RPI rankings now added by each team.
(6) North Carolina vs (5) Florida State – 7:00 PM
One of the grander rivalries in all of college soccer will again be at the forefront on Thursday night when North Carolina hosts Florida State in Chapel Hill. These two clubs have played their fair share of classics over the years and will do battle again, with each hoping to keep pace in the cutthroat race for the ACC title. The situation is a little more pressure packed for the home side, who have begun their campaign in the ACC with a 1-1-1 record. The heat was on last week too though, as UNC had come away with just a single point from the opening weekend of league play, with the Heels responding in the end with a convincing 3-1 win over Virginia Tech that breathed new life into their title ambitions. There are still worries over the UNC defense though, with the club having failed to keep a clean sheet in three league games thus far. With Megan Brigman out again through a fractured leg, it’ll be up to junior Crystal Dunn to marshall the backline once more as they try to shut down a volatile Florida State offense. That will, of course, be easier said than done against the nation’s last side with a 100% record. The Noles took last week off from league play, logging a rather pointless win against Jackson State, but had perhaps earned themselves a bit of a breather after two 1-0 wins against Duke and Wake Forest to open up the league season. Those clean sheet wins are just a part of a trend for a side who has won five games by a 1-0 count this season and who has given up just three goals all year, with two of those coming in the opener. That suffocating defense has gone some way in bailing out an offense which has, at times, labored a bit. Still, this is a club that boasts one of the nation’s best strikers in Tiffany McCarty, who is tied for the team’s scoring lead with four goals. She shares that honor with Kristin Grubka, the bruiser proving to be a more than competent target on set pieces. The real key though could be getting Icelandic midfielder Dagny Brynjarsdottir back to full speed after her return from UEFA EURO qualifiers. The budding star could be the piece that puts the club over the top and should be vital in the ACC title race. Vital is also an apt description for this Thursday clash between two title hopefuls. North Carolina knows they can’t afford too many more slip-ups if they want to lift the league title this year. Florida State will be looking to keep their 100% record intact while edging closer to a #1 seed. Given the propensity of these two in playing classics when matched against each other in recent years, Chapel Hill could again be the place to be for college soccer fans on Thursday night.
(29) Maryland vs (17) Virginia – 7:00 PM
It’s #1 vs #2 in the ACC on Thursday night as Maryland battles Virginia for the right to top the league table going into the weekend. The Terps have set the pace early in the league, surprising a good many pundit who believed the club to be a thoroughly inconsistent one after a non-conference season that featured a loss to Fordham and draw with Villanova. But the young Maryland club has come of age in the league, storming out to a 3-0-1 start to rise to the peak of the table going into this week’s set of matches. After a surprising upset over North Carolina to open up league play, Maryland kept the momentum going last week, netting a draw at Duke, though the club will be disappointed to have given up a late equalizer just minutes from a win. They’d shake that setback off though, beating Wake Forest in Winston-Salem for the first time in over fifteen years. The duo of Hayley Brock and Becky Kaplan, who have seemed to grow in confidence as the season has worn on, has been electric in league play and will look to continue their furious scoring pace against the Cavs on Thursday. It won’t be easy though, as Virginia most certainly had Maryland’s number in two wins last season and will fancy their chances against the Terps, even in College Park. UVA might be cursing the schedule makers a bit, with their ACC slate heavily weighted towards the back end, meaning there’ll be little respite for the club over the next few weeks. Perfunctory wins over NC State and Clemson kept the Cavs in the league title race for now, but they surely know that the lack of big wins on their resume is glaring at the moment. While the ship has likely sailed on a #1 seed for UVA, getting a national seed is still paramount for the club, and they’ll need some big wins along the way to solidify that position. Maryland on Thursday represents a great opportunity to deliver a shot in the arm to the RPI for UVA, and Steve Swanson’s side will be eager to make the most of the opportunity. While the Terps have a big time scoring duo, Virginia has some firepower of their own, with Makenzy Doniak and Caroline Miller both coming into this one with seven goals. More than that though, Virginia will likely be looking to take advantage of the mental edge of knowing they’ve owned Maryland in their last two meetings. The Terps have so far defied expectations in the league though, and they’ll be looking to do so again on Thursday in yet another match with ACC title implications.
(30) Ohio State vs (3) Penn State – 8:00 PM
While a victory on Thursday for Penn State is unlikely to be decisive in the Big Ten title race, it’s hard to see the Nittany Lions ceding their crown should they prevail in their showdown with Ohio State. PSU’s league schedule has been decidedly frontloaded with most of their anticipated title rivals, meaning it could be all downhill for the league favorites should they prevail on Thursday. After gutting out a hard fought 2-1 win against Wisconsin in the league opener, PSU then ran right over Illinois in a devastating 4-0 victory last Sunday. It was a real statement of intent from the league’s flagship club, who also has eyes on a #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. For that to happen, Penn State will have to keep on rolling through the Big Ten league season and beyond, though the Nittany Lions have certainly looked capable to say the least this season. Opponents Ohio State aren’t likely to just roll over though, as the Buckeyes know that their slim title hopes will rest on their ability to pull off the upset Thursday night. While the Buckeyes rescued their season with a six match winning streak after a two-loss opening weekend, they also dropped their second league match at Illinois, heaping on the pressure with the knowledge that Penn State probably aren’t going to be dropping too many points this league season. OSU recovered well from that initial league setback though, dropping Northwestern with a pair of second half goals from Tiffany Cameron. The Canadian’s been in red hot form this season and needs just one more goal to hit double digits for the 2012 campaign. Head coach Lori Walker will be hoping she, and her Buckeye teammates, can provide just the spark to pull off an upset in Columbus on Thursday night and deliver some intrigue into the Big Ten title race.
(1) Stanford vs (38) Oregon State – 9:00 PM
The Stanford juggernaut continued their perfect run in Pac-12 play last Sunday by downing Arizona State in Palo Alto. Though many of Stanford’s streaks have fallen this season, the Card’s impressive Pac-12 run continued in fine fashion, with the club taking down a pesky Sun Devils side with three second half goals. Perhaps most importantly though, Stanford were boosted by the return of Emily Oliver to the goalkeeping spot in the second half of that contest. Oliver had missed all of the season up to that point through injury, causing some to wonder if Stanford would opt for continuity and consider redshirting the goalkeeping star. Her return was eagerly anticipate though, and while she was forced into just one save, her experience and skill could be enough to put this side over the top in their quest to return to the College Cup. Stanford’s fifty-nine match home unbeaten run and thirty-two match Pac-12 winning streak will be put to the test on Thursday though, when Oregon State comes calling. Opponents Oregon State have given Stanford a real go of it over the past few years, and the Beavers should again provide a stern challenge for the defending national champions. While OSU is already in pretty good shape for an NCAA Tournament berth thanks to an earlier win at Portland, they know that more will likely be needed for a potential national seed. The Beavers have been in great form since a loss at home to UC Irvine, winning five consecutive matches while keeping three straight clean sheets. OSU made a winning start to league play last week with a 2-0 win over Utah, with Jenna Richardson netting both goals for the Beavers. Odds are, the club will need more of the same on Thursday if they want to upset the order in Palo Alto.
(16) Portland vs (63) Cal State Northridge – 10:00 PM
A six match unbeaten streak broken emphatically by Denver last weekend, Portland will look to get back on the winning track against another mid-major hopeful, Cal State Northridge. In truth, the Pilots looked ripe for an upset going into their showdown with the Pioneers last week, with injuries taking their toll on the club, including forcing star defender Kendall Johnson out of the lineup. The absence clearly hurt, as Portland felt the wrath of Kristen Hamilton, who netted a hat trick for Denver to lead her club to a much needed victory. It remains to be seen whether the Pilots get any or all of their sidelined personnel back for this one, but Portland will need all the help they can get against another ambitious opponent. While UP is doing its best to solidify a position as a potential national seed before league play starts for them in a couple weeks, their opponents on Thursday will be looking for a coveted big win to boost their own NCAA Tournament odds. For a 3-3-3 team, CSUN has a pretty impressive resume, with wins over Arizona State and Michigan looking like they might mean a good deal come the end of the season. Add in a draw with Tennessee, and Northridge looks to be in a fine position come Big West play. The club is still looking for the win that could put them over the top though, and two straight 1-0 losses, one to Santa Clara, have been frustrating for the Matadors. Thursday’s visitors don’t have a scoring threat anywhere near as prolific as Denver’s Hamilton though, meaning they’ll probably have to do it with defense. The Matadors are more than accomplished in that department though, having conceded just six times all season. Leading the way is goalkeeper Cynthia Jacobo, one of the nation’s best, who’ll be looking to add a few more stops to her highlight reel en route to a potential upset that could solidify CSUN’s case for an at-large bid.