It might be all offense, all the time on Friday, as Virginia and Texas A&M threaten to break the scoreboard in Boca Raton with all the scoring potential on hand. Texas A&M finally broke their College Cup duck with a battling win over Penn State that saw Allie Bailey net a brace. Virginia upset the odds to beat UCLA in Westwood and ensure there would be no repeat national champion. The Cavs locked down UCLA’s wide attack and made the Bruins’ midfielders look shockingly average. They’ll be favored to win on Friday, but the Aggies aren’t about to go down without a hell of a fight.
Star Watch In The Middle
NWSL scouts will be focusing their eyes on the middle of the park in this one, as no fewer than three of the players in that zone could be top ten picks in the upcoming 2015 NWSL Draft. Add in Kelley Monogue, who might be a second half pick in the draft, and it’s going to be an offensive showdown to relish. Of course, the most eyes are going to be on likely first overall Morgan Brian, who is just two matches away from a coronation with a national title. Brian and Danielle Colaprico threw cold water on the notion that they’d be passed around in midfield against UCLA’s central triangle, dominating the matchup. The Cavs’ wide midfielders, Kaili Torres and Brittany Ratcliffe did an expectational job of putting the brakes on the Bruins’ wide game, making UCLA look as average as they’ve ever looked under the reign of Amanda Cromwell.
They face a challenge that’s different on Friday, though one that’s no less difficult. UCLA’s midfield had a little bit of everything, but Texas A&M will make no apologies for an attack, attack, attack mentality through the talents of Shea Groom and Monogue. The duo have ripped up opposing defenses this season, meaning Danielle Colaprico is going to have a whale of a defensive task on her shoulders when UVA’s out of possession. In that respect, Torres and Ratcliffe may be tasked with pinching into the middle of the park to help slow Groom and Monogue down considering A&M’s threat at full-back isn’t near UCLA’s.
It’s a two-way street defensively, though, as A&M, of course, has to figure out a way to stop Brian and Colaprico from rampaging forward. If Groom and Monogue both get sucked up the field at the same time, Brian and Colaprico could give Janae Cousineau severe problems. Cousineau’s not a bad player by any means, but she’s not in either Brian or Colaprico’s league and will surely need help in defense from Monogue and Groom to keep A&M form being overrun in the middle of the park. How A&M deals with the attack of Virginia on the wing also remains to be seen. Kaili Torres and Brittany Ratcliffe figure to have more room to roam offensively, meaning the Texas A&M full-backs will have to watch the wingers closely to prevent wide service to Virginia’s forwards.
Aggie Full-Backs on the Prowl
While Texas A&M’s full-back duo isn’t close to the offensive threat that UCLA provided last week, they’ll still have to be accounted for, considering the Aggie wide forwards are likely to pin the Virginia full-backs back on Friday. The more appetizing matchup is probably on Virginia’s left flank, where Kaili Torres will have to deal with Karlie Mueller. Mueller’s the more dangerous threat going forward, but Torres is probably the better defender of the two projected starters on the wing for Virginia. Mueller and Bianca Brinson potentially causing overloads on the flank has to be one of UVA’s worst nightmares, meaning Torres’ defense out wide is going to be just as important as her offense.
Edwards figures to have a more defensive mindset, if only because Brittany Ratcliffe’s a more direct threat at goal on the right wing. If Ratcliffe reprises her role as Makenzy Doniak’s strike partner, all bets are off, though UVA doesn’t seem likely to rock the boat given the club’s form.
Texas A&M may have been able to do just enough defensively to hold Penn State at bay in the Elite Eight, but PSU didn’t have Makenzy Doniak at their command. You could easily make an argument that Doniak’s the best striker in DI at the moment, and the junior is making a strong argument to be the top player taken in the 2016 NWSL Draft. Doniak’s strike rate is one goal in less than five shots, a great mark of efficiency considering she’s nearing one hundred shots taken. The junior forward is going to command double teams from the Aggie backline all night long in all likelihood, potentially opening up space for her strike partner, be it Morgan Reuther or Brittany Ratcliffe. With Virginia’s midfield more than willing to flood up the pitch, organization is going to be key for the Aggies’ rearguard in dealing with all the threats. But Doniak’s the top direct scoring threat in this match and probably at the College Cup. If A&M gives her an inch of space, she has the athleticism and cutting edge in front of goal to make them pay dearly.
Stopping the Aggie Frontline
While most of the attention is going to fall on Texas A&M’s twin attacking midfielders, the trio up top is plenty good enough to give the Virginia backline problems if they aren’t at the top of their form. Perhaps the most interesting matchup is going to come in the middle, where Emily Sonnett, in the headlines after her goal against UCLA, will try to corral the towering Annie Kunz, along with center-back partner Kristen McNabb. UCLA didn’t pack a center forward as big and imposing as Kunz, so it’s going to be interesting to see how UVA’s backline deals with the different threat up top, especially considering Sonnett showed just how much she likes to burst forward in the win over the Bruins.
Right-winger Bianca Brinson is probably the most spoken about forward for the Aggies, with the fleet-footed attacker having a breakout season for the SEC double winners. With Monogue and Groom driving forward to unsettle the Virginia backline, it seems inevitable that at least a little space will open up for Brinson to operate in on Friday. Taking what chances come her way could be crucial for an upset. On the opposite flank is Allie Bailey, who scored both goals against Penn State last Saturday to make herself an instant folk heroine for the Aggies. If Bailey can keep her hot streak in front of goal going, it would be a massive boost for her side’s hopes.
I would guess that Virginia’s full-backs won’t be as attacking as their Texas A&M counterparts. Any help they could provide in helping to pin the Aggie wide forwards back with their runs to overlap with the wingers would be a big help though.
I suspect that many will be tipping Virginia for the national title after their display against a star-studded UCLA team, and with good reason. The Cavs successfully stifled the Bruins’ attack while prying open the defending national champions’ defense as no one else has this season. It’s now up to Texas A&M to find a solution to the deadly puzzle that UVA has become in the NCAA Tournament. The SEC champions have more of a cutting edge going forward in the midfield than UCLA did, but they aren’t anywhere near as stable defensively both on the backline and in the middle of the park. Given the amount of chances the Aggies have conceded against the top offenses they’ve faced this season, you’d say the odds of them keeping UVA corralled for ninety minutes aren’t great. They might have to just go the other way and try to run and gun the Cavs into the ground, hoping that the ACC side has left their shooting boots in Charlottesville and that Jordan Day has a great night in goal. It’s not exactly the most reassuring gameplan, but it might be the only chance the College Cup debutants have at an upset.