Florida State vs Virginia Tech
The third time will be the charm for one of these sides, albeit in starkly different circumstances, come Friday evening. Virginia Tech will be aiming for their first win over Florida State in three meetings this season. They’ve also never beaten the Seminoles. Ever. It means Chugger Adair’s side can make history in more ways than one should they emerge victorious. They’ll need to overcome the odds against a Florida State side aiming to break a duck of their own, having been at this stage the past two years before falling to Stanford in a blowout and Penn State in a heartbreaker. These clubs met on this same pitch in the ACC Tournament final, a physical and uncompromising affair won by Dagny Brynjarsdottir’s late first half goal, the only score of a tight and tense affair in early November.
There aren’t any mugs in between the pipes in this year’s College Cup, with all four starting netminders possessing no small share of talent. Highest rated by many, Florida State’s Kelsey Wys will be hoping for a redemption tale in 2013 after two shaky performances in the club’s previous trips here in 2011 and 2012. But by all accounts, Wys is enjoying her best season as a collegian yet and has eliminated many of the hangups that have raised some skepticism about her potential as a top-flight keeper. The only thing left now is to do it on the biggest stage on college soccer, and a strong performance here would propel her into the conversation as a potential middle round pick in the upcoming NWSL Draft.
Virginia Tech counters with Canadian Dayle Colpitts, perhaps the least known of the four starting goalkeepers in Cary but one who has proven her quality this season for the Hokies. Colpitts has always been one of the nation’s better goalkeepers but has really put it together behind a formidable line to become a rock in between the pipes for the ACC surprise package. Like Wys, Colpitts has also proven herself to be a fantastic penalty stopper, as was all so evident in the shootout win over Santa Clara, where the Canadian was extremely impressive in turning back the Broncos. Her allocation odds are probably nil for John Herdman’s Canada, limiting her professional hopes on these shores, but a strong showing this weekend could net her a comfortable deal in Europe.
Advantage – Push
It’s probably a case of great backline against the best backline in the country, as Virginia Tech’s strong but unheralded back four will try to outshine a nexus of stars in Florida State’s backline. The Hokies boast the previously unheralded Jordan Coburn at center-back, a rising star and the the heart of the backline despite being just a sophomore. VT’s first choice back four of Coburn, center-back partner Jodie Zelenky and full-backs Danielle King and Taylor Antolino have been unmovable on the backline lineup thus far, with Antolino having started all but one game, while the others have started every match for the Hokies. None are quite the rampaging type of defender that will be on display with some other clubs this weekend, but keep an eye out for Antolino, who is tied for second on the club with five assists.
FSU’s backline is for my money the nation’s best. Unsurprisingly, the club boasts the nation’s top defender in senior Kassey Kallman, a mobile 5’8″ in central defense that can dominate with strength or speed and has shut down many opposing center forwards this season for the Noles. Kallman is a contender to be a Hermann Trophy finalist and would probably be a lock to be one of the final three if her club is victorious in Cary. Center-back partner Kristin Grubka isn’t quite as refined but is the big mauler of the group and will be key on defending set pieces. Full-back Megan Campbell may already be the nation’s top left-back despite this being just her first year of collegiate ball. The Irish international has they type of skills coaches dream about and is great in defense and attack up the flank. Her long throws are lethal weapons and have been a big part of her twelve assists. German Isabella Schmid struggled with injuries early this year but has been another excellent player at full-back and could be deployed in midfield if the club is chasing the game later. A versatile option, Schmid also serves in wicked crosses from the right and has made this a complete unit down the stretch.
Advantage – Florida State
Simplistically, one side has Dagny Brynjarsdottir, and one doesn’t. That’s probably underrating Virginia Tech’s midfield to a dangerous degree, but for my money, Brynjarsdottir’s one of the nation’s best players, with her omission from the semi-finalist list of the Hermann Trophy a travesty. She usually doesn’t lead the line, but in the #10 role in midfield, she makes the attack tick, getting herself involved in almost all of FSU’s scoring moves. Flanking her in all likelihood will be the mercurial Jamia Fields, capable of brilliance down the wing but without much of a cutting edge in front of goal, and Carson Pickett, workrate defined on the opposite wing. The double pivot of Michaela Hahn and Nickolette Driesse have exceeded expectations playing behind the trio listed above in the club’s 4-2-3-1 formation. They’ll be key in stopping counters from the athletic VT attack.
We may be talking about Ashley Meier with the same reverent tones as we do Brynjarsdottir in a few years, with the sophomore rounding into excellent form late after early struggles with some injuries. Meier’s the main offensive threat in midfield, but Katie Yensen may be riding the hottest hand coming into this one after leading the Hokies with five goals in league play while also netting the game winner against Duke last weekend in the Elite Eight. Kelsey Loupee is the other likely attacking option in midfield, as she leads the club with nine assists. All the firepower is nice, but the play of Candace Cephers at defensive midfielder will make or break the unit. Cephers has the unenviable task of trying to shut down Brynjarsdottir on Friday evening. She’s got plenty of oomph behind her tackles, but the rookie faces an uphill battle to say the least.
Advantage – Florida State
It’s here where Virginia Tech holds the clear advantage. Florida State operates with just Berglind Thorvaldsottir at the top of their 4-2-3-1 formation, but the Icelandic redshirt freshman has been notoriously inconsistent this season for the Noles. Thorvaldsdottir has just seven goals on the season and hasn’t scored since October 20 against Maryland and hasn’t been much help on the assist front, with just one since September 1. Any scoring they get from her will be a bonus, and her more important role may be to hold the ball up to help get others involved into the play. Realistically, Brynjarsdottir is still the Noles’ top offensive option, with reserve sparkplug Marta Bakowska-Mathews also able to make a big impact when she gets her minutes.
The Hokies play the “fast and big” combo up top as well as anyone in the nation, with jet-heeled Jazmine Reeves and towering threat Murielle Tiernan having combined for twenty-two goals and ten assists this season. Reeves has found her scoring touch this season, netting eleven after just fourteen combined goals in three previous seasons. She isn’t the most consistent forward though, netting just once in the last five games and has just one shot on goal in two previous meetings with FSU this season. Tiernan may actually be the more in-form option having scored against West Virginia and Santa Clara. The big forward has also been corralled by Florida State this year though, putting up a bagel in the ACC Tournament final while also not putting a shot on frame in the regular season meeting. Shannon Mayrose and Ashley Manning are both talented options off the bench and could be useful if this turns into a war of attrition, but Reeves and Tiernan are the clear focal points.
Advantage – Virginia Tech
Krikorian is the only one of the four coaches at the College Cup with previous experience in the competition at this stage, so much will be expected of him. He’s already proven to be a master of adjusting tactically when given a second look at teams this season, which may be ominous for Virginia Tech, especially when you consider how the Hokies seemed to have few answers for their opponents earlier this season. Krikorian will also be looking to shake the tag of not being able to win the big one after having come here numerous times before but being unable to seal the deal.
Chugger Adair’s reputation isn’t going to take a hit, win or lose, on Friday evening. He’s already worked wonders in getting the Hokies here and is probably worthy of a big briefcase of money from the Virginia Tech administration after the season. If he’s able to outfox Krikorian and get his side to the final, so much the better. But it’s also his first appearance at this stage, and you wonder if that fact won’t be made evident in some manner by night’s end.
Advantage: Florida State
The odds are not in Virginia Tech’s favor. The Hokies have already played FSU twice and looked second best each time, with the Noles doing a great job in nullifying what’s made the upstarts so effective for most of the year. In particular, the job Kassey Kallman and the defense has done on Reeves has seriously blunted Tech’s offense, as the speedster usually needs to make an impact to make her side tick over. Despite that, the Hokies still had a few spurned chances in Cary a few weeks ago, meaning there’s still more than a glimmer of hope, especially when you consider FSU’s checkered record as of late at this stage. But on paper, this is still a bad matchup for the Hokies, and I think Florida state makes it back to the final after a real battle.
Advantage: Florida State
Prediction – Florida State 1 – 0 Virginia Tech