How The Florida State Seminoles Finally Reached Their Ultimate Goal
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Florida State waited a long time for one goal. On Sunday, the Seminoles waited through 83 minutes of soccer for a goal. They waited more than four hours across three appearances in the championship game for a goal. They waited through seven College Cup appearances in a decade under coach Mark Krikorian for this goal.
But Virginia -- and arguably the best player college soccer has seen in some time -- is still waiting for any goal after three games against Florida State. Which means college soccer's newest champion gave itself all the time it needed.
The third game of the season between Florida State and Virginia ended with the same result as the first two, but instead of a leg up in the ACC regular-season race or the ACC tournament title, this 1-0 win earned the Seminoles their first national championship. Not only did a Jamia Fields goal in the 83rd minute enable the Seminoles to become the 10th program to win a championship, but it also made them the first ACC team other than North Carolina to win it all.
Speaking of one of the greatest dynasties in college sports, Florida State became the first team since North Carolina in 2003 to go through all six rounds of the NCAA tournament without allowing a goal.
"Actually seeing the team come together and how well we learned each other and how close we got in such a short amount of time, I knew that this was a special year," said Florida State's Cheyna Williams, voted the College Cup's most outstanding offensive player.
One miscue and one moment of brilliance decided the championship.
With a little more than seven minutes to play, Virginia goalkeeper Morgan Stearns didn't catch a goal kick cleanly, with the ball coming out low and settling into a mix of players on her own side of midfield. Florida State gained possession and pushed forward. Fields eluded one defender on the edge of the 18-yard box and moved to her left. She skipped left again, around a second defender closing from behind her, and took one more touch left toward the middle of the box.
Her left-footed shot back to the near post proved the first thing all day to disturb the netting in either goal.
As in most of the soccer these two teams played this season, the first 82 minutes were a tense, tactical battle short on quality scoring opportunities at either end. But unlike the regular season meeting, in which Dagny Brynjarsdottir scored the game's only goal in the ninth minute, or the ACC tournament final, in which Carson Pickett scored the only goal in the 17th minute, Florida State didn't have the luxury of an early lead to entrust to its defense.
No matter. Florida State managed to play like it was defending a 0-0 lead.
"I think they're very committed to it from front to back," Virginia coach Steve Swanson said. "Even their forwards are good defenders. I think they press a lot more than they did maybe in previous years. And they do that quite well; it's together, it's coordinated, it's trying to minimize the field. And they've got a very strong back line, as well. I don't think their back line and their goalkeeper get enough credit. They've got a good system, and they've got good players. And the other part of it is they're good with the ball. They can keep it when they win it."
Virginia came tantalizingly close to leveling the score and sending the game to overtime, with Morgan Reuther's rocket from just beyond the 18-yard box sailing inches over the crossbar in the 89th minute. But the Cavaliers, the nation's highest scoring team and a juggernaut in the first five rounds of the NCAA tournament, finished without a shot on goal. They had a total of five in 270 minutes of soccer against the Seminoles this season. No goals.
Florida State forced Virginia to react to its defense. The best offense in the nation, led by reigning Hermann Trophy winner and United States international Morgan Brian, had to change its normal look, even if only slightly, to try and solve the puzzle by dropping players into the midfield and leaving forward Makenzy Doniak on her own up top.
Even Virginia couldn't just go out and play its game against Florida State.
That's the ultimate testament to how the Seminoles defend -- complete and unrelenting.
Swanson went on to single out Florida State defender Megan Campbell's long throw as another component that makes it so difficult for opponents to gain a foothold. Not only does the distance Campbell generates make the throw dangerous when she hurls it to the doorstep of the opponent's goal, he noted, but it also gets the Seminoles out of trouble in a hurry when opponents do finally get the ball to the other side of midfield. For opponents such as Virginia, watching the ball sail back toward their own end of the field is like getting the "go to jail" card in Monopoly. Do not pass "Go."
It's the back line and a set piece weapon unlike any other in the college game, except that it's also the holding midfielder. And the forwards. And the wingers. And the keeper. Throughout his stay in Boca Raton, Krikorian repeated a line when asked about past College Cups: His team would win when it was good enough to win.
Well, the Seminoles won. So why, pray tell, was this the team that was good enough?
"I told you also that I thought this was the most complete team that we had," Krikorian said.
He went on to run through the lineup position by position. He talked about Cassie Miller taking over for Kelsey Wys in goal this season. He talked about having a wider variety of attacking options, the speed of Vanderbilt transfer Williams, who scored both goals in the semifinal win against Stanford and assisted on the winner Sunday, and the finishing touch of Berglind Thorvaldsdottir, who platooned with Williams.
He moved on to Carson Pickett's ability to deliver service from the flank and how the work of holding midfielders Isabella Schmid and Michaela Hahn went unappreciated by too many people. He talked, of course, about the back line quartet that so frustrated opponents.
Most times when coaches do that, it's a way to make sure nobody gets left out. Not in this case.
"I just think we had so many different attacking options, defending options, the play of the players off the bench," Krikorian said. "And I think that our group was as prepared -- more prepared -- than we've ever been for this moment."
He mentioned Fields, too, of course. The senior earned a lasting place in Florida State lore and a memory that will last a lifetime, with a finish worthy of the talent and intensity arrayed on the field Sunday. With all four of her goals this season coming in the ACC or NCAA tournaments, she has a knack for that.
But Fields helped the Seminoles win long before she put the ball in the back of the net. She was one of those players pressing the Cavaliers high up the field, breaking up their rhythm and earning those throw-ins for Campbell.
Like an iceberg, the goal is just what shows up in the box score. The bulk of her work came beneath the surface.
"Obviously, it's a goal for everyone to try to get a goal," Fields said. "But I just try to play the game, play and make my teammates better, get crosses in. And when chances come and opportunities come, I'll put the ball in the goal, but otherwise, I'm just honestly playing for my team."
Just about the only player Krikorian didn't specifically mention by name was Dagny Brynjarsdottir. He instead called her the "big Icelander," which for most might be a convenient way of avoiding all those consonants but for the poker-faced coach seems close to a mark of affection.
An All-American and Hermann Trophy semifinalist who, if there is any justice, will be one of the finalists for the award this year, Brynjarsdottir didn't get the goal that won the program's first championship (she's probably just fine with it going to one of her best friends on the team). But from the goals and assists she produced all season to the work ethic she established in practice and even the bit of multimedia bonding she produced this past week with photos of all the players now and as babies, she led.
From a town with a triple-digit population in Iceland to the Florida panhandle sight unseen (she expected something like New York when she first arrived in Tallahassee), she became just the second of the many, many international players who have played for the Seminoles to earn the captain's armband.
Championships don't define great college players. Most of the national team Brian now rejoins, unless they went to North Carolina, completed their time in college without lifting the trophy. It doesn't mark her time in Charlottesville a failure to leave without one. But for a Florida State program so long defined by both its professional demeanor and the talent it attracts from abroad, it does mean something for Brynjarsdottir to go out with the trophy.
"She came in as a kid with a great deal of potential, and she's leaving as maybe the most decorated player that we've had," Krikorian said. "Certainly, she's been among the best players in college soccer this year, and she's helped lead us to this stage -- that's for sure. I thought when we lost Amanda DaCosta four years ago that I would be heartbroken and not be able to find someone to be able to replace her. And then, of course, Dagny shows up and develops and develops and develops.
"I'll leave it for you all to decide what her legacy is going to be, but I know that from my feeling, her, Jamia and all of these seniors -- they broke through a new boundary."
Because in the end, nobody could break through them. Not when they played as one. Not even Virginia.