NCAA Soccer – The First XI for September 22, 2013 – Santa Clara vs Stanford

Santa Clara vs Stanford – 10:00 PM

Inevitably, the script has changed significantly on this one since both clubs took to the pitch on Thursday. The nation was stunned by the news that All-American goalkeeper Emily Oliver was retiring after a spate of injuries, including concussions, proved too much to overcome. The Card were never going to lose with the motivation of Oliver announcing her retirement in front of the home fans, and Stanford crushed Saint Mary’s (CA) in grand fashion, with Taylor Uhl netting her seventh and eighth goals of the season in a 5-0 drubbing. The starting gloves now belong to rookie Jane Campbell, the uber-talented and uber-hyped netminder who now has the task of keeping out a Santa Clara attack featuring the likes of Morgan Marlborough, Julie Johnston, and Sofia Huerta among others. Then again, if the offense keeps rolling as it did against the Gaels, her task will be that much easier. After some serious growing pains early in the season in August, Stanford looks to have rounded into form as the temperatures cool. Four straight wins by multiple goals and fifteen scored and one conceded show that the club may be settling into a groove right before league play. On the other hand, the club has also largely feasted off weaker teams, with the exception of Maryland, and they’ll want to show they can do it against a contender on Sunday night. Battling a lot of teams for a potential #1 seed, a positive result against their local rivals could be a crucial one in the race for home advantage in the NCAA Tournament.

Though the pain of the team’s humiliating opening weekend of the season has likely receded a bit, Santa Clara were still stung by Thursday’s draw with Cal. The Broncos had likely chewed up their margin of error for a high national seed and the chance to avoid Stanford as long as possible in the NCAA Tournament with those two early defeats, but the club had done well to make up ground with four straight wins back in California. But the club would hit the woodwork three times against the Golden Bears in their 1-1 draw and were perhaps a little lucky themselves that things didn’t bounce against them, with Cal also hitting the frame of the goal a few times. The aforementioned Marlborough, Huerta, Johnston combo combined for nine shots on goal, and Santa Clara will truly fancy their chances at victory if they can repeat that feat on Sunday. The problem may be that the trio also each played every minute of that extra time draw with Cal, meaning they might be a bit heavy legged later in this one. SCU may be worrying about depth on the whole, as nine of their players in that Cal match played every minute, which could equal trouble against a Stanford side that was able to rotate bodies given their beating of Saint Mary’s (CA) on Thursday. It’ll also be up to the home side to show that they’ll be able to break the mental grip Stanford has had on them for ages. Jerry Smith and co. will not want to be reminded of last year’s fixture where they took the lead and then took a beating. SCU will likely be favored in every match after this one save the trip to Portland. A win here, and the Broncos might be in line for a high national seed if they can take care of business.

Boston College vs Virginia Tech – 1:00 PM

For a wrinkle in time on Thursday it seemed like history was going to repeat itself in Newton. The site of an BC upset over a #1 ranked Florida State team last season, the Eagles came out of the half-time break with a goal from Stephanie McCaffrey, giving them a 1-0 lead after having outshot their ACC opponents in the first half. A repeat was not in order however, as the Eagles’ lead lasted a little over ten minutes before the club was pegged back twice in short order by the rampant Cavaliers. On the one hand, BC looked as good as anyone against UVA this season. On the other, the Eagles now stand at 1-2-0 i the ACC with two crucial games at home to follow. This is a BC team in desperate need of momentum, as a middle stretch of Florida State, Duke, and North Carolina could brutalize this side if they can’t gather some points in the next few weeks. McCaffrey’s form figures to be key for the club, as it’s wavered dramatically in the past few games. She netted her fourth of the season on Thursday and generally looked dangerous but was also coming off a match against Clemson in which she didn’t record a single shot. Unsurprisingly, BC lost that game, and the form of their most dangerous offensive player is going to be crucial the rest of the way. Defeat on Sunday would mean the club would sink to 0-2-0 against likely mid-table rivals, not a comforting proposition considering just eight clubs are going to the ACC Tournament.

They face an opponent coming in on a high despite losing their ACC opener a week ago. Tech actually came fatefully close to equalizing against North Carolina late in that contest but haven’t missed a beat since, pummeling Syracuse before traveling to Maryland and dispatching the Terps with surprising ease. The Hokies were able to put the clamps on the speedy Hayley Brock, while goalkeeper Dayle Colpitts also stole the plaudits after saving an Ashley Spivey penalty to keep the score at 1-0. It would take until the eighty-eighth minute for Virginia Tech to really show their superiority when red hot Jazmine Reeves netted her seventh of the season, but there really was no mistaking who the better club was. Reeves and rookie Murielle Tiernan gave the Maryland defense fits all night and might just be what fires the club to a national seed come November. The Hokies have a lot of good results through the season and just that one loss to North Carolina, meaning they’re in a good position in the RPI but are still looking for that big result that would all but seal their NCAA Tournament space. Getting it against Boston College would be a bit optimistic, but victory here would still be another big boost to their cause. Keeping the Eagles off the board would also be another credit to a defense which has really stepped up its game the last two games after keeping just two clean sheets in their first seven matches.

Iowa vs Michigan – 1:00 PM

All the “W”‘s against overmatched opposition in the world aren’t going to make much of a difference for Iowa if they can’t deliver the goods in Big Ten play this season. The Hawkeyes have had little trouble against a very modest non-conference schedule indeed, but while it’s helped Iowa put together a spiffy W-L-T record on paper, it probably hasn’t done much for their NCAA Tournament hopes. It means that Iowa is going to have to come good in the league if they’re to even get a sniff of an at-large bid this season. Iowa’s defense has shined for much of the season, keeping four straight clean sheets at one point, but they’ve also seemingly sprung a few leaks as of late, shipping three goals in two one-goal wins over the past week. Against Michigan, that could be a recipe for disaster, meaning Iowa will likely be banking on its offense to help it put pressure on the Wolverines. Surprisingly, Iowa’s attack hasn’t been so one-dimensional, with Cloe LaCasse being joined by Ashley Catrell near the top of the club’s scoring charts. On the other hand, LaCasse hasn’t exactly been on fire to begin the season, having netted just twice, with nobody on the club netting more than three goals thus far. After a tough start to league play, with Michigan and Illinois, the schedule eases up a bit before a tough finishing kick, but the Hawkeyes desperately need a result early to avoid real pressure to win in the coming weeks.

Things were going so smoothly for Michigan up until last Sunday. The Wolverines had seemingly avoided the brutal non-conference slips that has haunted the club in prior years, winning their opening six games in confident fashion. Cynics surely noted that the club had done all of that winning at home, though few could have envisioned the side being shocked in their first road trip by Big East side Butler. Michigan may have outshot their smaller opponents by a 2:1 ratio, but they also only led 5-3 in shots on goal and were put in a hole just short of the half-hour mark. Shockingly, Butler seemed to have the answers for senior forward Nkem Ezurike, holding her without a shot on goal, though Madisson Lewis did have four on frame herself. Absent the injured Tori McCombs, it was a shockingly tame performance from the visitors and perhaps some cause for concern going into Big Ten play. Few are doubting Michigan’s potential as league contenders, but the trip to Iowa is a potentially tricky one, with Wisconsin and Minnesota looming. The Wolverines can seldom afford a slow start, knowing that their margin of error for a league title is slim with the club traveling to Penn State later. Defeat to Iowa could also harm their national seed hopes, which haven’t exactly been done many favors already by a middling non-conference slate.

Maryland vs Wake Forest – 1:00 PM

Wither Maryland? It’s a question Terp fans are likely asking themselves after three losses in four, a number that could easily be higher after the club were pushed to extra time against Clemson in the ACC opener. After a cushy start at home, Maryland has promptly gone into the tank as the weather has turned and the games have gotten tougher. The Terps looked to have straightened things out a bit with their battling win against the Tigers in the ACC opener, but they threw up a clunker a week later against Virginia Tech. Maryland was most definitely second best and were fortunate to have a chance to equalize at 1-1, but Ashley Spivey’s penalty was saved, with the Terps slumping to a mostly listless 2-0 defeat, needing Rachelle Beanlands to come up big to keep the scoreline respectable. There have to be some serious red flags for Maryland supporters given the recent form of their defense. The Terps have shipped seven in their last four, not keeping a clean sheet, numbers that certainly have to be concerning given the opposition on Sunday. Maryland’s profile is frightfully hollow at the moment, and the club finds itself in need of results to be sure of its NCAA Tournament spot. There’s plenty of chances over the next six with Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Virginia, North Carolina, and Duke on the agenda. But at the same time, if Maryland can’t slip in an upset or two in that run, they could very easily tumble out of the postseason given their recent form.

Wake Forest have looked very much like College Cup contenders through the first third of the season and will go into the day at the top of the still developing RPI. A dull draw with Florida State was a bit of a comedown to open up league play after such a blazing start in non-conference play. Since, Wake’s looked like ACC title contenders, winning two in a row in dominant fashion in Winston-Salem. That’s an important note, as the club has been dealt a brutal hand by the schedulers, as they now face a somewhat ridiculous six of their next seven on the road, including the next four in a row. For the most part, the next few weeks should see Wake play against foes they should beat home or away if they’re to contend for a league title, but nothing comes easy on the road in the ACC. Still, it’s getting harder and harder to doubt this Wake Forest team as they keep knocking back challenges put in front of them. The stat sheet against Duke told a story of parity, but Wake made the most of their chances, including Katie Stengel netting her fiftieth career goal for the club to wrap things up late. Stengel has been in devastating form thus far in her senior season and looks everything like a first-round pick in the NWSL Draft given her year so far. She and Wake Forest’s stock will rise even higher with strong performances and a win on Sunday afternoon in another fantastic ACC matchup.

UConn vs Georgetown – 1:00 PM

Too old Big East rivals share the pitch one more team in this alluring non-conference matchup in Storrs on Sunday afternoon. UConn’s season of revival continued in earnest with a gutty extra time victory over La Salle on Thursday, with the club winning its sixth of seven matches in the process. The Huskies have the form of a club bound for the NCAA Tournament, and victory on Sunday afternoon against Georgetown would all but seal it for the AAC side. The Huskies’ dominance against La Salle looked to be all for naught, as the club was creeping towards a 0-0 draw when Stephanie Ribeiro popped up to score her first of the season and give the club a heart stopping win after having been denied by ten saves from the Explorers’ GK. Rachel Hill and Julie Hubbard continue to give opposing defenses troubles, and considering the club’s defensive strength thus far, usually one or two goals is all it takes for the Huskies to run out winners. UConn has now kept clean sheets in six of seven matches, and their last two defeats have been 1-0 affairs, showcasing just how airtight the club’s rearguard has been thus far. They’ll get a big test on Sunday though against a Georgetown attack led by the healthy again Daphne Corboz. A win here, and the club will likely be riding a five game winning streak into October thanks to a relatively cushy draw to open up AAC play next week, as the two Texas clubs come to Storrs.

The Hoyas hit their first speedbump of the season on Thursday against UCF, seeing their 100% record fall at the hands of the Knights in a 1-1 draw. Georgetown ended up taking an early lead through a hammer shot from Kailey Blain but were dragged back to level terms from the penalty spot by Tatiana Coleman. For the rest of the match, UCF did a creditable job of slowing down the Hoya attack to ensure Georgetown wouldn’t be winning their eighth in a row. Despite the slight setback, the Hoyas are flying in the RPI and will be odds on for a high national seed if they can maintain top form in the Big East. UConn on the road looks like the club’s biggest test by far though, and the Hoyas will be searching for some additional fuel for the RPI before league play begins back in D.C. next weekend. Corboz may have played in just three games and started in just one, but she already has two goals and five assists underlining her offensive power for the Hoyas. The creative combination of Corboz and Audra Ayotte have eleven assists combined and have provided plenty of ammunition for Kaitlin Brenn and Vanessa Skrumbis, who’ve each netted four goals for the club. It’s one of the most explosive offenses in the land against one of the nation’s top defenses, so something’s got to give.

Nebraska vs Denver – 2:00 PM

Back in the discussion for an at-large bid after three straight wins, including victory in their Big Ten opener over Michigan State on Thursday. The Huskers’ ambitions looked seriously on the ropes after a road trip that resulted in no wins in three games against clubs currently in the uRPI Top 50, though they also did get a draw with Utah State that is their trademark result right now. That’s probably not going to be good enough for an NCAA Tournament spot in the end though, but Nebraska’s been afforded a priceless non-conference opportunity on Sunday. Denver and their lofty RPI come to Lincoln in what could be a make or break result for the Huskers. On a soggy Thursday afternoon, Nebraska was able to just squeak out a result thanks to an early Jaycie Johnson goal. Nebraska didn’t exactly do much with their starting unit, with three of the club’s five shots on goal coming from reserve Stacy Bartels, though their defense did more than enough to compensate in holding MSU to just three shots on goal. Defensive struggles don’t suit Nebraska, but they might not have much of a choice if they want to hold serve at home, as Denver is one of the few teams that can match firepower with them. If Nebraska can keep it together for a fourth straight win though, their odds of a long-awaited NCAA Tournament return will increase dramatically.

The Pioneers enter into this one with their unbeaten record intact but without their 100% record after a shock draw at TCU on Friday. Wins over the likes of Colorado College, UC Irvine, and Colorado have certainly helped Denver’s cause in the race for an at-large bid, but given how week the Summit League is, the Pioneers need every piece of ammunition they can get before their RPI inevitably begins to sink during league play. Fortunately, they’ve still got a couple of good opportunities to build that non-conference resume with road trips to Nebraska and BYU in the next week. Perhaps there was a bit of a letdown after the big win over Colorado, but the offense was off-song and the defense way too lenient, as it gave up a whopping eleven shots on goal to a TCU attack that’s been erratic in recent weeks. Additionally, the attack, which had been so dependable, was limited to just six shots on goal, with no player managing more than one on the day. You wouldn’t bet on an offense featuring Kristen Hamilton and Nicholette DiGiacomo staying silent for too long though, and with Nebraska’s firepower in kind, this one could turn into a real fireworks show on Sunday afternoon.

UC Irvine vs Washington State – 5:00 PM

UC Irvine comes into this one clinging onto their at-large bid hopes via a win at BYU that may or may not be a big feather in their cap come season’s end depending on whether or not the slumping Cougars can get it together in league play. However, it’s probably in UCI’s best interest to add to that non-conference resume with a result against unbeaten Washington State in their final non-conference match on Sunday. Irvine put in one of their most complete performances of the season last time out against Loyola Marymount, winning by three clear goals. Irvine used the simple combination of two Jordan Bruce crosses to Laura McGrail to open and close the scoring as the defense did a pretty good job of pitching the club’s third clean sheet in four matches. Irvine has conceded just once in the past four matches, which is mighty impressive considering all four of those matches came against big conference clubs on the road. Irvine’s league schedule looks amazingly unbalanced, with the tougher matches on paper all backloaded into the latter portion of the schedule. On one hand, that’s not exactly going to make for an easy run in. On the other, UCI could be going into those final few weeks with a big winning streak if they can upset WSU on Sunday.

Washington State is lagging a bit in their RPI right now thanks to a bit of a lackluster non-conference schedule, meaning their final test before Pac-12 play could be telling come the end of the season. A draw with Oklahoma State and win over Cal State Fullerton are adequate, but the Cougars really need more if they’re to feel comfortable about their resume going into league action next week. WSU’s win over Fullerton on Friday was a bit of a slog, and supporters may have been fearing the worst when Micaela Castain saw her penalty in the first half saved by Lindsey Maricic. Castain would keep her head up and proved to be the difference later in the first half though, netting her ninth of the season, a goal that would prove to be the winner. WSU’s offense didn’t exactly light it up, but the defense played to type and shut down the Titan attack for the most part. Wazzu has kept six clean sheets in seven games and will be hoping for their seventh of the season as they close out non-conference play. After facing Oregon in the opener, league play turns nasty with UCLA and USC on the road and Colorado in Pullman. A win here, and the Cougars won’t be under near as much pressure to bring home a win during that killer stretch.

UCF vs Florida Gulf Coast – 6:00 PM

UCF may have saved their at-large bid hopes on Thursday with a draw at Georgetown. The Knights had looked to be in good shape early on with a dominating showing against Washington in their opener, but with the Huskies fluffing their lines early UCF came into this weekend in desperate need of a result after close calls against Tennessee and Florida State and a slew of wins against overmatched opposition. While the Knights weren’t able to deliver their fifth straight win, they still managed to extend their unbeaten string to five in a row. UCF’s defense was able to slow down Georgetown just enough to sneak out with a win with Lianne Maldonado making eight big saves. Jennifer Martin was shining star offensively with three shots on goal, which was a good thing as the frontline of Tatiana Coleman and Lena Petermann didn’t have a shot on goal in the run of play. UCF’s offense can’t survive too many days like that, but I suspect there’ll be just a bit more room to roam against Florida Gulf Coast back at home on Sunday evening. The Knights might have an eye towards the beginning of league play next week and the visit of South Florida and UConn, but they can’t overlook their state rivals on Sunday. FGCU will be desperate for a result after Friday’s near miss, and if UCF comes out flat, they could be an upset victim.

FGCU are the longest of longshots for an at-large bid after that close shave against Memphis on Friday. The Eagles came into that one on the back of a six game unbeaten run and four game winning streak and looked to be in with a shout when Tabitha Tindell continued her red hot form and equalized near the hour mark. Just when the match looked to be heading to extra time though, the A-Sun side were hit with a crippling sucker punch when Valerie Sanderson netted from Nugene Nugent’s cross to send the visitors away with a win. FGCU can at least take a little heart from the knowledge that they were hardly overrun by their more glamorous opponents, only being down on the SOG count by a 7-5 margin. At the same time though, the Eagles still have to show that they can finish the deal against a big name opponent instead of just being competitive. FGCU would probably need a mathematical miracle to garner an at-large bid at this point, but their odds effectively decline to zero with a loss here. They’ll still be favorites to win the A-Sun Tournament, but a win here would give them a glimmer of hope should something go horribly wrong down the stretch.

North Texas vs Oklahoma State – 8:00 PM

For all intents and purposes, Sunday is Last Chance Saloon for North Texas’ scant at-large bid hopes. The club was hit pretty hard by the cancellation of its Friday match against Baylor, a match which would have been the perfect opportunity to boost its RPI and claim a big result in the process. Now, unless some of their fellow C-USA sides experience a serious uptick in their results and ranking, it’s all going to bank on the Mean Green’s Sunday night showdown with Oklahoma State. UNT’s shown they can compete with anyone in losses to Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, but those are all going to go for naught if it can’t get a result here. Since that weekend against ACC competition, North Texas has won four straight, including two wins over Big XII opposition. The bad news? That Big XII opposition was TCU and Oklahoma, neither of whom are in the uRPI Top 100 right now. North Texas has been able to score against anyone thus far, with rookie Rachel Holden looking like a potential star for the club, having nine goals already, including a hat trick against Oklahoma last week. Defensively, things are a bit shakier. The club lost starting goalkeeper Jackie Kerestine to a serious injury early in the season, and Haley Riley has stood in, though the sophomore is playing behind a backline that has creaked against ACC opposition this year. OSU’s not that type of foe, but they still have plenty of weapons to punish lackadaisical defenses.

Things have gone a bit pear shaped for the visitors after a fast start. Consider their three wins thus far are against Tennessee-Martin, Oklahoma, and Gonzaga, and you understand why there are more than a few questions about the Cowgirls right now. True, they did net draws against Florida State and Washington State, but they were on the back foot in both, with the defense looking especially frail. OSU hasn’t kept a clean sheet since the season opener against UTM, and their form against top opposition the past few weeks has been especially frightful, conceding eight goals in three games, including four to Penn State and two to Washington State last weekend. A program known for its defense, OSU has been forced into the atypical stance of scoring one more than they concede, which hasn’t been a hopeless venture with the likes of Courtney Dike on the roster. Dike, a fabulous freshman, has seven goals already, and OSU’s NCAA Tournament hopes probably rest on her young shoulders at this point. The Cowgirls have enough quality draws so that you’d think they’d be able to sneak in if on the bubble, but they still have to at least stay on that bubble. A win on Sunday night would be a big step towards that while also potentially knocking off another rival on the bubble in the process.

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