Sept. 10, 2004
Tallahassee, FL – While the Florida State/Miami football rivalry is garnering a lot of attention, there is another meeting between bitter rivals who are both ranked in the top six but this meeting is taking place right here in Tallahassee. Tonight at 6:00 p.m. the third-ranked Seminole soccer team (3-0-0) and sixth-ranked Florida Gators (3-1-0) meet in Tallahassee for the first time since last year’s Elite Eight match-up in Gainesville that sent FSU to the 2003 College Cup. This is the first regular season meeting between the teams when both are ranked in the top 10 and FSU will try to be the first team in the series to win back-to-back games since 2000 when the Tribe swept the Gators.
“We don’t want to lose to Florida here,” said senior captain Jez Ratliff. “It is important for our senior class to go out on a win since this might be our last time playing UF. Since I have been here, neither team has won back-to-back games in the series so it would be nice to finish our careers by doing that for the first time since 2000. It would be a great way for us to end our careers against Florida.”
During the regular season, neither team has won on an opponents pitch since 1998 when the Gators were dominating the series. The only times FSU has won in Gainesville came in 2000 and 2003 and both those matches came in the NCAA Tournament. Home field has meant a lot in this series as head coach Patrick Baker has never lost to Florida in Tallahassee and FSU has never won a regular season game in Gainesville.
“The regular season home field advantage has meant a great deal,” said Baker. “After 2000, going down to Gainesville in 2001 we ran into a buzz saw. The better team won that night, no questions asked. In 2002 we played in Tallahassee and we wanted to make a statement, and just like the year before, I think the better team won that night as well. Last year when we played they were in the top 10 and riding high. They had beat USC and Penn State and we had lost to both of those schools and fallen out of the polls. It was our system, it was our personnel, we weren’t quite right and they continued to prove that. They shut us out again.”
Part of the reason that the home field has meant so much is the crowd support each team gets when their rival comes to town. Four of the top five crowds in UF soccer history have come when FSU was playing and three of FSU’s top four all-time crowds have come when the Gators are in town. This year FSU was expecting to set a new record when the two teams met in the Elite Eight rematch but Hurricane Frances pushed the FSU/Miami football game on to the same calendar day. Florida State, in conjunction with the Sunshine Network, has moved the game up to 6:00 p.m. in hopes of allowing fans to be able to come to tonight’s soccer game and still make it home for kick-off in the Orange Bowl.
“The atmosphere won’t be lessened on the field no matter what is going on,” said Baker. “It may pull back a couple of fans but that is totally understandable. I know there are a lot of people who are coming to this game that are true soccer fans who don’t mind missing the pregame of the football game. Whether you are home or away or playing in front of 15 or 1,500, you have to take care of business between the white lines. I think our group will be very appreciative of any fans that come out Friday night but at the same time know that it will only help us to a certain degree. We need to play well, defend, create good chances and hopefully after 90 minutes somehow come away with a win.”
Whether the Tribe gets 1,500 fans or not, it won’t take away from a game that has blossomed into the premiere non-conference soccer game of the season every year. Since 2000, nine different schools have played in the College Cup and of those nine schools only Florida State and Florida play an annual out of conference game. Santa Clara and Portland play each year as do UConn and Notre Dame but those are all forced match-ups due to conference affiliations.
“I think this series is mandated but I would hope even if it wasn’t mandated we would still play this game,” said Baker. “People know that up until 2000, the series was very lopsided. It wasn’t until 1999 that we even scored on them. So for us to turn things around as quickly as we did, says a lot about how far we’ve come. This series has become one of the best games a fan can see all season long.
“One of the things we’ve always said is that Florida set the bar really early not only in the state and region but to some degree on a national scale. Everybody saw what Becky (Burleigh) did in just four years and every AD around America said it could be done. The thing is, it can’t be done. It is so difficult to do especially in this day and age with the amount of talent across the country and a modern day dynasty in North Carolina.”
As Baker mentioned, the series has changed over the years. Both schools are celebrating their soccer program’s 10th anniversary but from 1995 to 1999, the series was all Florida. The Gators had not only already won a National Championship but they were 5-0 against FSU and had outscored the Tribe 20-1. In 2000, just Baker’s second year on the job, FSU opened the year with a win over UF at home and then advanced to the Sweet 16 by shocking the Gators in Gainesville later that season in the NCAA Tournament. Since 2000, FSU leads the series 4-2 and there has been a more competitive balance.
“The rivalry is so much bigger now because the teams are more evenly matched,” said Florida native and senior defender Marion Cagle. “I think over the years it has been harder for FSU to win but since 2000 it is much more competitive and that has allowed the rivalry to grow.”
One of the key battles in the rivalry last year was the match-up in the midfield and that should be no different when the team’s meet tonight. India Trotter and Jez Ratliff had a lot of success versus the Gators in the Elite Eight match last year causing Gator star Dena Floyd to say the following after the match: “I think their midfield played really aggressive tonight. They connected in the midfield and outplayed us.”
“Midfield play will be a key again this year,” said Trotter. “Florida has very good midfielders. I think they are the playmakers for their team. If we are able to limit their effectiveness, we have a good chance to be successful tonight.”
If Florida State wants to be successful, they will also need to control the Gators potent scoring attack. Last weekend No. 1 UNC held the Gators scoreless but just a day later the Gators hung five goals on then-No. 18 Duke. The five goals were the most Duke had allowed to a team other than North Carolina since 2001 when Penn State beat the Blue Devils by a 5-1 score.
“I think their five goals versus Duke sent a message but we will try to learn from what Duke did and be more solid in the back,” said Cagle. “We are well prepared and our back four has a lot of confidence in what we are capable of doing against a dynamic Florida attack.”
On the other side of the ball, Florida will have to keep an eye on senior Jez Ratliff who is off to the best start of her career and has had particular success against Florida in the past. Ratliff has been deadly when it comes to games versus Florida. Ratliff has two goals in four games against UF including two game-winning goals. Ratliff is the only FSU players ever to score two goals versus Florida in her career. Coming into 2004, two of Ratliff’s three career game-winning goals came against the Gators and this year she has already scored back-to-back game-winning goals in victories over USC and Georgia.
“If I don’t get the key goal Friday I know someone on this team will,” said Ratliff. “We have so many capable goal scorers. Both of my game-winners versus UF were a result of team effort anyway and I just was in the right place to finish off their hard work. But I am expecting a typical FSU/UF game tonight. There will be a lot of adrenaline and a lot of fouls, that just always seems to be the case. It is like an ACC game but it means a little bit more to us. It will be a full 90 minutes and you can’t let down for even one of those minutes.”
Tonight’s game kicks off at 6:00 p.m. and will be broadcast live on the Sunshine Network. Live stats will be available through Game Tracker courtesy of seminoles.com. There is never an admission charge for regular season games at the Seminole Soccer Complex. The first 300 fans tonight will receive ice cream bars, Seminole t-shirts and mini soccer balls all courtesy of ALLTELL. For more information on tonight’s match or the Seminole soccer program, please log on to the official athletic website for Florida State university, seminoles.com.