Monthly Archives: November 2012

NCAA Tournament – College Cup Semi-Final Preview – Stanford vs North Carolina

UNC vs Stanford

Potential Tactical Lineup Based on Prior Matches

Stanford vs North Carolina – 11:00 PM EST

-North Carolina did a stellar job of defending from wide positions against BYU in the Elite Eight, with Katie Bowen and Meg Morris doing their best to physically shut down the Cougars from creating from the flanks. There’ll be that aim again this time out against Stanford, but their task will be much harder with the Card’s full-backs such a prominent part of their attack. Ideally, Carolina would like to use Bowen and Morris to help jam Lo’eau Labonta and Courtney Verloo on the flanks to keep it from being a 3v3 situation in their defensive third of the pitch, but doing so could leave Rachel Quon on the right and Laura Liedle on the left with a lot of room to gallop through down the flanks. In this respect, it’s going to be vital that Summer Green and Maria Lubrano, the likeliest Tar Heels to be patrolling out wide in Stanford’s defensive third, to press heavily from the front and do their best to pin the Card’s full-backs back. If Liedle and Quon are allowed to motor forward, they could help create overloads down the flanks while also stretching the field even if Bowen and Morris retreat into their own end of the pitch to help out defensively.

-By far the most compelling individual matchup of the semi-finals will be between Mariah Nogueira of Stanford and Crystal Dunn of North Carolina in the midfield on Friday. Arguably each side’s best player, this tug of war has a good chance of deciding a winner if either can stamp their authority decisively in this matchup. Dunn was in scintillating form in the Elite Eight against BYU, taking advantage of not having a direct opponent in BYU’s 4-2-3-1 formation and using the space in between the lines to deadly effect, dribbling into that space and causing the Cougars no end of problems. She won’t have that luxury here, drawing a hard assignment in the form of the tough tackling Nogueira. While Nogueira’s received more attention for some of her timely offensive exploits this season, she remains a great defensive asset and crucial in any hopes the Card may have in slowing down the ever-present Dunn. Nogueira has to keep Dunn from using her direct dribbling talent to open up holes elsewhere by drawing defenders out to stop her. With 3v4 ahead of her, Dunn’s going to likely need to help influence the game and supply some service to the club’s forwards, especially if Bowen and Morris are preoccupied with their defensive duties.
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NCAA Tournament – College Cup Semi-Final Preview – Florida State vs Penn State

FSU vs PSU Tactics

(Potential Tactical Lineup Based on Prior Matches)

(Note: Penn State’s projected alignment based on 3-5-2 starting formation. I’m less familiar with how PSU will line up in said formation than other sides at this year’s College Cup though, so if you’ve got corrections, please send them my way.)

(North Carolina vs Stanford preview coming Friday afternoon.)

Penn State vs Florida State – 8:30 PM EST

-It’s not rare when two goalkeepers in a College Cup match have both played in the college game’s showpiece event. In fact, three of the four starting netminders in San Diego have starting experience in this competition. It is rare when two have experience with the same club and now square off on opposite sides. It seems like an eternity since McNulty started every game as a rookie for the Seminoles in 2007, including a pair of games in the College Cup as FSU finished runners-up to USC. McNulty would miss two of the next three seasons though, on international duty in 2008 before falling down the pecking order in 2010 in favor of Friday’s nemesis, Kelsey Wys. McNulty reinvigorated her career with a transfer to Penn State and has rounded into one of the nation’s finest keepers in two seasons in Happy Valley. Playing behind a sometimes problematic defense this year, McNulty has often saved her club’s bacon with some great goalkeeping and will be key again in this one against a red hot Florida State attack. Though McNulty should be short of no motivation going into this one against her former club, Wys should have almost as much to prove for the Noles. The FSU keeper got a baptism by fire at this level last season, enduring a woeful game in the semi-final defeat to Stanford that raised questions. Wys has mostly answered those questions affirmatively this season, helping marshal a defense which has ranked among the nation’s best for much of the season. The last steps of course are the hardest to take, and banishing last year’s demons with a confident display in San Diego would likely announce Wys to the college soccer world as one of the nation’s premier netminders. The pressure’s scarcely been higher for these two, and both will be eager to outshine the other with a spot in the final on the line.
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NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Review

-If anything, Erica Walsh and Penn State used a calculated balance of aggressiveness and pragmatism tactically to book a spot in the last four with their win over Duke on Friday. PSU has been forced into a lineup with three at the back in a 3-5-2 for much of the season thanks to early injuries to the defense, and it’s been a bit of a rocky road at times, with the club both getting their feet under them in an unfamiliar formation while also having to deal with the usual perils that go along with such a formation defensively. Anyone needing a clue into PSU’s mindset though needed to only look at their response to going up 1-0 through Chrisine Nairn, as the Nittany Lions brought on Corey Persson as a fourth defender and switched to a more sturdy four at the back formation, necessary against a squad with Duke’s firepower. While Walsh would have likely been pilloried for her tactics had the match swung a different way, the early switch proved to not just be brave in a sense but also wise, as Duke hammered at the door all night but just couldn’t make the breakthrough. While PSU’s defensive stand against the Blue Devils will likely get much of the attention, an eye must be turned towards the offense. The club put up just three shots on goal on the evening, with Nairn’s penalty kick goal included in that total. While windy conditions perhaps hampered the offensive effectiveness of both teams, the Big Ten side knows they’ll likely need much better on Friday if they’re to upset Florida State in the College Cup semi-final. Penn State’s tactical mindset will be worth watching in that one as well. Do they continue to start with the 3-5-2? Or will Walsh play it closer to the vest with four at the back against the in-form attack of the Seminoles. Such decisions could be vital for PSU’s title hopes.

-A season that began with so much promise ultimately fell short of expectations for Duke, who failed to advance to the College Cup a season after going to the national title match against Stanford. The Blue Devils were one of the favorites to win it all after returning all eleven starters to the fold from last year’s squad but faced numerous trials and tribulations throughout the season. Mollie Pathman and Kelly Cobb missed the first half of the season on international duty, while the latter would also be hobbled by an ankle injury upon her return, raising questions as to how the injury could potentially affect once limitless potential with the Blue Devils. The defense was a nightmare for much of the season, as Robbie Church did his best to work with a back four that had suddenly lost efficacy since last season’s strong displays. Pathman got thrown into the mix at left-back, but that experiment was eventually abandoned as the Blue Devils opted for a more attacking bent in the NCAA Tournament. It didn’t work for them in the end against Penn State, as they were unable to cope with the wind, their opponents’ defense, and their own inefficient finishing, as their season came to grinding halt. Ironically, Duke saved one of their best defensive displays for last, holding PSU to just three shots on goal, one of those the fateful penalty kick that ended up going down as the winning goal. It’s hard to not think that Duke’s national title window closed for a little while with this loss. The defense loses three starters, while they also lose starting goalkeeper Tara Campbell to graduation. While the club’s attacking pieces return intact for the most part, it’s unlikely that the Blue Devils will have the balance overall to contend for the big prize given the rebuilding job needed on the backline.
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Marketing the New League: a Rebuttal to Joanna Lohman

About me: I’ve been a follower of women’s soccer since 1999, a Washington Freedom season ticket holder since 2001 (including the W-League era), and ran the primary Washington Freedom supporters’ group, the Freedom Fighters, from the return to WPS in 2008 until the team was moved to Florida in late 2010.

Joanna Lohman has written a heartfelt, well-thought-out, well-researched article about how to market the new women’s professional league, saying that the most important thing to do is to focus on the most enthusiastic fans (the “fanatics”, as she puts it). Unfortunately, I think that’s both wrong and pointless. Continue reading

Time Capsuling the USWNT/Republic of Ireland All-Time Series

The United States will meet the Republic of Ireland twice in the next four days as the 2012 Fan Tribute Tour winds down. Rather than a typical preview of the current teams, let’s stroll down memory lane.

Below is a retrospective of the previous eight meetings between the two sides. This feature promises plenty of 5-0 wins, Abby Wambach goals, feats by former greats, and Kate Markgraf’s first and final international goal.

 

September 4, 1999 – 5-0 – Foxborough, MA

The game in which… the U.S. cruised to a 5-0 victory in its first homecoming match since being crowned world champions

Setting the stage: The freshly-minted world champions (and sporting superstars) returned to action before a rapturous crowd totaling 30,564. Head coach Tony DiCicco admitted his team was still a bit weary from the World Cup but commended the side for its professional performance. DiCicco reassembled his World Cup squad but a couple key actors were missing including Michelle Akers and Briana Scurry. Tiffeny Milbrett owned the moment scoring two goals and providing one assist.

Stat of note: This match remains the third highest-attended USWNT friendly since 1999. It also marked Tony DiCicco’s 99th win as head coach.

Stock ‘Brave Ireland’ line from match report: Ireland put up an admirable fight against a U.S. roster stocked with a staggering 1,599 international games worth of experience as compared to a combined 104 total for the Irish.

Current USWNT players used: None

Attendance: 30,564

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NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) Stanford vs (3) UCLA

(1) Stanford vs (3) UCLA – 10:00 PM EST

(Stanford Rotation [4-3-3]: Probable Starters – Oliver, Liedle, Garciamendez, Thompson, Quon, Nogueira, Doll, Watkins, LaBonta, Ubogagu, Verloo. Likely Reserves – Payne, Farr, Case, Griffen)

(UCLA Rotation [4-3-3]: Probable Starters – Rowland, Dydasco, Dahlkemper, Lee, Courtnall, Richmond, Killion, Mewis, Bywaters, Smith, White. Likely Reserves: Cline, Oyster, Braun, McCarthy, Stewart)

-As is always the case when talking about Stanford, keeping their full-backs in check is always a key to stopping, or at least slowing down, their offense. While Cami Levin has departed, for the Card, senior Rachel Quon has still been a destructive influence bombing up and down the flank. The Pac-12 champs haven’t wasted any time in finding a great replacement for Levin either, with highly touted rookie Laura Liedle shining early on for the club. Quon and Levin fueled the club’s run to the national title last season, and Quon and Liedle will be looking to do the same here. The duo cannot be derelict in their defensive duties though, with their opposite numbers on UCLA also eager to burst forward and cause overloads on the flanks. Positional intelligence and chemistry between full-backs and wingers could well play a key role in determining who ends up in San Diego next weekend.

-The full-back position isn’t the only area of intrigue on the backline for Stanford this match though. While Alina Garciamendez has been in fine form as usual at one post in central defense, the play of the other center-back, currently slated to be senior Madeleine Thompson, could be crucial in the outcome of this one. Thompson is very much the definition of a late bloomer in Palo Alto, having barely played in her first two seasons on The Farm before taking a role as a key reserve on last year’s title winning team. Preferred over last year’s starter in this spot Kendall Romine and rookie Maya Theuer, Thompson has started for much of the stretch run for Stanford and has gained the confidence of the coaches. Given her overall lack of starting experience, she’ll likely be a target for UCLA’s attacks down the center but has a great partner in Garciamendez and could by a key contributor in this one for the Card.
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NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) BYU vs (2) North Carolina (with Tactics Board)

BYU vs North Carolina

(Projected Starting Lineups. UNC in White, BYU in Dark Blue. Potential Alternate Options in Parentheses.)

(1) BYU vs (2) North Carolina – 8:00 PM EST

(BYU Rotation [4-2-3-1]: Probable Starters – Owens, Oldroyd Cusick, Bazzarone, Lisonbee Cutshall, Hunt, Colohan, Manning, Murphy, Ringwood, Thornock, Payne Holmoe. Likely Reserves – Jensen, Nimmer, Varner)

(North Carolina Rotation [3-4-3]: Probable Starters – Gay, Gardner, Ball, Murray, Brooks, McFarlane, Bowen, Dunn, Lubrano, Ohai, Green. Likely Reserves – Morris, Premji, Elby, Nielsen, Rich, Nigro)

-Senior center-back for BYU Lindsi Lisonbee Cutshall possesses a great shot from range, a powerful presence in the air, and plenty of talent with the ball at her feet. While she’ll be needed most for her defensive ability as she tries to help stop a destructive North Carolina frontline, her role in helping build from the back can’t be overlooked. Carolina’s made a name for themselves over the years as a team that defends from the front, as you might expect from a team with a three player defense. The Heels have thrived off of turnovers and will relish the opportunity to dispossess the BYU backline, but nicking the ball off of Lisonbee Cutshall probably isn’t going to be an easy task. If Crystal Dunn plays up front, it wouldn’t be surpassing to see her press Lisonbee Cutshall on goal kicks or punts to try and get the ball delivered elsewhere. If Erica Owens goes long though…

-…UNC could be in trouble. The Heels are many things, but they aren’t equipped to win too many balls in the air in midfield. Amber Brooks is 5’6″, Crystal Dunn is 5’2″, and they’re going to be outnumbered in the center of the park unless some of the wide midfielders pinch in or the forwards drop into midfield. Even if they do try to even the odds in midfield, BYU has plenty of height in the center of the park, with defensive midfielders Rachel Manning (5’9″) and Cloee Colohan (5’8″) holding a distinct size advantage. Add in attacking midfielder Jessica Ringwood (5’9″), and you’ve got a whole lot of muscle in the middle. Given UNC’s high pressure mentality and BYU’s size advantage in midfield, I’d be shocked if BYU’s distribution from Owens isn’t long for much of the match.
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NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) Florida State vs Notre Dame

(1) Florida State vs Notre Dame – 7:00 PM EST

(Florida State Rotation [4-2-3-1]: Probable Starters – Wys, Jaurena, Kallman, Grubka, Short, Brockway, Schmid, Price, Brynjarsdottir, Fields, McCarty. Likely Reserves – Pickett, Murakami, Hahn, Bakowska-Mathews)

(Notre Dame Rotation [4-3-3]: Probable Starters – Hight, Hall, Von Rueden, Naughton, Scofield, Roccaro, Laddish, Tucker, Twining, Bohaboy, Thomas. Likely Reserves – Gilbertson, Schneider, Williams, Campo, Simonian)

-Effective width in a 4-2-3-1 largely relies on the ability of the full-backs to bomb up and down the flanks, and Florida State’s offensive success has, in large part, been down to the ability of their superb duo, Ines Jaurena and Casey Short, to do just that. Jaurena on the right has always been a terror for the Seminoles and almost plays a role of a modern wing-back, usually situating herself very high up the pitch, sometimes near the halfway line. Short’s forays forward don’t seem as dramatic, but the FSU defender is a converted attacker and has plenty of attacking instincts to rely on in the position. How well the two Notre Dame wide forwards are able to defend from the front could be crucial in ensuring the wide zones in their defensive third of the field aren’t overloaded by the Seminoles. At the same time though, the Irish will be wary of their forwards tracking the full-backs so far up the field that their center forward becomes isolated. It’s an intriguing balance, and one that Randy Waldrum will have to get right to stand a chance on the day.
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NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) Penn State vs (3) Duke

(1) Penn State vs (3) Duke – 7:00 PM EST

(Penn State Rotation [3-5-2]: Probable Starters – McNulty, Chapic, Church, Hovington, Hurd, Nairn, Rodriguez, Evans, Weber, Schram, Hayes. Likely Reserves – Costa, Garcia, Persson)

(Duke Rotation [4-3-3]: Probable Starters – Campbell, Jandl, Anasi, Koballa, Haller, Lipp, Kerr, Pecht, Weinberg, DeCesare, Pathman. Likely Reserves – Doria, Cobb)

-Opting for three at the back can be a dangerous game for many clubs, but Penn State’s made it work for much of the season. Part of that’s down to their explosive offense in no small part though, as some of the club’s defensive deficiencies have been masked by the fact that the club has been able to score at will against most opponents. While their offensive prospects look rosy against a Duke defense that has also struggled at times, the defense isn’t going to get a free ride in all likelihood, as Duke’s attack is more than capable of lighting up the PSU defense if the Nittany Lions are off their game. In the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils have gone with a lineup that’s largely resembled last year’s, with Mollie Pathman up front as opposed to playing at left-back, where she soldiered on in the regular season for Duke this year despite the club not being able to establish much of a defensive rhythm. The results have been undeniable, as Duke has poured on the goals in the Big Dance. PSU defending straight up with 3 v 3 would be suicidal in either a zone or man-marking system, considering the Blue Devils have Kaitlyn Kerr and Cassie Pecht in midfield ready to overload the final third if necessary. It means that PSU’s wingers (potentially Emily Hurd on the left and Mallory Weber on the right) will have to do a good job of tracking Pathman and Laura Weinberg down the flanks to cut off service to DeCesare and some of the club’s midfielders in the center. Weber, who seems much more comfortable going forward, in particular could have her hands full with Pathman, who naturally has the defensive chops to stymie the rookie going the other way as well. I’d guess that Pathman is far more likely to stay wide and try to whip balls into the area, with Weinberg more favored to cut inside and give Duke other targets besides DeCesare in the box.
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NCAA Tournament – Second & Third Round Review

SECOND ROUND

-As has been the case often between Stanford and Santa Clara through the years, it was a close, tense battle that ended with the premature end of one club’s season. And as has been the case all too often for SCU, it was Stanford who earned bragging rights yet again. Unlike the clubs’ earlier regular season meeting that ended in a brutal rout by the Card, Stanford was forced to work much harder for this one, with Courtney Verloo benefitting from Chioma Ubogagu’s great endline drive and cross before a magnificent individual effort that went down as the club’s winner. There was just enough in the tank to see the Broncos off, though there were some serious nervous moments late on, especially when Dani Weatherholt pulled one back. Emily Oliver again proved her worth in goal for Stanford, with another steady display to help stabilize the defense. But more than likely, it’ll be Verloo and Ubogagu’s budding partnership up top that steals most of the plaudits from this one, yet another derby win for the Card.

-Santa Clara’s frustration continued in earnest on Friday, as the Broncos lost to their heated rivals for the ninth time in a row, suffering elimination at the hands of the Card for the third time in four years in this competition. Adding to the frustration is the notion that this could have been the year for SCU to make the big breakthrough. They had a very talented team to work with, while Stanford had some big holes to fill in the lineup. But the gap was still very apparent in the season opener that went so horribly wrong, and while the Broncos were much better in this defeat, they still came out second best to their local rivals. Spare the tears for Santa Clara though. These Broncos may be losing some great performers like Meleana Shim and Lauren Matheson, but there’s a ton of talent returning, including key core players Julie Johnston, Sofia Huerta, and Dani Weatherholt. The club also adds in All-American forward Morgan Marlborough and another great recruiting class. So while Stanford will finish this season as the region’s top team, the Broncos will again be well placed to try and upset the order in 2013.
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