1. Florida State
3. Texas A&M
Eliminated in Elite Eight
It really wasn’t supposed to end this way for the Bruins. Certainly not before the College Cup. Who knows if it would’ve hurt more or less if it had been against a lesser opponent or as the result of some kind of fluke. There was none of that here, as the defending national champs were simply beaten by the better team on the night. With the third season always the most important for new managers, it’ll be interesting to see how the Bruins respond to Friday’s shattering defeat. There’s no shortage of promising talent in Westwood, but the back four and midfield needs to be rebuilt, almost from scratch.
Projected Starting Lineups
Texas A&M gets another chance to end the hurt and finally get to the College Cup after falling at this stage many a time in the past few decades. Standing across from them is a Penn State side aiming to return to the College Cup after getting to the final in 2012. They’ll also be trying to salvage a little pride for the Big Ten, who hardly set this competition alight this year. PSU will be walking into a cauldron of emotion, but they still have more than one campaigner who knows how to get beyond this stage.
Slowing Down Texas A&M’s Twin Lances in Midfield
Part of what has made Texas A&M so deadly in attack has been the ability of attacking midfielders Shea Groom and Kelley Monogue to pierce the heart of opposing defenses with their marauding runs forward. At their best, they’re damn near unstoppable running forward in tandem and combining with the front three. Penn State is going to have to keep that duo as far away from goal as humanly possible. PSU’s operated with a pretty fluid triangle in midfield thus far this season, and the trio of Raquel Rodriguez, Salina Williford, and Emily Ogle are going to have to defend as a unit if they don’t want to see the A&M duo breaking past them with regularity on Saturday night.
Projected Starting Lineups
These two teams met in a contentious non-conference match that was decided on a golden goal penalty that was more than a little controversial to some. On the evening, Florida was well behind in most offensive categories but also had a glorious chance to win it in the second half through a Savannah Jordan shot from range that was palmed away brilliantly by Jane Campbell. Form is probably not with the Gators, who struggled in stretches in conference play and blew a two goal lead against Texas Tech last week, while Stanford themselves huffed and puffed a bit against Arkansas and Washington. Ultimately, Florida will have to account for the additions of Taylor Uhl, out of form against them earlier, and Lo’eau Labonta, who played just a quarter of an hour earlier in the season but who also netted the goal and who has become crucial in the midfield for the Card.
The heart of this matchup is probably going to be dead center between the two clubs’ central attacking midfielders, arguably the most important player in each’s squad. Lo’eau Labonta has been huge since these clubs first met and has shown an ability to make things happen in midfield and is the very definition of a big game player. The frontline gets more attention, but Labonta’s ability to drive into space in the middle of the park is going to be a key for a Stanford victory. Given Florida’s 4-2-3-1 though, the Card are going to have to get either Alex Doll or Andi Sullivan making forward runs as well to avoid Labonta being double teamed the entire match.
On the opposite side, Havana Solaun figures to be the leading figure for the Gators and may have a more dynamic role for the club. While serving as a #10 at times, Solaun has also played out on the wing for the Gators this season and is a serious danger to cut inside of full-backs towards goal and let fly with a dangerous shot. Neither of the Gators’ other central midfielders are big threats going forward, meaning Solaun’s probably got some heavy lifting to do if the club wants to attack down the middle of the pitch. If Doll and Sullivan sit back, Florida could find themselves in much the same situation as Stanford in trying to free up their #10.
Projected Starting Lineups
Goliath meets Goliath on Friday night in Westwood as UCLA hosts Virginia in a rematch of last season’s classic College Cup semi-final match. The Bruins have gone from strength to strength since that shootout win and are favorites again to left the national title. UCLA stormed through the first two rounds of the tournament before leaving it very late against Pepperdine. There was no such drama for their opponents, as they destroyed Kentucky, 7-0, in the Sweet Sixteen after easy wins over Rutgers and High Point. While UCLA returns pretty much intact from last season’s encounter, Virginia has changed in some pretty important ways.
Morgan Brian, Sam Mewis, and Sarah Killion among others will naturally get more attention, but it’s ultimately going to be Danielle Colaprico and what role she plays that could have the most impact on Friday night’s match. Colaprico is as versatile as they come at this level and has played in all four midfield spots this year for the Cavs while also having played as a winger in a 4-3-3 in previous years. She started as the club’s deepest midfielder against Kentucky, though UVA didn’t take too long to bring in Campbell Millar to prompt a shift back to the usual setup with Colaprico out wide.
The big question though is where Colaprico’s going to play on Friday, with each possibility bringing advantages and disadvantages. The senior’s not the best defender nor the biggest player, but her technical skill could be invaluable as the club seeks to keep possession in midfield, very likely being 2v3 if it stays with a 4-4-2 diamond that isn’t pinched in. If Colaprico plays out wide, Millar likely gets the role of tracking Sam Mewis. It’s a pretty big mismatch, and UVA may not want to risk Sarah Killion coming forward to overload the zone and overwhelm Millar in the process.
Using Colaprico out wide would help defend against the inevitable forward runs coming from the UCLA full-backs, as well as allow for counters up the pitch. Colaprico’s probably at her best on the wing and looks a better option on paper than Brittany Ratcliffe, who started on the right wing against Kentucky but still very much looks like a center forward playing on the wing. Alexis Shaffer’s a more natural wide option if the club does keep Colaprico deep. Which side Colaprico plays on if she goes wide is also worth watching, as Kaili Torres can play either side of the flank as well.
In short, Colaprico should have a big impact wherever she plays, but Steve Swanson has to judge where that impact is going to come best in handy.
Projected Starting Lineups
The lone remaining team out of the top two seeds to qualify for the Elite Eight, South Carolina will try to make history as they aim for the program’s first College Cup appearance. Opponents Florida State are Elite Eight regulars and have mostly breezed through the opening rounds and haven’t conceded in their first three NCAA Tournament matches.
4-2-3-1 vs 4-2-3-1
As you might expect from two sides that have conceded one combined goal in the NCAA Tournament thus far, both clubs like to keep it tight at the back with just one true forward operating in front of five midfielders. 4-2-3-1 vs 4-2-3-1 doesn’t really translate into great entertainment much of the time, with each #10 facing off against two midfield counterparts, each center forward being flanked by center-backs, and 1v1 matchups on the flanks.
Away, and as underdogs, South Carolina figures to be the far more conservative of the two sides, and it’d be a surprise to see either Christa Neary or Caroline Gray roam forward too much. Organization and discipline in keeping shape are going to be key, as it’s highly likely that Megan Campbell and Emma Koivisto are going to be blasting forward to try and create overloads down the flank. South Carolina are going to have to try and defend from the front as well, with Sophie Groff and Raina Johnson jamming the full-backs to prevent runs forward.
Teams eliminated in round one can be found in last week’s post.
3. Florida State
4. Texas A&M
6. South Carolina
7. Penn State
Eliminated in Sweet Sixteen
The Waves were able to bring the UCLA juggernaut back to Earth, making the defending national champs look mortal after two matches of otherworldly performances from the Bruins. Sam Mewis would pop up late to break Pepperdine hearts, but it had still been a tremendously valiant effort from Tim Ward’s side. Given another draw, Pepperdine could have very easily been still playing this week. But now it’s about maintaining this level of achievement after breaking the club’s NCAA Tournament hex. Lynn Williams leaves big shoes to fill, and finding comparable offense will be the key to not sinking back towards the pack.
10. North Carolina
Whenever the Tar Heels don’t at least make it to the Elite Eight, it feels like a bit of an anti-climax now. UNC had looked like a club that would accomplish that with a forgiving draw in the NCAA Tournament and having won a share of the ACC title after some struggles early in the season. Those offensive struggles became all too apparent again last weekend though, as the club struggled to put Colorado away before the attack ran aground against a disciplined and organized South Carolina side. Losing Satara Murray is a big blow to the defense, and there are serious questions on offense after the club failed to bloom in front of goal. Until the Heels get a fifteen goal scorer firing in their lineup, they might find it hard to make it back to the College Cup.
6:00 PM – (1) UCLA vs (4) Pepperdine
Friday was a day for statements in Westwood as these two sides punished their opponents in the second round in a pair of devastating displays. The WCC side killed off one of the remaining Cinderellas in the NCAA Tournament by ruthlessly dispatching Illinois State. Amanda LeCave started the scoring early, and Pepperdine didn’t stop for the course of the ninety minutes. Lynn Williams put on a brilliant performance, scoring twice and assisting on Pepperdine’s final goal to cap off a great day for the Waves’ attack. Just as importantly, Pepperdine was able to keep the Illinois State attack, namely Rachel Tejada, as contained as any side has this season. There’s a big difference between ISU and UCLA though, and the Bruins are likely to make that point clear in the opening minutes of Sunday’s showdown. Pepperdine made a bright start to the regular season clash between the teams but were ultimately defeated in decisive fashion. They’ll need a Herculean effort and probably some luck to shock the world in Westwood.
UCLA took a talented Harvard team and flat-out destroyed them. As was the case with their opening round match, the Bruins jumped on their opponent early and didn’t let up, going up 2-0 after seven minutes and going into the break up 4-0. It wasn’t just an unstoppable offensive performance either, with the vaunted defense holding the Crimson to just a single shot on goal all night. Sarah Killion took top honors with two goals and an assist in just forty-five minutes of action, while the sensational late season of form of Kylie McCarthy continued, as she scored again in limited minutes. It goes without saying that the degree of difficulty ramps up considerably at this point, as there are no more gimmes at this stage of the competition. Pepperdine were eventually batted aside in the regular season, but they were more than game for the opening minutes of their encounter in Hawaii. The Bruins won’t want to give Lynn Williams any clean looks at goal, while the offense will aim to keep the goals rolling. Being able to bring players like Darian Jenkins off the bench is a frightening proposition for opponents, and UCLA’s depth may well lead them to another dominant win on Sunday.
CF – Lynn Williams (PEP) vs CB – Abby Dahlkemper (UCLA)
The nation’s best senior striker will hope to add another feather into her cap after a stunning showing on Friday, when she scored twice and assisted on a third as the Waves blitzed Illinois State en route to this Sweet Sixteen rematch. Williams usually has the advantage in pace on her markers, but that may not be the case in this one against the Bruins’ Abby Dahlkemper, the rock at the heart of the backline for the Pac-12 champs. Given the fact that Pepperdine has often struggled with consistent offense when Williams hasn’t been a big influence in the match, UCLA will be hoping their star center-back can keep her opposing number’s contributions to a minimum on Sunday night.
2:30 PM – (1) Texas A&M vs (4) Notre Dame
In terms of “best second round performance” (non-UCLA category), Texas A&M probably took top honors after a 7-2 starching of Arizona to avenge a 2-2 regular season draw with the Wildcats. The Aggies started scoring in the fifteenth minute at didn’t stop scoring until they had netted seven, which didn’t even take them an hour. The Aggies got braces from both Kelley Monogue and Allie Bailey, while Shea Groom sashayed her way to a goal and two assists as the A&M offense ran riot. I suspect the defensive performance may be viewed a little more critically, though the SEC side was already up 6-0 by the time Arizona had netted their first consolation goal. The defense is going to need to tighten up if A&M is to keep advancing. But if the offense plays like they did on Friday, there’s certainly going to be a large margin of error against just about anyone.
Notre Dame’s performance on the same pitch just a few hours earlier was hardly as convincing. The Irish looked to be lacking a distinct sharpness all over the pitch and surely would have crashed to defeat against a less limited opponent than a game Texas Longhorns side that still pushed the ACC side all the way to the end of the match. Team talisman Morgan Andrews played just forty-four minutes and didn’t put a shot on goal. The Irish also ended up getting much more production from its attackers off the bench. In particular, Karin Muya was a revelation in a super sub role, setting up the first goal before an ice cold finish with less than five minutes to play to win it. It’ll be interesting to see if Muya or Anna Gilbertson, who also scored off the bench, are moved into the starting lineup on Sunday. Regardless, Notre Dame’s going to need a much better performance in all phases to stand a chance to upset Texas A&M.
AMCs – Shea Groom & Kelley Monogue (A&M) vs DMCs Cari Roccaro and Glory Williams (ND)
It’s one of the weekend’s tastiest matchups, as the main battle on Sunday between these two clubs figures to be in the heart of the pitch. The determined pair of Shea Groom and Kelley Monogue have crushed opponents beneath their heels this season, including in Friday’s overpowering display against Arizona. But they are going to have their hands full in getting past the duo of Roccaro and Williams. Roccaro is one of the nation’s top players who sometimes falls between the cracks due to her unflashy role. But Roccaro is very efficient at shielding the backline and has a very solid partner in Glory Williams. Organization and discipline will be key for Notre Dame’s defensive midfield partnership. If they get dragged apart, the club’s front four may end up doing more defending than they’d like, limiting their offensive potential.
1:00 PM – (2) Penn State vs Virginia Tech
It’s been steady as you were for Penn State through two rounds. Given some of the displays of their seeded brethren, PSU’s calm 4-1 demolition of MAC double winners Buffalo flew under the radar a bit. And so it was once more on Friday for the Nittany Lions. Against a UConn side that posed a very real threat to PSU’s ambitions of advancing, the Big Ten champs put together a confident display in the first half to take an early lead through Frannie Crouse and didn’t really look back. Things evened out in the second half a bit, but keeping a clean sheet and holding Rachel Hill without a shot on goal was a positive sign for the future. Defensive solidity will be a must again on Sunday against a Virginia Tech side that exploded offensively on Friday against Georgetown.
The Hokies surely though that Friday was going to be a walkover against Georgetown akin to their regular season meeting, scoring in just the third minute. But the Hoyas hardly rolled over, even taking the lead at the hour mark before a wild final eleven minutes of regulation saw VT score twice and concede once to send the match into extra time at 3-3. They’d make their eightieth minute equalizer count, winning just thirty seconds into extra time off of an Ashley Meier goal. Meier’s goal was assisted by Murielle Tiernan, who scored and assisted on two goals in a brilliant display. But the defense has to, obviously, do a much better job against Penn State. Georgetown netted their three goals on just five on-target attempts. PSU doesn’t figure to let the Hokies off the hook so easily on Sunday.
CM – Raquel Rodriguez (PSU) vs DMC – Candace Cephers (VT)
Whether or not Rodriguez plays in an advanced position in midfield or in a deeper role remains to be seen, but Candace Cephers will probably be her shadow all day long no matter her position. The very definition of an uncompromising force in midfield, Cephers has added an offensive dimension to her game this season with six goals in her sophomore season. Any offense she can provide will be a bonus here, as the Hokies well likely be hell bent on stopping Penn State’s Costa Rican dynamo in midfield. The Nittany Lions are a much, much worse team when Rodriguez is quiet, so if Cephers is at her best, Virginia Tech will fancy their chances of an upset that much more.
1:00 PM – (2) North Carolina vs (3) South Carolina
Credit to South Carolina for battling against adversity. With Sabrina D’Angelo limited to deep rotation field player duty due to an arm injury, the Gamecocks put their faith in rookie Abbey Crider, and the stand-in for the All-American more than repaid that trust with a solid display in goal before a confident showing in between the pipes for the shootout against Seattle. But Crider and South Carolina figure to be in deep against North Carolina on Sunday, especially with center-back Taylor Leach banned after being sent off late in Friday’s match. Perhaps just as worrying is the club’s stagnant offense, without a goal in three matches. Odds are, they’ll need at least one against the Tar Heels.
UNC bossed their match against Colorado, with the defense keeping Buffs chances to a minimum through regulation and the first few minutes of extra time. The big problem though was with the offense, which showed a startling lack of cutting edge against their Pac-12 opponents. Summer Green continues to misfire, with five off-target shots for the club. The only starting forward with a shot on goal was Amber Muerlyn, who put two of the club’s seven on-target shots up. In the end, North Carolina’s depth won out, with the unheralded Maya Worth putting back a deflected header in extra time. UNC’s defense is keeping them in every game, but better finishing is a must if Carolina wants to be still playing in a few weeks.
CB – Andie Romness (SC) vs CF – Emily Bruder (UNC)
South Carolina’s hopes of an upset diminished considerably late in Friday’s match against Seattle when Taylor Leach was shown her second yellow card and sent off. Considering that the Gamecocks are almost certain to be without Sabrina D’Angelo in goal again, losing the club’s leader of the backline is another huge blow to the SEC side’s defensive setup. There’s no telling who Carolina will stick back on the backline considering they used the same eleven players for virtually the entire season, meaning the absolute the can be counted on is Andie Romness becoming the new leader at center-back. Her veteran presence will be more important than ever in organizing the backline against UNC’s frontrunners, but her biggest challenge may be against the Heels’ bull in a china shop, Emily Bruder. The physical clashes between Bruder and the SC backline will undoubtedly set a tone for this Sweet Sixteen clash, and if she can run riot, the SEC side will be in for a long day.