(Part Two, along with predictions for Friday’s matches coming late Thursday/early Friday)
BYU’s Cloee Colohan and Rachel Manning (DMC) vs Colorado’s Darcy Jerman and Madison Krauser (MF)
The steely heart of BYU’s game this season, the senior duo of Cloee Colohan and Rachel Manning are the proverbial smashing machine in midfield, with the former busting up opponents’ passing games with crunching tackles, while the latter isn’t nicknamed “The Magnet” for nothing, her aerial prowess making her a 50/50 ball winning machine. The pair might be the best central midfield tandem in the nation and are a big part of BYU’s success this season. While Colorado’s bread and butter is the attacking duo of Brie Hooks and Anne Stuller, getting them the ball might be the problem. A good part of the invention this season has come from midfielder Madison Krauser, with the sophomore second to Stuller on the team in assists with five. Krauser and fellow midfielder Darcy Jerman have a whale of a task in front of them in not getting overwhelmed by BYU’s midfield wrecking crew. If they can’t find a way through though, CU might be forced to hoof it long towards Hooks and Stuller. That’ll play right into an athletic and deep BYU’s hands though and could make for a trying time for the Pac-12 side. Besides that individual matchups, CU will need to account for Colohan and Manning on set pieces, with the former deadly on free kicks and the latter an appealing target in the box for driven service.
Ole Miss’ Rafaelle Souza (LF) vs Florida State’s Isabella Schmid (RB)
It feels stupid to label any component of probably the best back four in the college game as a weak link, but if you had to pick one, it’s FSU’s German right-back, though there are extenuating circumstances. Probably a better fit in the middle of the park, Schmid’s filled a hole on the right down the stretch, the Noles needing to get one of their better players on the pitch. But Schmid’s also been fighting injury for much of the year, and her match fitness is going to be put to a major test against Ole Miss’ Brazilian sharpshooter. Souza’s spent the Fall running opposing defenses ragged, and she’s going to have to be watched carefully if FSU is to get to the Sweet Sixteen with minimal fuss. It’s hard to imagine that Souza’s going to not get doubled though, with shutdown artist Kassey Kallman likely to provide support. On the other hand, it’s up to Souza to come right out and prove she needs the extra attention. If she’s doubled all night, the Brazilian may just be able to help open up space for her capable teammates. But if Ole Miss can’t find a way to drag the extremely disciplined FSU backline out of position, it’s hard seeing them in with a chance of a monumental upset.
Portland’s Amanda Frisbie (CB) vs Illinois’ Janelle Flaws (CF)
The Pilots’ Swiss army knife, Amanda Frisbie will try to continue her excellence at the heart of the Portland defense on Friday afternoon as she tries to put the clamps on relentless Illinois center forward Janelle Flaws. Her goal total at twenty-one thus far, Flaws is nonetheless coming off one of her worst games of the season, having been held without a shot on goal for just the second time this year in the first round of the Big Dance against Washington State. Indeed, after a bit of a torrid stretch in the idle of the season with Flaws scoring in six of seven in the league, she’s been shutout in three of the past six. While the return of Vanessa DiBernardo has undoubtedly reduced the burden on Flaws, it’s difficult to see the Illini pulling the upset if their main outlet for goals up top is silenced again. On the other hand, if the Illini can grab a lead and hold it, the pressure tips decisively towards Portland to make tactical and personnel adjustments. That could include throwing Frisbie back onto the frontline, even in a three forward formation, which was briefly experimented with this season. Such a move would give Portland a lot of firepower, but it’d also open them up in defense. As such, the first goal in this one could be critical to how the game develops tactically.
Santa Clara’s Morgan Marlborough, Julie Johnston and Sofia Huerta (F) vs Boston University’s Kai Miller, McKenzie Hollenbaugh, Erin Mullen, and Amanda Rumsey (D)
Call it a classic case of immovable object vs unstoppable force. Boston University has not conceded a goal in their past seven games, including in their first round victory over derby rivals Harvard. In case you were thinking that it’s all been smoke and mirrors against underpowered sides though, BU’s also shown very well against bigger clubs as well. They shut out Dayton, UConn and South Carolina while holding the highly powered attacks of Boston College and Penn State to just a single goal each. The Terriers don’t seem too cowed by the bright lights or big opposition, which is a good thing, because they are facing one of the deadliest trios in the nation on Friday. The Broncos’ Morgan Marlborough and Sofia Huerta ran riot against Cal last weekend, with each netting three shots on goal, and the latter netting the eventual game winning goal against the Golden Bears. SCU’s run over a lot of defenses this season, but when they’ve been kept in check, the leaky defense has put them in consistent peril. Boston University’s not about to be confused with an offensive juggernaut any time soon, but the longer their back four can keep them in it, the more confident they may be in getting a result. At the same time though, SCU hasn’t been shutout since the opening weekend of the season. BU’s still going to need something special to break the trend.
Nebraska’s Romanticism vs Nebraska’s Pragmatism
You could also call it Nebraska versus their base instincts. The Huskers are built to run, built to win games with offense, and made to bury opponents under an avalanche of goals, as their first round NCAA Tournament win can attest to. Jaycie Johnson’s four against Southeastern Louisiana underlined the devastating potential of some of the collected individual talent in Lincoln when on their game. At the same time though, getting sucked into an offensive firefight with Boston College may not prove to be in the Huskers’ best interests on Friday afternoon. Keep in mind, this BC team put six past a solid Hofstra team, four against Duke, and three past Florida State’s usually ironclad defense earlier in the season. The goals haven’t come quite as consistently in other seasons, but when they come, they often come in bunches. As good as Nebraska’s trio of Johnson, Mayme Conroy, and Jordan Jackson are, Boston College’s duo of McKenzie Meehan and Stephanie McCaffrey are just as explosive when on form, combining for twenty-nine goals this season. To be fair, the Eagles aren’t exactly a defensive juggernaut themselves, and a firefight could just as soon end with BC drowning under a torrent of goals. But Nebraska has conceded multiple goals against the likes of Penn State, Michigan, and BYU, showing their defensive vulnerability against offenses from top teams. Nebraska are still favorites for good reason, but if they throw caution to the wind, their College Cup dreams could go up in smoke.
Texas A&M’s Meghan Streight (CB) vs Texas Tech’s Janine Beckie (CF)
The true tactical intrigue might come from the battle in the heart of the pitch if Texas Tech continues to go with the 4-2-2-2 that they’ve run with under Tom Stone’s watch. It’s a formation uncommon at this level and which could potentially give the Aggies fits, with the Red Raiders crowding the center of the field with four central midfielders, making it a 4v3 situation and potentially making life for the likes of Shea Groom and Kelley Monogue very hard. Individually though, most will look towards the Aggie backline to see whether the club’s superlative center-back, Meghan Streight can shut down Texas Tech’s talented sophomore forward, Janine Beckie. Streight’s conversion from defensive midfielder has gone smoothly for the most part, but Beckie’s on form and as good as the very best the A&M center-back has faced this season. Add in the fact that Streight may still be with a less familiar center-back partner in Grace Wright if Rachel Lenz hasn’t recovered from injury, and the pressure on the veteran defender becomes that much more pronounced. Streight also has the potential to boost her future NWSL Draft stock if she can put on a performance on Friday afternoon. 2015 may seem like a while away, but Streight’s certainly on the radar after three great seasons in College Station. Undersized at 5’5″, Streight could prove she’s an exception to the rules about size at the next level if she can shut down the bigger Beckie. More to the point, A&M’s odds of holding serve and advancing to Sunday go up exponentially if they can take out TTU’s biggest offensive threat.
(1) Florida State 2 – 0 Ole Miss
BYU 1 – 0 Colorado