NCAA Soccer – The First XI for August 31, 2013 – Stanford vs Portland

Stanford vs Portland – 10:00 PM

It’s the showdown between the club who popularized the pass and move ethic at this level and the club that’s come closest to perfecting it in recent years. Portland will be trying to upset the odds again, knowing they haven’t beaten the Card since their run to the national title in 2005. The Pilots have entered the new season with no shortage of expectation after returning almost all of last year’s starters and adding a clutch of highly touted rookies to the bunch. Weekend one probably proved a little closer than the Pilots would have liked, with the club needing a scrappy goal to beat back Marquette before being taken to extra time by a dogged Oregon side in Eugene. Wins are wins though, and Portland heads south to Palo Alto with the very real possibility of coming back to Merlo 3-0-0 with a road upset on Saturday night. The Portland frontline, helmed by senior Micaela Capelle and rookie Danica Evans may have only combined for one goal last weekend but should grow in strength as chemistry between the duo increases. The defense was capable last weekend but could still use a little bit of tightening up with the amount of shots conceded, especially against a potentially dynamic offense that Stanford will be eager to flaunt.

The home side are equally well rested after returning home to The Farm following a weekend in New England. Stanford passed both road tests, though it’s hard to argue they did it with flying colors. The defense, a sticking point coming into the new season after some serious losses, didn’t exactly seem airtight against Boston College, though through nine Emily Oliver saves in goal and some Chioma Ubogagu assisted magic in front of goal, they managed to run out with a smash-and-grab win over the Eagles in the opener. The second match of the season was a bit of a mixed bag, with the club giving up a whopping seventeen shots overall but limiting UConn to just one on goal, with the Card getting Taylor Uhl’s first goal with the club to help propel them to a 1-0 win. The Uhl/Ubogagu combo was front and center in leading the offensive charge last weekend and will likely be eager to test a Portland backline using Amanda Frisbie, a forward last year, as a converted center-back. It’s the defense that’s going to be squarely in the crosshairs on Saturday night though. Capelle and Evans are the best forward duo the club’s faced thus far and might be one of the best they face all season. If Stanford can put the clamps on them, the dream of a national title could be a bit more attainable. At the very least, the Card will want victory here to stay front and center in the race for a high national seed come November, with the added bonus that a win would also damage a potential rival for such a seed.

BYU vs Nebraska – 9:00 PM

The cauldron of noise that is BYU’s South Field in Provo will ignite again on Saturday night as the Cougars host Nebraska in what could be a banner matchup looking back at the end of the season. BYU had a lot to live up to after last season’s heroics that saw the club advance to the Elite Eight and come within a whisper of the College Cup. Despite heavy offseason losses to graduation, BYU doesn’t appear to have skipped much of a beat. They threatened to run Big West contenders Cal State Fullerton off the park in their season debut last weekend, outshooting the Titans by 3:1 ratios both overall and in shots on goal en route to a 3-1 win. Rookie Ashley Hatch led the line effectively before netting the match winner at the beginning of the second half, while the return of Collette Jepson Smith and Niki Fernandes from injury has also boosted the ranks of the weapons the club has in a major way. If the club can also get goalscoring like they did from defensive midfielder Rachel Manning, who had two goals? Forget about it. Especially if it can mask a backline that’s still learning after being pieced together following a lot of graduation losses. Nebraska’s a massive test with their offense, and BYU’s ceiling figures to rise significantly if they can handle the Huskers.

Nebraska hasn’t really been relevant on the national stage in ages, something they’ll be hoping to change this year with a veteran laden squad. The early, early signs are certainly promising after the Huskers confidently destroyed overmatched Southeast Missouri State and Cincinnati teams in Lincoln on opening weekend, netting four goals against each side. While the deadly duo of Mayme Conroy and Jordan Jackson was expected to grab the headlines, it was perhaps rookie Jaycie Johnson who shone most brightly, netting three times (though two were from the penalty spot). Along with the aforementioned Jackson and Conroy, Johnson gives Nebraska tridente of powerful attackers that could again make the offense flow at a program traditional known for its relentless attack. Of course, Nebraska’s also been known for a defense that’s been borderline comical at points in the recent past, so it has to be encouraging at least that the club has given up just one goal and four shots on goal through two games this year. BYU’s a different sort of animal than they’ve faced thus far though, and if the team facing them wasn’t tough enough, the altitude and imposing atmosphere in Provo has been more than enough to make greater teams than Nebraska wilt. But if the Huskers can rise to the occasion, they might show that this might just be the year fortunes change in Lincoln and that the long suffering club could be NCAA Tournament bound again.

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