, I was just trying to redirect it back across to two other players in the box and it ended up going in, so I was really excited about that,” Fortich said. “Especially coming off of having COVID and getting back to the game, it was a great step forward and everything we’ve been doing with the crossing and finishing is happening in the game.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Melissa Dagenais registered six saves to take enough scoring pressure off the offense, as the Canes began the contest in a 4-5-1 formation.
“I think we’ve been really grinding and had a lot of setbacks and disappointments this season,” Miami head coach Sarah Barnes said on the team’s celebratory mood in the locker room afterwards. “To be able to score a bunch of goals and feel like the work that we’ve been putting in is getting a result, I think that was really important.”
Allowing another two UM goals in the second half, FIU goalie Kiera Gibson saved only one ball through almost 66 minutes of action.
Panthers midfielder Laia Muñoz Danon led her team’s attack with three shots on goal, though Dagenais contested multiple FIU breakaways.
“We’re just so young,” Barnes said. “I think tonight we started 10 freshmen and sophomores and so there’s been a lot of growth in terms of understanding where we should be moving. It seems so typical but when the pressure comes so fast in college, it’s just such a higher speed of play and it’s so much more physical in college than in high school that if you’re a split second behind, that’s going to be a turnover and they’re going to be coming down your throats.”
Taking advantage of their crosstown rival’s inferior defense, the Canes were able to build confidence while riding the leadership of Fortich and redshirt sophomore Gudrun Haralz, a second-half goal scorer on Sunday.
“Being able to score goals and having the confidence that you can score goals, sometimes when the faucet’s off it just feels like there’s saran wrap on the goal, and I think that gets really frustrating,” Barnes said. “I think it does knock your confidence a little bit. Certainly, from a confidence building standpoint that was critical for us long-term but also for the game tonight.”
The team acknowledges that collective change will not occur after one high-scoring outing, nonetheless.
“Right now, I think it’s just about some composure that we need to have at a higher level,” Barnes said. “Sometimes we do a really good job of when we’re running the ball, we give it back to them too quickly because we’re trying to get in goal so fast, so just understanding the tempo of the game and having better control is definitely the next step for us.”
Prepared to take on a Florida team that it had fallen to 3-0 last season, Miami seeks to at least battle its in-state rival, let alone tip the scale in its favor.
“We have tons of time now where we can really get the training in and hopefully, we’ll have [midfielder] Annie Blair back for that game, which gives us some more depth in the midfield,” Barnes said. “They’re a very good team — a possession-oriented team. We’re gonna have to feel confident, they’re going to press up I know. So, we’re gonna have to feel confident to keep the ball, move the ball, and do the work that it takes to play a team that’s very athletic and that puts a lot of pressure on you. My expectations for the team are to come out and be better than we’ve been all season so far, in terms of execution and bring the fight that we can bring — it’s going to be like an ACC match.”
Miami and Florida will kick off from Cobb Stadium on April 3 at noon.