NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) North Carolina vs (2) UCLA

(1) North Carolina vs (2) UCLA – Saturday, 5:00 PM

1. Will Crystal Dunn Play?

It’s the $64,000 Question that means much more than that for a North Carolina side desperately hoping their talisman is able to go on Saturday afternoon.  Dunn had missed the ACC Tournament semi-final and the opening round of the NCAA Tournament with a hamstring injury before coming back with a vengeance in a cameo role against Indiana last Friday.  She started against Texas A&M a few days later but didn’t make it thirty minutes before being felled again, this time with what’s being called a high ankle sprain.  That’s a pretty worrying diagnosis for the USWNT’er, as such injuries aren’t normally healed in less than a week’s time, putting her participation in Saturday’s contest in severe doubt.  Even if Dunn is able to go, it would appear that her minutes are going to be severely limited or that she may even be used only if the Heels are chasing the game late.  In any event, Dunn’s absence would shift offensive responsibilities further forward, as well as perhaps goading Anson Dorrance into going with the 4-2-3-1 right from the off.  But more on those considerations later…

2. Can Summer Green’s Form Continue?

Green’s enjoyed a meteoric rise into the WoSo consciousness after her deadly performance for the U.S. U17s in CONCACAF U17 World Cup Qualifying last year.  Her unbelievable goal scoring pace raised the bar on expectations to an absurd degree, and Green’s rookie year was an uneven one, with some moments of brilliance couple with stretches of anonymity as she acclimated to the college game.  In many ways, it was more of the same for much of this year, as Green continued to be overshadowed by expectations and her more seasoned teammates in Chapel Hill.  Despite a run of three straight games with a point to close out the regular season, Green was held without a point in the club’s two ACC Tournament games, perhaps lowering expectations going int the Big Dance.  It’s all turned around for the sophomore since though, as she assisted on two goals against Liberty, one against Indiana, and scored both goals against Texas A&M.  Green’s likely going to be counted on to spearhead the offense next year when Dunn and Kealia Ohai depart, but the second-year player’s form over the past few weeks has been encouraging to say the least.  Green keeping it up and giving UNC another offensive weapon in this one would be a big boost to the club’s hopes of making it to Cary next weekend.

3. Will UCLA’s Young Forwards Answer The Bell?

Given the proven talent in midfield, on the backline, and in goal, it’s only natural that a still very young frontline sometimes gets lost in the headlines for the Bruins.  Amanda Cromwell seems to have settled on the duo of Taylor Smith and Darian Jenkins down the stretch after some experimentation earlier, and the pair have served the Bruins well most of the time, though some of their youth and inexperience is still apparent at times.  Smith has seemingly been the better of the two in the NCAA Tournament thus far, with eight shots on goal and goals against San Diego State and Stanford.  Jenkins has just two shots on goal in the NCAA Tournament thus far, and you might be wondering if she’s hitting the rookie wall late for the Bruins.  Fatigue could be killer for Cromwell’s side considering they’re facing a side that stonewalled them for almost all of their initial meeting in September.  On that night, Jenkins put up a bagel on the stat sheet, while Smith was held to a single shot on goal.  Obviously, North Carolina has to deal with the loss of Caitlin Ball and the potential absence of Crystal Dunn’s workrate in midfield, but the Carolina defense has still been solid in response thus far in the Big Dance.  The Bruins have plenty of options behind the frontline for goals if it comes to that, but getting a big night from either Smith or Jenkins (or both) would increase their odds for victory considerably.

4. How Will North Carolina Approach Things Tactically?

Dunn’s potential absence might have a knock-on effect on how Anson Dorrance sets his team out tactically on Saturday afternoon.  The Tar Heels have usually begun in their customary 3-4-3 before switching to the 4-2-3-1 as the subs hit the pitch.  It’s worked a treat for much of the season, with the flexibility providing just enough defensive solidity to go along with the brute force offensively in the 3-4-3 to cause opponents no end of headaches.  Most of that’s been with Dunn in the lineup though, as her workrate and defensive ability has helped protect the midfielders and defenders behind her from quick breaks from the opposition as UNC pushes towards goal.  If Dunn can’t go or is limited in her minutes and effectiveness, the Tar Heels may have to go with a more conservative approach right off the bat.  It probably isn’t what UNC fans would like to hear given their love/hate relationship with the 4-2-3-1, but it might just have to be the order of the day until things get settled.  Regardless, if UNC’s chasing the game late, it’ll be 3-4-3 full stop, while by the same token, the club is almost assured of sticking in the 4-2-3-1 if they’re defending a lead, perhaps as soon as half-time.

5. Adjustments, Adjustments…

Saturday might be a rematch between these two teams, but it’s safe to say the paradigm has changed significantly for both coming into the Elite Eight.  The Tar Heels will definitely be without Caitlin Ball in defense and Alexa Newfield in attack, while Crystal Dunn is also potentially out or limited due to her high ankle sprain.  While Carolina has sufficient depth to at least plug the gaps, being without that trio would probably push the club’s depth to close to its breaking point.  UCLA also comes in having shaken things up a bit, with Rosie White moving to the bench in favor of midfielder Kodi Lavrusky.  Amanda Cromwell’s also shaken up her full-backs, moving Caprice Dydasco back to left-back and Ally Courtnall, who was short of full match fitness in the clubs’ first meeting, back to right-back.  Dunn’s potential absence or limitation hangs over this one more than any other change from September to now though, and you wonder if North Carolina is going to be able to approach anything close to their earlier dominance of the Bruins with Dunn out or limited.  There are worries about the UCLA attack though.  It wasn’t necessarily the most convincing showing last weekend against Stanford, though they got the job done.  The Bruins have fallen a bit flat going forward sometimes this year though, creating much but finishing little in draws against Utah and Washington earlier in the season.  There’s no guarantee there’ll be more of the same here, but UCLA’s really going to be depending on their veteran laden midfield to help the club keep their nerve in the most pressure packed match of most of these players’ lives.  Inevitably, North Carolina is a program that rises to the occasion.  The defense has acquitted itself well since the odd ACC Tournament loss to Florida State, while the frontline featuring Ohai and Green has been humming in the past few games.  I don’t think it’ll be anywhere near as one-sided as their earlier meeting, but I think Carolina will triumph again and punch their ticket to Cary.

Prediction – North Carolina 2 – 1 UCLA

24 thoughts on “NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) North Carolina vs (2) UCLA

  1. KC

    Great write up and I cant wait to watch this game. I will however point out one MAJOR miss in your eval. Katelyn Rowland is, IMO, far and away the best Goalkeeper in College Soccer. Having what I assume is a record setting year with a .27 Goals against and a save percentage above 900 is ridiculous. 7 Goals against in 23 games. I was at the Duke Invitational, and yes they were manhandled by UNC, but that was also at the end of a two week roadtrip. Kinda sucks the life out of ya when your staying in hotels for 10 straight nights. Final….UCLA 1-UNC 0

    1. Chris Henderson Post author

      Rowland’s great, but I think “far and away” is a bit much with players like Aubrey Bledsoe and Sabrina D’Angelo also in the conversation. Think it can be a little misleading to just rely on GAA and Save Percentage as far as goalkeeper quality is concerned, as a lot of its the product of a great backline as well. Not going to argue that Rowland’s a big performer for UCLA and is probably going to need a big save or two for the Bruins to advance.

  2. Soccer fan

    This one is easy to pick. If Dunn plays significant minutes (45 or more) UNC will win. If not UCLA will win by a close margin (1-0 or 2-1). Cromwell is a great coach and has done more with less when she was at UCF. All she has to do is get her players to control the ball and maintain possession while Carolina tries to make the game into a track meet. The calmer an opponent can stay, the easier it is to win against UNC. Remember this saying “play quickly but do not rush”.

  3. Kara

    Sorry for the ignorance, but what does $64,000 represent? The amount NCAA champion teams (schools) get for winning the Nat’l Championship? Thanks for the write-up!

    1. KC

      Kara…this is where some of us show our age. There was a game show in the sixties that was kinda like “who wants to be a millionare” you answered questions and accumulated money…the 64,000 question was the grand prize

  4. KC

    No disrespect to Bledsoe, DAngelo or even Kelsey Wys. All fantastic Keepers…and maybe I went an inch or two deep with the “far and away” (my nickname in college was Captain Superlative), but lets look at the individual lines
    Bledsoe 21G 19GA .87 g/a 76sv .800 sv% 8 s/o
    Wys 26G 13GA .48 g/a 63sv .829 sv% 15 s/o
    DeAngelo 23 G 14GA .59 g/a 57 sv .803 sv% 12s/o
    Rowland 23 G 6 GA .27 g/a 58 sv .906 sv% 16 s/o
    I get it…stats don’t tell the story of the back 4 in front and UCLA has a fantastic back 4. But its also a very risk reward back four that consistently switches to a 3-4-3 on the fly and presses both Dydasco and Courtnall hard up the wings. They can do this because they know they have the best Keeper in College Soccer (along with two stellar CB to handle any and all counters coming there way.)
    Off my box….thanks for the Banter and all you do. Your blog and tweets have been extraordinary this year and are much appreciated!

  5. Steve

    UCLA’s biggest disadvantages, aside from playing at UNC, is having to play on UNC’s relatively small field. Makes it hard to keep the ball. The other disadvantage is that UCLA just hasn’t played the kind of competitive matches that the ACC offers. Yes, they played UNC and ND earlier this year, but they’ve not been tested as many times or in the same fashion.

    Anyway, given the ACC’s performance this year, I’m assuming that the Pac 12 schools will start to experience some more significant recruiting losses (to ACC schools). What top recruit wants to play in a 2nd tier — and clear-cut 2nd tier — college conference?

    1. giedris

      If you look carefully, You might see that the ACC is quite vulnerable simply because they all play the same way. If I were a GOOD soccer player, I would definately avoid a school like UNC Because of the primitive way they play soccer. Just think, Because winning is so important, the ACC games decend into a kind of kick and run slugfest With aimless crosses and unending balls into empty spaces. That is not good soccer. This becomes a game of self-preservation.Also, if you play on a small field, you must change tactics. No big deal.

  6. Forgedias

    KC one thing stats don’t show is how physically gifted the player is. How good is the player going side to side, are they good in penalty shoot outs? Can they play the ball at their feet and come out of the box and distribute to their back line? How strong is their leg, how long is their punts down the field?

    For me the key thing for a keeper is their side to side movement. Can they make stretches going to side to side to parry balls wide, even if they are going to the upper 90? Most keepers in women’s soccer can’t. Mobility in the box is very important and for me right now, its Bledsoe and D’Angelo that are the best keepers in women’s soccer. Their both athletically gifted and can go to the next level.

    Rowland has a great back line that protects her and helps her keep clean sheets. I’d rate the UCLA and FSU back lines the best in college right now and because of this Rowland picked up 13 shut outs. D’Angelo isn’t far behind with 12 herself.

    1. giedris

      Maybe keep some statistics on long punts down field vs. possesion and you will see how useless that is. Unless you know what to look for as a penalty is taken, shootouts are all about saving the poorly taken shots. The fewer times your goalie punts downfield, the better chance you have of winning the game. Did you know that less than 50% of headers taken from 6 yds. are on goal in the Bundesliga? Less than 5% from the penalty area. Do you really want your goalie to come out on crosses? Goalie misplays on crosses cause more goals than direct headers. ALL american goalies are below average ball distributers. Womens college goalies have so many shutouts because All college offenses are terrible (See The UNC-UCLA game) Take a step back and think it thru.

    2. KC

      I totally agree with you on all of your skill set positioning. Rowland has demonstrated all of these the whole season….she has made (and I am speculaqting) every bit as many spectacular lateral saves as any keeper in the country. She is extremely solid low and has the ability to extend and explode high. She has a great leg (+20 on punts is common) and she is stellar with her distributioion short and wide….plain and simple…her stats and her record are unmatched. Final 4

  7. giedris

    WOW, The UNC-UCLA game was AWFUL. I have not seen such garbage, schoolyard soccer in a long time. I dont know about the UCLA coach but the UNC coach is a fraud. It is very difficult to gety so many good players to play so poorly. No support, no ball distrubution, just turn and kick, turn and kick, and run, run ,run. Not one give and go, Everything just diagonal log balls into the box and crashing the goalmouth. No wonder no goals were scored in regulation, It was so primitive in conception, it was scary. How sad. How disappointing

    1. Kara

      With the disclaimer that I watched about 70 minutes of the game, this was a difficult game to watch. Was so excited that the game was streamed and then fell asleep. Both teams have outstanding players but don’t play that way. I’m not going to act as though I understand why this was not an entertaining game. At times I thought it might come down to the small field, but other than that, have no idea. Please enlighten me.

      1. giedris

        You should follow your instincts about these things and in this case you are very correct.
        A lot of posts here are by fans who are by definition not critical. Generally, the ACC game is based on speed and athleticism. There is very little that is attempted beyond that. The game becomes one dimensional , repetative and dull. Ultimately, Good soccer
        is a game of playing to the feet, support in terms of making oneself available to recieve the ball and quickly bypassing areas of the field where holding on to the ball is a liability
        (Like dribbling in midfield) Just a small technical thing to watch for is how many women dribble with the inside of the foot while the best men beat people mostly with the outside of the foot. Women in college almost always turn into their defender when they recieve the ball, rather than just be patient and lay it off. See how many long diagonal balls are kicked in a game. that will be a sure sign of poor play. UNC was supposed to play a 4-2-3-1 which they did not. If you see a lone stricker up front, see if she is getting balls played to her DIRECTLY so she can hold it up and wait for support to arrive. You almost never play long thru balls to lone central strickers like UNC did so often. To be the best , first copy the best that is available in the world regardless of gender. If you copy UNC, you will never win the womens title. If you play a different game, you will rise up very quickly because everyone else plays the same way as the ACC.

        1. VaFan

          I am in agreement with the general emphasis on technicality in the above post (giedris), but the characterization of “the ACC” style is just plain wrong. Very wrong.
          If anyone thinks UNC plays the same style as UVa, that person is watching the game on the radio. If you think FSU plays the same style as VaTech, if you think Duke equals Wake Forest, etc., etc. Good grief.
          I have seen in person dozens of games involving ACC teams in the past 3 years, and there is no doubt that ACC teams tend to be far more technical and better-organized than teams in just about any other conference.
          Did you see the recent Wake Forest-Penn State match? If you think the ACC is “based on speed and athleticism,” you need to see the Big Ten. Or the Big East. Or the SEC. Etc.
          I am inclined to believe that UNC is still playing a 1990’s or 1980’s style, but we may not see that much longer; I mean, how much longer can Anson go? But to claim there is such as thing as “the ACC game” is ludicrous and brings into question all the other claims in your post.

          1. giedris

            I think you are correct. The picture was painted with too broad a brushstroke. It will be fun to see if there will be any difference in quality in the semis. I hope so.
            Lets see if they stop playing thru balls from 20 yards out and start playing some give and gos on top of the box.

    2. Steve

      Enough hyperbole. The “fraud” UNC coach has successfully done his style in college soccer for 3 decades. It involves pressing all over the field, using many substitutes to keep up the pressure on opposition, tiring out the opposition, and never letting the opposition connect passes and feel comfortable. In a tournament where some of the key matches are played 48 hours apart (Friday to Sunday), is especially effective. It is not about pretty soccer. I really hope you didn’t watch that match looking for pretty soccer. It is quintessential American-style women’s soccer. There are other programs that play much differently than UNC, namely, FSU and UVA.

      1. Mark

        That Dorrance’s approach has been successful for a long time doesn’t make it less objectionable. At a minimum, the way he does it only works because of absurd substitution rules that don’t exist at the professional or international levels.

        Besides, the UNC style works when hardly any teams have enough technical ability to allow them to cope with high pressure–but you take that away and Carolina doesn’t have anything _else_. What is truly damning is that Dorrance doesn’t know how to recruit players who can play high-pressing, aggressive soccer _and_ are decent on/off the ball. I mean, even if we’re not talking Borussia Dortmund here, you would think Dorrance could get players with enough technical and tactical ability to complete five passes in a row!

        1. giedris

          The sad part is that the players surely have the ability to play some possesion ,but circumstances and coaching wont let them. The scary thing is Dorrance has been held up as a model for coaching success. And his players have drunk the juice. You would think some of these kids would transfer out!

      2. VaFan

        I could be imagining this, but I think we are seeing a (gradual) watershed moment in U.S. women’s college soccer.
        Steve (above) is absolutely correct that UNC time-honored style is well-suited for playing lots of games in a short span of time — i.e., the College Cup and the lead-in schedule. It is the ultimate “American style.” On the other hand, the possession-style game that UVa and FSU play tends to result in teams which get better as the year progresses, as players get more technical and develop comfort in the system and make x-hundred passes per game.
        The watershed I refer to is that (1) the U.S. women’s game is becoming more sophisticated, influenced by the international experience of coaches and players, and (2) U.S. fans are becoming more discerning, wanting more than the familiar pattern of having your fastest player run down a long kick.
        I tend to think that Dorrance’s style, which was the greatest show on earth in college soccer for decades, is not conducive to the development of sophisticated soccer skills in the 21st century. To take a current example, what kind of season would Summer Green or Kealia Ohai have had at UVa? The mind boggles. How much better-prepared for pro/international careers would Courtney Jones or Casey Nogueira have been? For all of UNC’s recruiting prowess, how many sophisticated forwards and center-midfielders have they produced in recent years? (Tobin Heath? How much better was she when she graduated than when she was a sophomore?)
        I could be wrong, but it’s worth considering.

  8. Jim

    I’ve watched this kid (Rowland) for years. I don’t know these other two as well and all the best to them. Rowland is a big-gamer and will have quite a future if she chooses to. What a foolish post above…

  9. Forgedias

    Giedris the one weakness to the women’s game is the goal keeping. If you look at the men’s side, almost every single keeper has to be athletic. They have to be able to make side to side diving saves. They have to be able to make reflex saves because of how fast the men’s game is. How hard the men fire volleys at the keepers. So yes I agree with you that women keepers tend to be lower in quality.

    But there are a few out there like Hope Solo that have the attributes I listed and Sabrina D’Angelo especially has all those abilities. D’Angelo is fantastic in penalty kick shoot outs. She simply doesn’t guess and pick a side to stop a shot. She anticipates and tries to read the kicker. Because she is so athletic, she can go side to side and make spectacular diving saves. And as for the long punts. They only work if you actually use them in your attack build up. In South Carolina, D’Angelo is given a lot of freedom to walk the ball out of the box and move the ball around with her feet. She is has good technical skills, and frequently tries to drag forwards towards her so she can deke them and then pass to a waiting back to move the ball forward. D’Angelo has some of the longest punts in college soccer and the way South Carolina uses it, D’Angelo has picked up assists with them. They have a player waiting 60 yards down the pitch to flick head the ball forward into the box, creating scoring chances. D’Angelo is very accurate with her long punts.

    Athleticism does exist in the women’s game, you just need to look for it.

    1. giedris

      The very athletic NCAA Goalkeepers are really the best women keeepers in the world. I think the field players need to catch up to them in terms of skills. There are not many but the good ones are terrific. I would love to see fewer long punt flick on type plays if possible and more goalies throwing the ball to teamates to maintain possesion. The long punt game is actually easy to defend and statistically is less effective than one would think. A long punt to the feet of a lone forward is much more effective. Since about 50% of ALL goals are due to turnover by the defense in their zone (usually from pressure) it is a big liability to hold the ball as a goalie or defender. That is why defenders should not blindly boot it, But should be supported by their teamates for outlet passes . For example, Barcelona plays 4 vs. 2 all over the field as a way of relieving pressure and maintaining control. The first womens team that does that will win the NCAA

  10. KC

    I would agree that this game was “relatively boring” I think we will see so much more in the semis. UVA has so many powerful tools and they will definitely play a more possession based game. They will move the ball in the offensive third between Brian, Doniak and the rest, but I still believe you will see the star that Katlyn Rowland is. She has EVERY tool mentioned above…fast, aggressive, strong, powerful laterally and a great idea of when to dish the ball wide vs a long punt. The back four holds strong and the Bruins prevail 1-0


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