FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ soccer team returns home following four consecutive road games, and the Razorbacks face their third top-10 ranked opponent of the season with Thursday’s 7 p.m. Southeastern Conference contest against No. 8 Florida.
Earlier this year, Arkansas faced then-No. 6 Oklahoma State and then-No. 10 Tennessee. In addition, the Razorbacks have also played Kentucky, which was No. 10 in the RPI rankings at the time, and Auburn, which was No. 22 in the RPI ratings.
Florida enters the game 13-4-0 overall and 6-2-0 in the Southeastern Conference. Arkansas is 4-11-0 and 2-6-0. The Gators are No. 8 in the country in the Top Drawer poll, No. 11 in Soccer Times and No. 13 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America/Continental Tire poll. Florida is also No. 5 in the RPI rankings, but the Gators are coming off a 1-0 loss at Mississippi State.
"Mississippi State upset them on Sunday," head coach Erin Aubry says. "That was a good thing for us to see, especially for our youngsters. We have to continue our mission and be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and just go after them."
Florida leads the SEC with 43 goals and 124 points while Arkansas is second in the league with 92 saves and 6.13 saves per game.
Arkansas is coming off losses at Alabama and Auburn, 3-0 in both games. The Razorbacks were out-shot in the two games, but freshman goal keeper Emily Lillard made 11 saves at Auburn on Sunday, which ties for the seventh-best mark in school history in an SEC game.
"We talked about changing the scouting report on us and the feeling that we are a first-half team," Aubry says. "The stats show that when we get down a goal, it’s difficult for us to come back. We tried to do that and the effort was certainly there. I was happy with the performance at Auburn. We had an injury that changed our system of play. The commitment to change that scouring report was there and we were happy with that."
Arkansas played without senior captain Kailey Anders at Auburn. Anders leads the team with four goals, two assists, 10 points and two game-winning goals, but she was banged up at Alabama and held out of the Auburn contest as a precaution. She may or may not be back in the lineup this week.
"She’s touch and go," Aubry says. "We hope to have her back. She’s still a tremendous leader for us. She embraced being a leader on the sideline at Auburn, and that’s hard to do."
With Anders out of the lineup, the Razorback went to a 3-5-2 formation instead of the usual 3-4-3.
"With Kailey out, that left us with two dominate forwards," Aubry says. "We switched to a 3-5-2, which allowed us to move Mel (Foncham) up top (to forward) and give us some athleticism that we missed with Kailey not in the lineup. We felt that jump-started the team by giving us something different to focus on."
Junior forward Allie Chandler is second in the conference with 4.67 shots per game while Lillard is second in saves (91) and saves per game (6.07).
Over the last six games, Chandler leads the club with 35 shots and 11 shots on goal. Anders and freshman Beth Stratton are next with 10 shots each.
For the season, Anders leads the team with a .489 shots on goal percentage. Stratton is second at .481 and Chandler third at .343.
Florida leads the all-time series 15-0, including 7-0 in Fayetteville.
Following the Florida game, Arkansas goes on the road for Sunday’s noon (central) contest at South Carolina. The Razorbacks are back home on Friday, Oct. 28, for a 7 p.m. game against LSU.