(2) UCLA vs (1) Stanford – 9:00 PM
It’s a true clash of the titans yet again, as the top two teams in the RPI meet on Sunday night in Westwood in a battle that is all but assured of deciding the Pac-12 champions for 2012. A rivalry that swung UCLA’s way all too often in previous seasons has now tipped back in Stanford’s favor as the Cardinal have risen to the top of the national hierarchy. The Bruins have reloaded with some of the nation’s top young talent though, and this may be their best chance in a while of upsetting the order and taking down the national champions. UCLA was certainly more than convincing on Friday, as they faced a stern challenge from an upset minded Cal side. The Bruins would have none of it though, netting their eighth straight victory and staying unbeaten on the season. It was a more than convincing win as well, as the Bruins shut down Cal’s normally powerful offense and put three goals past the Golden Bear defense en route to a 3-0 win. B.J. Snow’s side has now scored in sixteen of their seventeen matches and seem to be hitting all cylinders on offense at just the right time, having netted multiple goals in each of the past three. The Bruins have also shown their might defensively, having not conceded multiple goals all this season, while shutting out their past two opponents. Extending those streaks will be a challenge against a Stanford team full of confidence as they come into Sunday’s showdown. The Card have had a bullseye on their backs all season and have responded with the typical calm determination that defines a champion. Stanford have hit a groove in league play, having won their first nine games and know a win in Westwood on Sunday night will clinch another league title for them. Victory would also erase any small slivers of doubt as to this club being a #1 seed come the NCAA Tournament. Despite their success in the league, Stanford was also pushed to the limit on Friday night in the Los Angeles Coliseum against a hyped up USC team. The Trojans gave as good as they got, and Stanford would need an extra time winner from Alina Garciamendez to rescue them and pick up another three points. It typified these Card though. This is a group that simply knows how to win, and their confidence and swagger in winning time has seen them rise to the occasion time and time again in 2012. They’ll have to rise higher than ever this season on Sunday though, as they, on likely tired legs, will have to travel to enemy territory to try and down their great rivals one more time. It’s quite possibly the biggest match of the regular season this year and a potential preview of the national title game. The eyes of the college soccer world will descend on Drake Stadium on Sunday night in what could be an instant classic between these two titans of the game.
(33) Maryland vs (41) Miami (FL) – 10:00 AM (ACC Tournament Quarterfinal)
There will be multiple storms brewing in College Park on Sunday, as these two ACC schools try to avoid Hurricane Sandy in a match moved forward to avoid some of the projected brutal weather that’s set to hit the area. There’s also the small matter of the last time these two met a few weeks ago, which resulted in three red cards, a mini-pitch invasion by some numbskulls, and a win for Miami (FL) that revitalized what had been a faltering season. The Terps are still going to be feeling the effects of that infamous night, as Hayley Brock serves the second match of a two-match ban in the fallout from that game. Ironically, Miami (FL)’s two suspended players, Maddie Simms and Ali Brennan, are going to be back in the lineup after serving their bans. The home side are all but guaranteed of a spot in the Big Dance right now, but their position isn’t exactly one of strength, as they’re miles away from a national seed and will have to hope for a run through this competition to get back in that mix. It seems ludicrous that a team that finished second in the ACC would be in such a position, but the club’s non-conference slips have come back to haunt it in a big way. The big question is how the club is going to generate offense without Brock and in what’s likely to be less than ideal weather conditions. The Hurricanes are actually no stranger to these conditions, as they shocked Florida State in similar straits last Thursday. Needing a win to advance to the postseason, Miami (FL) shocked FSU with a late winner in squall-like conditions, also likely wrapping up an NCAA Tournament berth in the process. The Canes have been on fire late in the season, going 3-1-2 in their last six, including a four match unbeaten run to sneak into the ACC Tournament. Another upset or two in this competition could boost their RPI even further, netting the club a potential home game in the opening round of the Big Dance. The intangibles around this one are big though. How bad will the weather be in College Park, even with the game moved up to the morning? And just how ill-tempered will this affair be only two weeks after the wild scenes in their regular season meeting. The officiating crew assigned to this will obviously have been instructed to keep the two clubs on a short leash given their prior history together. Then again, these two sides may be more concerned with battling Mother Nature than going to war against each other once more.
(4) Florida State vs (22) Boston College – 1:00 PM (ACC Tournament Quarterfinal)
Vengeance could be Florida State’s on Sunday, as the Seminoles try to avenge one of their two defeats on the season. The Noles rolled into Newton on a fourteen game winning streak a few weeks ago and rolled out as the victims of a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Boston College. It was a startling end to FSU’s perfect season, one which had seen them go nine straight games without conceding, only to give up three goals to the home Eagles. It’s also raised a whole new host of questions for this Florida State side which has now lost two of three, though their last loss was in horrific conditions in Coral Gables to a desperate Miami (FL) team. Even though Florida State did drop two of their final three, they still ran away with the league title and will be odds on to carry on as #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. All that isn’t set in stone though, and the Noles would like to defend their ACC Tournament title just to make sure. At the very least, the defense will probably be thirsting for a little redemption after being lit up by BC in their regular season meeting. For the visitors, the win against Florida State didn’t exactly do them many favors in the momentum department. Despite that upset, the club still slumped to eighth in the league, a real shock after the club’s quick start to the regular season. The defense has proved to be a painful liability for Alison Foley’s Eagles, as the club gave up over two goals a game in the league in 2012. And that was after finishing with the league’s third best offense in terms of goals scored, meaning BC has been deadly at both ends of the pitch in the ACC season, though for entirely different reasons. The offense took a big blow on Thursday though when Kristen Mewis was forced off through injury against Virginia. The orchestrator of everything offensive for BC, if Mewis is out for any considerable length of time, the Eagles don’t look long for the postseason. Her status will be one of the big storylines going into this one, as BC looks to shock FSU for a second time this year, while the home side seek to even the score with their league rivals on Sunday.
(7) North Carolina vs (10) Virginia – 1:00 PM (ACC Tournament Quarterfinal)
Some teams just seem born to face each other, and these two certainly fit the bill, as the Heels and Cavs have played out some classics over the years. This year was no exception, as Kealia Ohai for UNC and Caroline Miller of Virginia both netted braces in a pulsating 2-2 draw early in the ACC season. While neither club went on to challenge for honors in the league this year, both remain contenders for a high national seed in the NCAA Tournament. Neither side is guaranteed of that honor though, and the team that gets bounced from the ACC Tournament on Sunday could be in for a nervous wait until Selection Monday to discover how hard their road to San Diego will be. The Heels will be desperate to avoid an early exit given how strong they finished the league season. After a rocky first few weeks that saw UNC win just one of their first four in the league, the Heels soared late, winning five of their last six, including victories over Boston College and Duke. A late loss to Wake Forest forced them to scramble a bit to earn hosting rights for an opening round game, though they did manage to edge out the Cavs on goal differential in the end. Virginia has been lying in the weeds a bit in the ACC, haunted by some shaky form early in the league and a dearth of big wins in non-conference action. It’s been mostly smiles late though, as UVA’s beaten Duke, Miami (FL), Virginia Tech, and Boston College to surge up the RPI. The past two games have been particularly impressive, as Virginia’s put five past both the Hokies and Eagles in stunning displays. Those five goals against BC came in the second half, as UVA benefitted from five different scorers to blow past the Eagles. Front and center for the Cavs will be Miller though, who scored one of those goals against BC right after netting a hat trick against Virginia Tech. When on form, Miller is one of the nation’s top strikers and will be looking to finish her collegiate career with a bang this postseason. Her presence, along with no shortage of attacking talent on either side, should ensure plenty of fireworks in this one, which could be the pick of the day’s ACC Tournament matches.
(53) South Florida vs (40) Louisville – 1:00 PM (Big East Tournament Quarterfinal)
Win or go home. It’s a simple equation for the two teams involved in the most intriguing Big East Tournament match on Sunday. While Louisville possesses a superior RPI than their opponents in this one, there’s little doubt that they’re in much the same straits as USF in this one. The Cardinals raw RPI number would be good enough to get them into the field if that were the sole measure, but when comparing Louisville against some of their bubble rivals, their big results just don’t stack up. Victory here wouldn’t necessarily lock them into the field, but it’d improve their standing in all likelihood. The Cardinals had to rally a little just to get to this point, as they were going through a nightmarish stretch of one win in five but rallied back to win their final two league games to finish in third in their division and avoid an opening round game in the process. Louisville won’t be treading upon unfamiliar ground either, as they traveled down to Tampa to play South Florida in late September. In that meeting Louisville blitzed USF early but went into the half down by a goal and were seemingly headed towards defeat until a penalty in the final ten minutes helped rescue a point for them. That match was a bit of an ill-tempered affair, with thirty-five combined fouls and four bookings between the two clubs. South Florida certainly are no strangers to the dark arts, having picked up more than their fair share of bookings this season. Then again, the Bulls also aren’t a stranger to late rallies to make the NCAA Tournament, having accomplished such a run two years ago to make the Big East Tournament final while advancing to the second round of the Big Dance. Before a punishing 4-0 defeat to Marquette to close out the regular season, USF had won four games in a row and been unbeaten in seven to charge up the league table and the RPI. It could be a matter of which USF team shows up on Sunday. The club that went down so tamely to Marquette last weekend could get pounded by Louisville. But if the Bulls side that was so impressive through the second half of the league season shows up, they could spring a surprise and keep their season alive. Keeping the season alive will be on both clubs’ mind, meaning of all of Sunday’s contests, this one could be the match with the highest stakes, making it definitely worth watching on a busy afternoon of college soccer.
(15) Wake Forest vs (13) Duke – 1:00 PM (ACC Tournament Quarterfinal)
These two sides may have been tipped for a run at a national title at the beginning of the season, but one will have a long break before their opening game of the NCAA Tournament after Sunday’s ACC Tournament opener. Wake Forest and Duke engaged in an epic trilogy last season that ended with Duke dealing a decisive blow in the College Cup semi-finals in Kennesaw. It’s an entirely different season though, and both will relish another shot at the other after their regular season meeting ended in a 1-1 draw. The regular season meeting between these two was entertaining fare, as Wake Forest was forced to make more saves in the opening half but still ended up with a lead at the break thanks to a Katie Stengel penalty. Duke would produce a great fightback to equalize through Kim DeCesare before repelling a late Wake charge in extra time to walk away with a point. The pressure may be greater on the home side despite their home advantage in this one. The Demon Deacons are on the bubble for a national seed and did not help their cause any by laying a massive egg against Virginia Tech in the regular season finale, losing 3-0 on home turf. Head coach Tony da Luz will be hoping that that performance was an outlier, because if that form carries over, Wake won’t be long for the postseason. Opponents Duke have endured a somewhat disappointing regular season, especially in the league, as sixth was definitely not what was expected after the Blue Devils returned almost everyone from last season’s ACC champions and national runners-up. Duke seemed to have turned things around after a slow league start with a 3-0-1 record in four ACC matches down the stretch, but they looked out of their depth against North Carolina in the league finale, causing them to sink to sixth in the final table and be forced to head out on the road for the opening round of the ACC Tournament. While Duke is higher in the RPI than Wake going into this one, they could slip out of a national seed with a defeat. That’d be an absolute nightmare for the Blue Devils, who’d likely be forced into a much more difficult road to San Diego if they aren’t seeded. There’s always excitement when these two ACC powerhouses meet on the same pitch, but the stakes involved in this particular meeting make it one of the day’s must see encounters.
(29) Washington vs (43) Oregon State – 4:00 PM
Escaping mid-table in the Pac-12 will be one of the goals of these two teams, as each looks to climb a little higher in the ever volatile league. The big difference is that Washington is fairly safe in their standing for the NCAA Tournament, but Oregon State is still scrambling to make it in the field in these final few weeks of the regular season. The Beavers have seemingly been towing the bubble line all season long and face some serious stress in these final few days before Selection Monday. The win over Portland is, again, looking like OSU’s magical ticket into the NCAA Tournament, but the Beavers probably would like a little more cushion in case the bubble contracts before the end of the regular season. Topping UW on the road would certainly count as a solid win and would likely all but punch their ticket to the Big Dance. Going on the road and picking up the three points doesn’t figure to be easy though. OSU’s offense has perhaps fared better than expected this season without injured senior Chelsea Buckland, having now scored in every Pac-12 match and all but one overall. The Beavers’ defense has been an Achilles’ heel in league play though, as things have been generally gloomy after an opening clean sheet against Utah. One clean sheet in the following eight games explains much about OSU’s current plight, and though the club has tightened things up a bit lately, they’ve still conceded in three straight, including two in a loss to Washington State on Friday. If OSU’s going to reverse their defensive woes, they’re going to do it against a foe that’s been somewhat inconsistent on offense in the league. The Huskies weren’t shutout by a single opponent in non-conference play but were shutout by USC in the league opener and have been kept without a goal in three other games with two left to play. A three game losing streak against the California schools had proven costly for UW’s ambitions of a national seed, but the Huskies stopped the bleeding with a 2-0 win against Oregon, highlighted by midfield star Lindsay Elston’s ninth of the season. The Huskies probably have blown their chance at a national seed, but if they’ve got any hopes they need to sweep their final two against OSU and Washington State next week. Given their league form, it doesn’t look too likely, but UW’s proven to be full of surprises in the past and may just have one or two left up their sleeve before the regular season ends next week.