CARY, N.C. – Two unlikely goals from two unlikely sources led Florida State to what most in the college soccer community might have called an unlikely victory.
And, to be sure, when top-ranked Stanford put together its scouting report for No. 5 Florida State, defenders Gabby Carle and Malia Berkely probably weren’t tops on their list of potential scoring threats.
But it was Carle’s left-footed strike – her first goal of the season – that staked the Seminoles to an early lead over the Cardinal.
And it was Berkely who provided the exclamation point with a deep shot that deflected off Stanford keeper Alison Jahansouz’s hands and into the net for the goal that clinched FSU’s stunning 2-0 win.
It was Berkely’s first goal of the season, too.
The Seminoles are off to their fourth national championship game in school history, and can claim their second title on Sunday afternoon against North Carolina (1 p.m., ESPNU).
Stanford, the defending national champion, owner of a 45-match unbeaten streak and the nation’s wire-to-wire No. 1 team, heads home a loser for the first time since Aug. 25, 2017.
“We’re thrilled,” FSU coach Mark Krikorian said, “that we were able to find a way to score a couple goals and be able to advance and have a chance to play on this beautiful field in this beautiful stadium again.”
Both Florida State goals were beautiful in their own right, although Carle’s was more so in the traditional sense.
In the 29th minute, Carle, a fullback from Levis, Quebec, got the ball near the right touchline and started dribbling across the top of the penalty area in search of an attacking teammate.
By the time she got to the top of the penalty area, Carle realized she could just do it herself. She ripped a low, left-footed shot that went against her body’s momentum and seemed to surprise Stanford’s Jahansouz as it made its way to the bottom-right corner of the net.
— NCAA Soccer (@NCAASoccer) December 1, 2018
“I started going inside and kept going until I realized I could score,” Carle said. “I just thought that would be the hardest shot for the keeper, and I swung my leg and it happened.”
If Carle’s goal planted the seeds for an FSU upset, Berkely’s strike 13 minutes later brought the idea into full bloom.
Both because of the two-goal advantage it brought, and because of the way it happened.
Bringing the ball down the center of the field from her position in the middle of the back line, Berkely found herself unmarked from about 25 yards away from the goal.
It wasn’t the first time that Berkely had taken a shot from so far away. But every previous attempt seemed to either go off the crossbar or sail clear over.
This one, however, was on target – maybe even a little too on target. Because after leaving Berkely’s foot, the ball curled right down into Jahansouz’s waiting arms for what should have been an easy change of possession.
Instead, Jahansouz, a fifth-year senior and a second-team All-Pac-12 selection, misjudged the ball and popped it straight up over her left shoulder.
Jahansouz put her face in her hands as most of the 10,811 fans in attendance erupted in a stunned applause.
🎥 | Malia Berkely, ladies and gentlemen! Two goals from the FSU backline. 🤭
— FSU Soccer (@FSUSoccer) December 1, 2018
“I saw the keeper off her line and thought if I hit it just right, it could go in,” Berkley said. “And it did.”
Added Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe: “The second goal was the one that really deflated us.”
Indeed, for all of Stanford’s dominance both this season and beyond, it might have entered the College Cup with at least one small blind spot: It’s rarely had to play through adversity.
The Cardinal came into the game having trailed for a total of just 7 minutes, 29 seconds, and it hadn’t been looking up at a two-goal deficit in more than two years.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, had earned three come-from-behind victories in the postseason alone.
Not they needed anything of the sort on Friday.
“I think that our kids have brought a very good winning mentality,” Krikorian said. “And competing from start to finish.”
For much of the second half, Stanford had the look of a team short on ideas.
Aside from a few brief flurries, the Cardinal never put FSU under much pressure, rarely tested goalkeeper Caroline Jeffers and could never seem to maintain any possession in the Seminoles’ defensive zone.
The Cardinal had four corner kicks, but were caught offside four times and didn’t have a single shot on goal for the final 56:22 of the game.
“Usually that’s something we do to teams,” Ratcliffe said. “They closed down spaces quickly and didn’t give us much time to get good shots off.”
Stanford’s one quality shot, early in the first half, ended in one of Jeffers’ finest saves – a leaping deflection off her fingertips that led to a fruitless corner kick for the Cardinal.
After the game, Stanford’s Alana Cook said that, had Stanford converted that shot, or one of its other opportunities, the game might have played out in a different fashion.
Instead, the Seminoles got two unlikely goals from two unlikely sources and, as a result, are only one win away from the national championship.
Sunday will mark the third meeting this season between FSU and North Carolina. The Tar Heels won 1-0 in Tallahassee in September, while the Seminoles claimed a 3-2 victory here in Cary in the ACC championship game on Nov. 4.
Said Berkely: “If we go out and play our game, follow the game plan and play like we have been playing – which has been very good – I think we’ll get the result we want.”