There’s little to separate Sunday’s two starting netminders. Katelyn Rowland, truthfully, wasn’t really put under that much heat until the shootout for UCLA. The Bruins keeper could do little with the goal she conceded, after Abby Dahlkemper left her woefully short with a backpass. She was forced into just one save over a hundred ten minutes and wasn’t called into much action before the shootout, where she performed well to make a couple saves to win the day. Florida State’s Kelsey Wys made one stunning save to keep her side right in the thick of things and generally shook off the poor form that had plagued her in two previous College Cups. You get the sense that she was still a little uneasy on high balls into the danger zone, but that world class save, a robust kicking game, and a general confidence in goal overshadowed those worries. Both keepers will be looking for their best on Sunday to propel their side to glory.
Fields vs Dydasco
Given the performance of the former for Florida State on Friday night, this looks like a crucial matchup. Fields was one of the Seminoles’ outstanding performers against Virginia Tech, with her workrate and scampers up and down the line bringing much endeavor to FSU’s cause. She not only got forward to spread the field and trouble Virginia Tech’s defense but also tracked back to win the ball in her own half, something that is going to be vital for her to repeat on Sunday. If Ally Courtnall is moved into midfield, Dydasco might end up on the right, with rookie Lauren Kaskie moved into the lineup at left-back. I suspect Kaskie would probably be not given as much license to roam forward as Dydasco. The more Dydasco can venture forward and pin Fields back without threatening the defensive solidity of the Bruins, the better. Ultimately though, with Courtnall motoring forward on the opposite flank, she might be needed in defense to keep the Bruins from being pried open.
Pickett vs Courtnall
Obviously, this is another key showdown given how well Ally Courtnall played on Friday. I’m guessing Courtnall isn’t going to start in the midfield, but it’s definitely an option for the Bruins if they want to come out aggressively and go right for it. If not, Courtnall will likely get to lock horns with Carson Pickett, an experienced full-back herself, on the right-wing. Calling Pickett’s form of defense physical is an understatement, and she was involved in numerous wrestling matches against the Hokies on Friday and could have easily been booked. It’s a point that probably hasn’t escaped Amanda Cromwell and the UCLA coaching staff, who’ll probably try to target Pickett early on and get her on a yellow card, which would present serious problems for the Seminoles given Courtnall’s recent form. Pickett doesn’t add much offensively in big games like this, and her role’s probably going to be more defensive than anything else. I’m guessing FSU would love to be able to drop Pickett back to try and give help against Taylor Smith, but leaving Courtnall space to work with is digging your own grave. With Courtnall able to play further up the pitch, and Florida State seemingly willing to use other players in reserve here, this zone might be one with shifting matchups throughout.
Thorvaldsdottir vs Dahlkemper and Oyster
Given how ice cold Thorvaldsdottir has been in the postseason you’d think that the UCLA center-back duo would have a decided advantage here. Then again, Dahlkemper didn’t look herself against Virginia, playing a criminally poor backpass that directly lead to the Cavs’ goal. Given how Dahlkemper looked when pressured, you can bet that Thorvaldsdottir and anyone else spearheading FSU’s attack on Sunday will be given an edict to press from the front to try and provoke a repeat of Friday’s calamity. UCLA’s center-backs aren’t just going to have to keep Thorvaldsdottir in check though, as they’ll have to keep some of FSU’s runners from the attacking midfielder band of three in check while rotating and covering for the full-backs as they motor forward. If FSU’s center forward can manage to scrape anything on the score sheet, her side’s in good shape, though the Noles would probably settle for some hard running and effectively getting the midfielders involved in the attack.
Brynjarsdottir vs Richmond and Killion
FSU’s Icelandic scoring machine can’t shirk her defensive duties, as despite their deep-lying roles, Jenna Richmond and Sarah Killion can both slide through dangerous passes for the front four, as evidenced by the latter setting up the Bruins’ goal Friday with an inch-perfect ball for Courtnall. As far as defense is concerned for UCLA’s duo, Killion probably gets the task of handling Brynjarsdottir when Richmond is occupied elsewhere and will be looking to further her reputation by shutting down the junior star. Seeing how stretched the game was in the middle of the park for FSU at times on Friday, I’m guessing all three Bruin central midfielders will be trying to break into space as often as possible. As far as Brynjarsdottir going forward is concerned, she’s the heart of the offense by some distance. If she can’t find a way to get the ball and create space, FSU’s going to be in big trouble. She might press far up the field if stamina levels allow it, as you have to wonder if FSU’s front four won’t press hard to try and prevent easy balls from the backs to the feet of the midfield trio.
Mewis vs Hahn and Driesse
There’s less of an offensive threat from either Hahn or Driesse for Florida State, as both have been effective but mostly functional players at the base of the midfield this year. Both are also still perilously young, both breaking into the starting lineup just this season, so it may be an edict of keeping it simple on Sunday. They’ve got to stay organized and keep Richmond and Killion’s bursts forward in check while also making sure Mewis can’t exert too much of an influence on the game from her #10 role. If Florida State needs a goal, I’d expect Isabella Schmid to be moved into the midfield, as the German is another solid option going forward. If Florida State is to win, they need to outperform expectations on paper from this zone.
Lavrusky vs Schmid
Of the four ‘winger vs full-back’ matchups, this is the least enthralling. Lavrusky had a chance to head on frame when she ghosted in at the near post against Virginia but missed the target and was pretty quiet otherwise. Isabella Schmid has been strong at right-back since taking over that starting role and seems a good bet to get the better of this zone. If FSU can’t win this matchup, trouble could loom, as they might lose the three other “winger vs full-back” matchups.
Smith vs Campbell
First touch be damned, Taylor Smith’s explosive pace was one of UCLA’s best weapons against Virginia on Friday, and she’ll be looking to dominate the headlines again on Sunday against Irish left-back Megan Campbell. It’s entirely possible that Smith could start at center-back after a relatively anonymous showing from Darian Jenkins, and her pace would be a big test for FSU’s center-back duo, though I think the matchup down the flank with Megan Campbell is far more desirable on paper. Not that Campbell’s a mug by any means, as she’s already established herself as one of the nation’s best left-backs. Smith’s pace though means Campbell’s duties are probably going to be more defensive in nature than usual (outside of her throw-ins), as forays forward could make them vulnerable down the flank. If Ally Courtnall shows up on the right flank, Campbell will have to be aware of the usual full-back’s cuts inside. Given how Jenkins struggled, Smith is going to probably need to again be a major player if UCLA is to score goals.
Jenkins vs Kallman and Grubka
As one-sided as the other center-forward vs center-backs matchup looks, this one looks just as tilted to the center-backs. Kassey Kallman didn’t have her best night on Friday but still is quality, while partner Kristin Grubka is another pillar in defense for Florida State. Jenkins has been ice cold as of late, didn’t turn heads in the semi-final, and might be on a short leash if she does indeed retain her starting spot on Sunday. Rosie White’s more of a bull in a china shop despite being just 5’5″ but looked threatening on Friday in limited minutes. Smith may get a look here too, though Cromwell might save that little switch for when Florida State’s legs may be tiring later in the encounter. If the FSU center-backs are on form, it probably won’t matter who is leading the line in the end. If they show glimmers of shakiness as they did on Friday though, UCLA could have a golden chance or two.
If neither side went deep in a taxing game on Friday, you have to figure they ain’t going too deep on Sunday unless each side is really gassed. The Bruins have White to toss in up front, and the New Zealand product at least is a physical presence despite having a poor strike rate at this level. Lauren Kaskie will probably slot in at left-back, with Dydasco going right and Courtnall moving forward if needed. Chelsea Stewart’s the utility player who could be needed to fill a hole if necessary. Generally speaking, UCLA probably has more tactical flexibility with their starters and key reserves.
Florida State’s not built to be exceptionally deep this time of year, as evidenced by just two subs that saw more than six minutes of action on Friday despite a punishing match. Marta Bakowska-Mathews is really the only offensive option of any repute off the bench, and the English attacker is a danger from set pieces if not necessarily from the run of play. Like Stewart with UCLA, Kirsten Crowley can fill a multitude of roles to give her side a little bit more flexibility. It’ll be interesting to see who else might get dragged off the bench for each side if this one goes to extra time.
There weren’t any first-time jitters for Amanda Cromwell on this stage on Friday, as she pressed all the right buttons to score the win over Virginia. Her tactical aggression in moving Courtnall higher up the pitch when it was clear she was having a major influence on proceedings was commendable, though the stakes obviously get much higher on Sunday. Mark Krikorian was able to spur his side on to victory despite it being far from his side’s best effort of the season. Then again, Florida State has made it a habit of just finding a way to win. Krikorian’s been great at making adjustments for ages at FSU, and he’ll probably need some of that on Sunday to clean up some of the errors that saw the Noles’ defense much more pliable than usual.
Florida State’s set piece prowess has to be mentioned. Grubka’s an imposing target for any dead ball situation, and she showed that giving her an inch in any such situation is asking for trouble when she scored the opener on Friday. Campbell’s throw-ins are also lethal both careening into the box and in the sense that they can tip the field on its axis when FSU is under pressure. FSU’s a much better side from set pieces on paper, and one of their best routes to victory may be getting a goal from a free-kick, corner, or throw-in.
Nobody’s hoping for penalties, but if it does come down to that, you have to wonder how UCLA will respond. Katelyn Rowland’s rather unorthodox method of penalty saving (dashing to one side before diving mid-range) looks weird but it was effective against Virginia. Having seen it now though, you wonder if Florida State’s just not going to fire hard and low every time towards the corners, which you suspect Rowland will have trouble getting to with her style. FSU also has seen UCLA take penalties now, while the Noles have not gone to a shootout yet. It doesn’t make spot kicks any easier to stop though, even if you’ve got a good stopper in the form of Wys.
The above are just two more of many variables in a compelling matchup on Sunday that’s going to end a long wait for one storied program.