27 Aug Preseason All-ACC selection Yujie Zhao scores in FSU soccer’s 4-0 win
It’s fairly uncommon for an all-conference caliber player to come off your bench instead of starting.
But when your roster is as deep as the Florida State soccer team’s is these days, it lends for such options.
And if you ask preseason All-ACC selection Yujie Zhao, she sees perks with both being a starter or a substitute off the bench as she was again Thursday during Florida State’s 4-0 rout of visiting South Alabama.
“I like starting because it’s when you’re on the field and people are cheering you on when you first go onto the field,” said Zhao, who is in her fourth season at FSU. “But I don’t mind substituting in because I feel like I can bring different energy into the game so I don’t really mind doing it that way.”
Giving FSU a lift off the bench and a change of pace is exactly why for the past two seasons she has primarily played as a reserve and often first sub in for a Seminoles’ squad loaded with quality offensive weapons.
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While the Seminoles dominated the Jaguars on Thursday, they had trouble finding the back of the net early.
Zhao entered the game 27 minutes into the first half and instantly created two quality chances off corner kicks with precision.
Five minutes later, FSU was on the board on a goal by junior Jenna Nighswonger.
Zhao would then score her first goal of the season in the 64th minute as she quickly controlled a rebound off a blocked shot and fired it past South Alabama goalkeeper Allison Luckhardt.
“We have such a talented group and players from so many different countries and I’m very honored to be part of that success,” said Zhao, who is from Shanghai, China and played for the Chinese national team in 2018 in the Under-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup. “We have such amazing players every year and we have high expectations but we keep our performances always at the same level. We have our own expectations and we work hard to keep them in practice.”
After such an unusual and abbreviated offseason, FSU players spent the past three months trying to balance rest with ramping up training intensity as the new season approached.
Zhao had a productive offseason in that regard and said her fitness is a big key to her effectiveness on the pitch so far this season.
“My conditioning is getting better,” Zhao said. “My body feels more energy in games and definitely more than last year.”
Zhao started 47 of the 50 matches she played during her first two seasons at FSU.
But last season, Krikorian began inserting her into games as an early sub – a role she took on in 15 of the 16 matches she played. Zhao played 897 minutes overall, scored three goals and had five assists and played a vital role in FSU’s run to the national championship game this past May.
“Yujie is a class act. She is a great teammate and has accepted any role given to her,” Krikorian said. “Her tactical abilities are just not ordinary. There aren’t many college kids that can see the game the way she does. But she always stays humble and is a nice kid and we’re very fortunate to have her.”
After meeting some resistance early from the visiting Jaguars, the Seminoles broke through for three of their four goals in the second half.
Even with Krikorian still experimenting with different starting lineups and combinations early in the season, FSU outshot South Alabama 27-0 with 15 of those on goal to finish with one of its most lopsided shot differentials in a match in recent memory.
“We have a lot of good players so we have to share the minutes among the players and manage the minutes and make sure we keep everyone sharp and fit,” Krikorian said. “It’s a bit of a puzzle and at the end we’ll know how well we’ve done. We have a lot of quality.”
Nighswonger broke the scoreless stalemate in the 28th minute with a great left-footed strike from over 25 yards out.
Beatta Olsson took the team lead in goals so far this season with her second goal eight minutes into the second half. Gianna Mitchell followed Zhao’s score in the 75th minute when she headed home a great ball into the box by Ran Iwai.
FSU will embark on its first road trip of the season as it takes on Colorado on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in a game that will be televised on the Pac-12 Network. The Seminoles are 2-0 all-time against the Buffaloes with both wins in Tallahassee. Colorado (2-0) is unranked, but received 10 votes in the most recent United Soccer Coaches rankings.
Reach Andre Fernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @FernandezAndreC.
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