Aug. 26, 2006
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Tallahassee, FL -
Tallahassee, FL -Anyway you look at it, there was going to be a lot of excitement surrounding the Seminoles 2006 opening game. The team is coming off the best season in program history. They played in the 2005 College Cup and they went a near perfect 9-1 at home in 2005. But all of the excitement surrounding Sunday's season opener was increased exponentially when it was announced the first game of the year would come in the form of a visit from the 2005 defending National Champion Portland Pilots.
"We always want to play against the best," said FSU Head Coach Mark Krikorian. "When the opportunity came to schedule Portland here the first game of the year, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up."
"This is the most exciting season opener we have had in four years," said senior Toby Ranck. "We open at home, in front of our fans versus the defending National Champions. It will be a great test for us and a great way to start out the season."
This is the second time in school history that the Seminoles have started a season by playing a defending National Champion. The first time that happened was 1999, in Patrick Baker's first season as FSU head coach. The Seminoles traveled down the road to Gainesville to face the Gators. This year Portland will travel to Tallahassee. Florida State is just the fourth school ever to open two seasons by playing the reigning National Champions and one of just two schools to do it versus two different teams.
"Every year I have been at Florida State the competition and the level of the opponents FSU has been able to attract has gotten better," said senior Ali Mims. "The fact that a team like Portland is coming to our stadium to play us is a testament to how far this program has come. The foundation that was laid years ago to build this program is really paying off."
"Last year Portland won the National Championship and they deserved it," said Krikorian. "They were the best team. They were the most organized. They had great players all over the field and they played beautiful soccer. I am really excited about having them play here. It is going to be a great soccer game to watch between two good teams who play good soccer. They will offer us quite a lot of challenges."
Florida State will open the season at home for the sixth time in the last seven years. In 12 seasons, this will be just the sixth time the Seminoles will open the season in Tallahassee. Overall, FSU is 3-1-1 when opening a season at home but just 1-1-1 in their last three. FSU is 6-4-1 all-time in season openers. In 11 seasons of soccer the Seminoles do have an excellent 8-2-1 record in their first home game of the year whether it was played on opening day or not.
"It is very important to have your opening game at home," said senior Ali Mims. "It just creates a better unity in the team when you can start a season in front of your own crowd and in your own stadium. It will help our new players get a feel for what Florida State soccer is all about. With it being versus Portland, the veterans will need no motivation knowing how big a game this is."
"The game will be very exciting and hopefully we'll have a great crowd," said senior Kelly Rowland. "It is two top five teams playing on opening weekend. There is a lot of hype surrounding the match and I think it will be a great game to watch."
While Portland will get a game under their belts Friday night in Gainesville versus the 11th-ranked Gators, FSU will play its first game versus another women's college team since the national semi-final versus UCLA in the 2005 College Cup. The Seminoles scrimmaged in the pre-season versus men's club teams hoping to be better prepared for Portland and their challenging 2006 slate.
"This group has put in a great effort and have worked hard everyday this preseason," said Krikorian. "They have grasped the concepts we are introducing and I think we are in a good place right now. We will certainly be able to better answer that question of whether we are ready or not Sunday after the game. We have a very formidable opponent in the University of Portland and it is a good chance to measure ourselves early."
"I think we have come a long way as a group in a short amount of time," said senior Colette Swensen. "I think it is great to see how hard everyone has worked."
The Seminoles will be without some key players coming into the game Sunday. While FSU returns nine of 11 starters, the two starters that aren't returning were huge parts of the team's success last year. Florida State will also be without starting center back Sarah Wagenfuhr who is currently in Russia playing for the United States at the U-20 World Championships. The health of Melissa Samokishyn and Kirsten van de Ven will be big questions as well. Those two players combined to start 26 games last year but both suffered season-ending injuries in the NCAA Tournament.
"We are obviously missing some important pieces from last year's squad," said Krikorian. "Viola (Odebrecht) not returning and the graduation of Teresa Rivera both hurt. Sarah Wagenfuhr is in Russia with the US U-20 National Team. Those are three important pieces. I think we have a good group though. It is a cohesive group who has been working hard for each other."
"There are no excuses for not playing well," said Swensen. "We have a very deep team and other players are going to have to step it up and fill some holes."
The absence of Wagenfuhr is a key loss for the Seminole backline. With Rivera graduating, that means on opening day half of the FSU backline will be different than it was for 24 of 25 games last season. The 2005 defense set the single season record for shutouts (11), had the first sub-1.00 GAA (0.86) in program history and allowed the fewest goals ever in ACC play (10) despite playing one more game. The group also just missed setting the record for fewest goals allowed as they gave up 22.
"We have made tremendous progress as a defense through the preseason," said Rowland. "Wags (Sarah Wagenfuhr) will be missed in the opener but we have a lot of players that have worked in the back during the preseason that are ready to step in. We have a lot of veterans ready to play and I think we are solid in the back."
With all the attention being paid to Sunday's top five showdown, the Seminoles are trying not to lose sight of the fact that this is just of 18 regular season games they will play in 2006. While it is a big game, the season will not be decided by this one match.
"We are really more concerned with our performance than anything else," said Krikorian. "We want to go out, compete and give ourselves an opportunity to win. If we do that, we know over the course of time we will be successful. It is not just about the game Sunday but of course that is the start of it all. We are just hoping to be playing in December for a National Championship."
"This is the first game so no matter the outcome we have to remember that it is a long season," said Rowland. "We want to come out of this game with a win but I know from my sophomore year when we went 1-4 and made it to the College Cup, the season isn't won or lost on day one. You never know what will happen from the start of the year to the end."
Sunday's game will be the first Seminole athletic event ever with a live video stream available at Seminoles.com. The webcast will be free of charge and fans can find the link to the video broadcast at the official athletic website for FSU. The FSU/Portland game is scheduled for a 1:00 p.m. start and there is no admission charge. The game will be played at the Seminole Soccer Complex on the campus of Florida State University.
MORE THOUGHTS ON THE PORTLAND GAME:
"I have been waiting for this day for two years now. I am really excited to get things started. It has been a long preseason but I can't wait to see what we can do early on against some great teams." freshman Becky Edwards.
"Playing Portland in the first college game of my career is a plus but I am kind of nervous. There is a lot of excitement there too. It will be a good test early on. We'll have a much better idea of what we can do as a group after Sunday." freshman Becky Edwards
"We are going to be pushed right off the bat this year facing a defending National Champion. Because it is Portland I think everyone's heads are more into this game than any season opener I have been here for." senior Colette Swensen.
"We can't allow Portland to dictate play the entire game. We know they will have the ball their share of time. They have very good attacking players all over the field but we think we do as well. If we can establish a rhythm in the game, have possession of the ball, create a couple of good scoring chances, I think that is what we are looking for." FSU Head Coach Mark Krikorian