Monthly Archives: November 2013

NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) North Carolina vs (2) UCLA

(1) North Carolina vs (2) UCLA – Saturday, 5:00 PM

1. Will Crystal Dunn Play?

It’s the $64,000 Question that means much more than that for a North Carolina side desperately hoping their talisman is able to go on Saturday afternoon.  Dunn had missed the ACC Tournament semi-final and the opening round of the NCAA Tournament with a hamstring injury before coming back with a vengeance in a cameo role against Indiana last Friday.  She started against Texas A&M a few days later but didn’t make it thirty minutes before being felled again, this time with what’s being called a high ankle sprain.  That’s a pretty worrying diagnosis for the USWNT’er, as such injuries aren’t normally healed in less than a week’s time, putting her participation in Saturday’s contest in severe doubt.  Even if Dunn is able to go, it would appear that her minutes are going to be severely limited or that she may even be used only if the Heels are chasing the game late.  In any event, Dunn’s absence would shift offensive responsibilities further forward, as well as perhaps goading Anson Dorrance into going with the 4-2-3-1 right from the off.  But more on those considerations later… Continue reading

NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) Virginia vs (3) Michigan

(1) Virginia vs (3) Michigan – 7:00 PM

1. What Will Michigan’s Mindset Be?

Last weekend, talented Georgetown and Wake Forest teams chose pragmatism instead of playing an expansive game against a Virginia side with lethal offensive ability.  It didn’t really work for either.  The Hoyas seemed better equipped on paper to make the strategy work given their offensive talent, but they never got going and barely made a peep offensively.  Wake Forest held out for a little longer with their better defense, but the Demon Deacons have been drained offensively by injuries, with it essentially being game over when Virginia scored a couple of goals in quick succession.  I suspect Michigan could use a similar strategy away from home given their personnel.  The Wolverines have a big, skilled target forward in Nkem Ezurike, meaning they’ve got a signpost for flick-ons from long, direct balls if they need it, though they’ve also got enough offensive talent behind Ezurike to keep it on the turf on the break if Virginia opens itself up for a few chances that way.  The Wolverines also generally seem to have the defensive discipline to not be sucked out of position by UVA, and Michigan maintaining their defensive shape in front of a rookie goalkeeper is going to be big if they hope to spring the upset.  The longer they’re able to frustrate the Cavs, the better their odds of victory obviously.  An early Virginia goal would obviously change things in a hurry, and I’m not sure Michigan’s going to be able to come out on top if offense decides the day, even with Ezurike. Continue reading

NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) Virginia Tech vs Duke

(1) Virginia Tech vs Duke – Friday, 4:00 PM

1. How Will The Hokies Be Mentally After Their Near Brush With Elimination?

There’s probably two ways this can go.  The glass half-full crowd probably believes that Virginia Tech is going to be hardened by their experience and that everybody who lifts the big trophy at the end of the season has to overcome some adversity along the way.  The glass half-empty crowd might believe that Santa Clara taking Virginia Tech to the brink exposed some weaknesses in the Hokies and that small doubts may be creeping into the back of their minds at an inopportune time.  It’s the reaction of the defense that is probably going to be most telling for the ACC Tournament finalists.  Virginia Tech dodged some serious bullets that Santa Clara threw their way, and while Duke doesn’t pack quite that much firepower, they’ve still got enough to punish VT if the Hokie defense isn’t on song here.  For most of the season, you’d say that the attack has enough to make up for some defensive misgivings, but… Continue reading

NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) Florida State vs Boston College

(1) Florida State vs Boston College – Friday, 3:00 PM

1. Can Boston College Do THAT Again?

For all the yammering about Boston College’s perceived inconsistency this season (and really beyond this season), they put up back-to-back bravura performances in the NCAA Tournament last weekend against Nebraska and Illinois to advance to this point.  The offense, which hit a wall against North Carolina in the ACC Tournament has been resplendent since, scoring ten goals in three games, with McKenzie Meehan and Stephanie McCaffrey blitzing opposing defenses in the Big Dance.  Yet most of the questions about this team are inevitably going to be on defense.  The Eagles haven’t kept too many clean sheets against top teams this season and also conceded in both of the games last weekend as well.  The good news may be that BC still has a streak of six straight without conceding multiple goals coming into Friday.  The bad news is that Florida State was not part of that streak, and the Noles managed to hit BC for four goals earlier in the season in Tallahassee. Continue reading

NCAA Tournament – Second Weekend Review

-Georgetown hit a Cavalier shaped wall on Friday night, with the Hoyas being well beaten by the ACC champions in the second round of the Big Dance. It was a bland ending to a season that again showcased a side that was capable of thrilling with floods of goals against overmatched opponents but who still look some ways off of the nation’s elite. The non-conference slate revealed precious little about the Hoyas outside of a creditable draw against UCF, while a 4-0 bludgeoning at the hands of Marquette in Big East play blunted title ambitions. Georgetown certainly looked impressive in beating La Salle last week, but as promising as that performance was, to be so thoroughly outclassed by Virginia was a bit disheartening. Being without Kaitlin Bast the whole season through injury probably sapped the offense of some potential, but worse is likely to come with many of the club’s best performers graduating. Daphne Corboz does return, but given the loss of players like Kaitlin Brenn and Emily Menges, you have to wonder if the Hoyas’ window didn’t just close for the time being.

-Penn State likely harbored hopes of getting back to the College Cup after last season’s big breakthrough to the national title game. It didn’t quite work out that way. There were warning signs along the way, prominently the huge loss to Virginia at the beginning of the season and some of the struggles in the league, including a stretch of four losses in six that cost the club its lengthly league title streak. Crashing out in the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals, PSU finished without a major trophy this season after a disappointing second round defeat in the NCAA Tournament to Wake Forest. The defense, which had been the worry for so long held up rather well save the thunderbolt at the end of the game which ended up as fatal for the club’s season. But the offense, which had served the club reasonably well for much of the season, fired blanks at an inopportune time. Maya Hayes didn’t manage a shot, while Mallory Weber, Taylor Schram, and Tani Costa all combined for just one shot on goal. With the likes of Hayes, Schram, Costa, and Bri Hovington all moving on, PSU figures to be a team in transition next season, at least on offense. But the program’s supporters have high standards, meaning the pressure will be on again to win a major trophy.
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NCAA Tournament – Sweet Sixteen Preview – Sunday’s For Showdowns

(Check back later Sunday for a UCLA-Stanford preview.)

(3) Michigan vs Notre Dame – 1:00 PM

To This Point:

Michigan have been frighteningly efficient to this point.  They ran right over Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the opening round before easing past Illinois State on Friday night.  When Michigan dumps you in a hole, you tend to stay there.  That’s why taking the lead after three minutes was so huge for the Wolverines, who barely let up in putting thirty-three shots on the board.  They’d put it away with two more goals to increase their lead to 3-0 just after the hour mark.  Just as impressively, the Wolverines held both Hannah Leinert and Rachel Tejada without a single shot on goal.  It’s the sign of a side peaking at the right time, though the pressure ramps up considerably from here on out.

It wasn’t quite the hammering some suspected it might be, but Notre Dame’s win over Western Michigan was comfortable enough in the end.  With Western Michigan trying to keep the Irish from breaking them down easily, Notre Dame found themselves controlling play early on but going into the half still on level terms with their MAC opposition.  Cari Roccaro would gave the Irish the much desired opener near the seventy minute mark as she snapped a shot off after Elizabeth Tucker’s throw-in.  Notre Dame were probably never going to lose if they went in front, and they held out for a well deserved 1-0 win, setting up a glamour tie against the host Wolverines.

Names To Know:

Nkem Ezurike (UM) (CF) – Canadian got a ton of help from her supporting cast on Friday but still managed to break the program’s all-time scoring record with a goal early in the second half.  Likely battle with Notre Dame center-back Katie Naughton could be one of the tournament’s best individual showdowns.

Holly Hein (UM) (CB) – May be on the shortlist of players who’ve most improved potential NWSL Draft stock after a tremendous senior season.  Got a goal in Friday’s matchup but will be tasked with helping keep the Notre Dame attack quiet on Sunday.

Katie Naughton (UND) (CB) – Helped erase Tejada and Leinert from the equation on Friday.  One of the nation’s best center-backs already but faces a huge test against Ezurike.  Already looks like a possible first-round pick in 2016, and stopping Michigan’s battering ram would only enhance her reputation.

Cari Roccaro (UND) (MF) – Does it all really.  Could be used up front to try and muscle her way through the Michigan defense or at center-back to give the Irish twice the power at the heart of the defense.  She’s a game changer in midfield though, where her versatility and tenacity makes her a nightmare for the opposition.

The Bottom Line:

This might be one of the hardest games to call in the Sweet Sixteen.  Both of these clubs are capable of beating just about anyone when at the height of their powers.  It hasn’t always happened that way though.  Michigan struggled with the likes of Butler midseason but looked to be the Big Ten’s in-form club going into the postseason, only to be bounced out by Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals in a shocking result.  The Wolverines have recovered well and have shown a versatility on offense that hasn’t always been there with Ezurike’s tenure at the club.  But the Wolverines also have been guilty of some wasteful finishing this season, and more of that will likely spell the end of their season.

The Irish almost always overachieve in this competition.  They lost a lot of games close this season, some of them through self-inflicted wounds, some through what many would call controversial calls.  There’s a lot of upside on Notre Dame’s roster, with the likes of Roccaro, Naughton, and Morgan Andrews all likely yet at their peak.  The veteran leadership is there too through Mandy Laddish and Elizabeth Tucker, but Michigan’s probably got the experience edge from A to Z on the roster.  Notre Dame has Randy Waldrum though, who’s conjured up gameplans to topple a lot of teams that have been favored on paper.  I trust his big game record and think the Irish will move on.

Prediction

(3) Michigan 0 – 1 Notre Dame Continue reading

NCAA Tournament – Sweet Sixteen Preview – (1) Florida State vs Colorado

(1) Florida State vs Colorado – 12:00 PM

To This Point

One side’s completely lived up to expectations, while another has spent the past few weeks beating them at every turn.  Most expected Florida State to breeze their way through this regional, and they haven’t disappointed, brushing aside South Alabama in the opening round before shutting Ole Miss’ volatile offense off on Thursday night.  They held the Rebels to two shots on goal and saw Dagny Brynjarsdottir continue to soar with two more goals to help drive her side to victory.

Colorado didn’t lose any steam after their upset of Denver, topping BYU on Thursday afternoon in the second round opener.  CU would race out to a 2-0 lead, netting the eventual winner when the normally sure handed Erica Owens committed a ghastly gaffe, fumbling in Carly Bolyard’s shot.  The Buffs would need to endure some waves of pressure from BYU down the stretch and conceded one but not two to move on to the third round of the Big Dance. Continue reading

NCAA Tournament – Second Round Matchups To Watch (Part Two)

Wake Forest’s Aubrey Bledsoe (GK) vs Penn State’s Goal Scoring Legion

Let’s be real. If Wake Forest is to spring the upset on Friday, it sure ain’t gonna be with its offense, which struggled to create chances against a not-so-mighty Morehead State defense in their first round win. Against a team like Penn State, with no shortage of attacking options, Wake Forest is going to have to keep it a tight and low-scoring affair if they’re to stand any chance of crashing the Sweet Sixteen. In that respect, it’s a good thing that Wake Forest has the nation’s best senior goalkeeper, Aubrey Bledsoe, at their disposal. More than ever, the Demon Deacons are going to need their senior stopper to come up huge with the club’s offense so ravaged by injuries. Penn State’s got plenty of firepower, even beyond the fleet-footed Maya Hayes, who will be looking to eclipse the twenty-goal barrier again with one strike on Friday. Tani Costa was on form as a super sub for much of the year, making it impossible for Erica Walsh to exclude her from the lineup. Add in the likes of Mallory Weber, Raquel Rodriguez, and Taylor Schram, who’ve combined for eighteen goals, and Bledsoe might feel like she’s in a shooting gallery on Friday. But Bledsoe is capable of some magic between the pipes and will need one of her best acts yet for Wake to get the better of the Big Ten powerhouse.
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NCAA Tournament – Second Round Matchups To Watch (Part One)

(Part Two, along with predictions for Friday’s matches coming late Thursday/early Friday)

BYU’s Cloee Colohan and Rachel Manning (DMC) vs Colorado’s Darcy Jerman and Madison Krauser (MF)

The steely heart of BYU’s game this season, the senior duo of Cloee Colohan and Rachel Manning are the proverbial smashing machine in midfield, with the former busting up opponents’ passing games with crunching tackles, while the latter isn’t nicknamed “The Magnet” for nothing, her aerial prowess making her a 50/50 ball winning machine.  The pair might be the best central midfield tandem in the nation and are a big part of BYU’s success this season.  While Colorado’s bread and butter is the attacking duo of Brie Hooks and Anne Stuller, getting them the ball might be the problem.  A good part of the invention this season has come from midfielder Madison Krauser, with the sophomore second to Stuller on the team in assists with five.  Krauser and fellow midfielder Darcy Jerman have a whale of a task in front of them in not getting overwhelmed by BYU’s midfield wrecking crew.  If they can’t find a way through though, CU might be forced to hoof it long towards Hooks and Stuller.  That’ll play right into an athletic and deep BYU’s hands though and could make for a trying time for the Pac-12 side.  Besides that individual matchups, CU will need to account for Colohan and Manning on set pieces, with the former deadly on free kicks and the latter an appealing target in the box for driven service. Continue reading

NCAA Tournament – First Round Review

It was not a good weekend for the “big” little guy.

The proverbial big fishes in little ponds got dynamited by power conference schools in most cases, and in UCF’s case, a Saint John’s (NY) club that might now reside in a league with more prestige than the AAC after a woeful showing that saw all three qualifiers eliminated in the first round, much to the newly christened league’s humiliation. It was the Knights that probably ended up most red-faced after their first round exit. The Orlando side looked to be cruising after taking the lead in the eighteenth minute through Tatiana Coleman. It was all downhill from there for UCF. They conceded ninety-one seconds later and were down 2-1 to an own goal less than three minutes later. The finishing, that had been so good with a new look frontline, was wanting, the club being stymied by Diana Poulin in goal, along with their own wastefulness. Saint John’s (NY) were hardly adventurous but were indeed lethal in putting all three of their shots in the back of the net. These are the types of losses that can weigh on programs long-term. Head coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak had won plaudits for her work in her first year here, but how UCF responds in 2014 could be even more important.

The rest of the plight of the power clubs from smaller conferences ran the gamut of circumstance. A La Salle club that seemed to hit their ceiling this season were uninspiring in defeat against Georgetown. The Explorers were outshot in on goal attempts, 7-0, by a steadfast Hoya side that seemed to have all the answers for a vaunted La Salle side. Paul Royal’s side weren’t a disappointment on the whole this season, but it’s hard to escape a feeling of wanting more from a side with such talent on the pitch and the touchline. Denver found none of the magic in last year’s side on Saturday, with the Pioneers unable to top derby rivals Colorado for a second time in 2013. The earlier win flattered DU on the scoreline, but the Buffs still entered Saturday as underdogs. One must wonder how much rust accumulated on the Pioneers after toying with Summit League foes for the past month. CU was busy in battles with Pac-12 foes at the same time, and you have to ponder DU’s ultimate upside while treading water at the top of such a small conference. Colorado College were hard done by. The Tigers fought tooth and nail with a talented Duke side and looked to be on their way to a penalty shootout win when momentum in spot kicks lurched against them. They went a long way in answering questions about whether their record was a product of their schedule, but that’s likely no consolation at the moment.

The greater effect may be on future seeding. The committee went against precedent and gave Denver a seed, albeit one that really meant little other than home advantage against Colorado. It may be a long while before another seed is given to a club from a smaller conference.
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