(1) Florida State vs (2) Virginia – Tallahassee, Florida – 2:00 PM
Previous Meetings (click for highlights):
It’s the rarest of rarities in the world of college soccer: A third meeting between two teams in a single season. And scarcely has a trilogy been more warranted than in the case of Friday’s combatants. Virginia and Florida State have played two classics in 2011 so far and will be playing for keeps on Friday with the stakes having escalated to a berth in the College Cup. The team’s first meeting in October is a contender for match of the season, a 4-3, back and forth affair that saw Virginia take the lead three times in regulation, only to be pegged back three times in turn, including a last minute equalizer from Tori Huster. The Cavs would win early in extra time though as Caroline Miller added to her growing reputation as a clutch performer. There was likely a sense of deja vu for Florida State in the team’s rematch in Cary in the ACC Tournament as Lauren Alwine gave Virginia a lead going into the break. But Florida State would not buckle or fold this time, coming back to equalize early in the second half before an absolute bomb from range by Janice Cayman ensured that they’d be beating Virginia for the first time in program history. En route to an ACC Tournament title, Florida State had also evened the season series between the teams at one apiece. Having each vanquished three opponents in the last two weeks, the Noles and Cavs set their sights on each other for one final and deciding clash in 2011.
Florida State – Personnel Breakdown
Goalkeepers – Sophomore Kelsey Wys began the season with a challenge from Louisville transfer Taylor Vancil and held her ground for the most part, though Vancil did end up displacing the incumbent for three starts, including a pair of ACC matches. But Wys has been the keeper of choice in between the pipes for Florida State’s surge of form down the stretch and into the postseason. The youngster still lacks consistency at times but may slowly be rounding into a keeper of some repute. Wys has also shown no small degree of skill in saving penalties, as Wake Forest can tell you from their encounter in the ACC Tournament final.
Defenders – Florida State’s starting defense looked to be one of the most steady and talented back fours in the nation coming into the season and has survived a degree of chopping and changing in the middle of the season as coach Mark Krikorian searched for answers to his team’s midseason struggles. Having come back full circle, the preferred back four from the start of the season is back and has been in impressive form as of late. The star of course is senior Toni Pressley, a towering presence in the back who also has offensive chops, as shown by her move further forward at times earlier in the season. Pressley can play in the middle or out wide for the Noles on the backline and will be critical in helping stop the Virginia frontline. Sophomore Kassey Kallman also figures to occupy the middle as she has so well for the past two seasons for the Seminoles. Like the rest of FSU’s defenders, Kallman has the ability to be a factor offensively as well, having scored three goals in each of the past two seasons, including the match winner against Louisville on Sunday. French full-back Ines Jaurena is one of the most aggressive at her position in the college ranks in bombing up and down the flanks. Jaurena also has the ability to play higher up on the wing if necessary if Florida State is chasing a goal down the stretch. Junior Tiana Brockway is usually the overlooked member of the starting back four but is no less important to the cause for Krikorian’s side. Besides being a veteran campaigner who has been a three-year starter for the club, Brockway’s also shown the ability to knock home a goal or two this season for the Noles as well.
Midfielders – The crux of no end of shifting and experimentation during the regular season, Krikorian seems to have settled on a basic group to run with throughout the postseason. Those plans could become a little more unsettled though, as senior lynchpin Ella Stephan could be a doubt after missing the win over Louisville on Sunday. Stephan’s absence could open up a whole litany of questions about balance in midfield with a reshuffle from the most desired lineup necessary. Much of the dirty work in midfield might fall to big freshman Kristin Grubka, a versatile 5’10” rookie who has found a niche in midfield after previously being thought of as a potential defender or target player up front coming into FSU. Ultimately though, it might equal more defensive duties for senior Tori Huster and freshman Dagny Brynjarsdottir. Huster’s been the heartbeat of the midfield for this team for some time now and is third one the team in scoring with six goals, scoring four in league play. The Cincinnati product has a motor that doesn’t stop and will undoubtedly be one of the keys to a victory for FSU on Friday. An Icelandic international, Brynjarsdottir missed five ACC matches while on international duty with her country for EURO 2013 qualifying, and her absence was certainly felt by the Noles. The big freshman looks like a budding star for club and country and had a goal and an assist in the first meeting between these teams in October.
Forwards – Up front, it’s all about junior Tiffany McCarty. After missing all of 2010, McCarty has been better than ever this season in leading the line for the Seminoles. The FSU forward has recorded at least a point in her last five matches and ended up leading the ACC in league points with seventeen, no small feat considering the company she keeps in the nation’s toughest league. With seventeen goals and six assists, the junior has ten more goals than any of her Seminoles teammates and is without question the team’s top option for goals. Also able to play up front or in more withdrawn roles in midfield are Janice Cayman and Jessica Price. After serving as the team’s top scoring option last season, Cayman’s been shuttled around all over the pitch for the Noles, even lining up in defense as Krikorian experimented with personnel and tactics earlier in the season. Now more comfortable back in an attacking role, Cayman figures to be the team’s second option for goals if McCarty can’t get going. Price is still on her way back from a knee injury that wiped out her 2010 season, and it’s shown at times as the junior’s bounced in and out of the starting lineup. If Stephan can’t go, she’ll likely be the first choice to step up and fill in in the lineup. Though her goalscoring has lagged a bit this season, Price does still lead the team in assists with nine on the year.
Reserves – This isn’t a Florida State team built for great depth. Stephan being back would probably push Price back to the bench which would certainly help them out but is far from a guarantee at this point. If Price is in the starting lineup, the likely top option is hotshot freshman Jamia Fields, who has loads of potential but is still adjusting to the college game. The attacker has scored a pair of goals but has been more impressive setting them up with six assists, including a team leading four in league play. Fields also started seven ACC matches, so she could be another option for Krikorian. Beyond her, it’s shaky. Senior Katie Riley’s been a great story after transferring from Stanford after injuries wrecked her career in Palo Alto and is versatile enough to fill in just about anywhere on the field but isn’t going to be scoring too many goals. Freshmen Hikaru Murakami and Marta Bakowska-Mathews are also part of the rotation, but it’d be a stretch to think they’ll be trusted with major minutes in such a high stakes match. They may be more valued for their penalty taking skill after both made their spot kicks against Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament final.
Virginia – Personnel Breakdown
Goalkeepers – Senior Chantel Jones is the NCAA’s career shutouts leader, and while that has a lot to do with the defense playing in front of her as much as her play itself, the veteran has grown into a reliable keeper in her senior season for the club. Jones has almost literally been around Charlottesville forever, having redshirted in 2006 and then having been away in 2008 on U20 World Cup duty. Somewhat erratic with her decision making in previous seasons, the senior has iron most of the wrinkles out from her game and has been behind some crucial saves for Virginia this season. None more so than the series of stops against North Carolina that saw the Cavs topple the Tar Heels in extra time.
Defenders – Not necessarily the most star studded group, nor the most dominating defense Virginia’s had over the years, but still a very formidable unit. The most noteworthy of the rearguard might be it’s youngest member in the form of freshman Olivia Brannon. One of the top recruits in the country, Brannon hasn’t disappointed as a freshman, starting every match and contributing to the strong spine of the team in the center of defense. Senior Maggie Kistner is the no nonsense enforcer of the backline who won’t be involved in UVA’s attack (zero shots on the season) but is more than willing to put in a crunching tackle if necessary (four yellow cards coming into Friday). Sophomore Molly Menchel has proven an effective weapon in support coming out of the back with eight assists on the season and can knock in the odd goal or two as well. The other starter is senior Amanda Fancher, a spot starter for the past two seasons who took home W-League Defender of the Year honors for the Ottawa Fury this season and has chipped in with four assists this season for the Cavs. There’s incredible continuity with this group, with just one missed start between the four of them, meaning FSU will dealing with a confident and cohesive unit.
Midfielders – When you put a premium on possessing and retaining the ball your midfield better be up to the task, and Virginia has a fine unit of three in the middle. Julia Roberts may technically be the most withdrawn of the midfielders, but she’s far more regista than destroyer. Demoted to super sub status last year, Roberts roared back with a vengeance this year and is the team’s leader in midfield, with her projected starting linemates both a pair of freshmen. More than anything though, Roberts is the executioner and swings a big axe on free kicks from twenty-five yards and in. The junior puts ridiculous swerve on her free kicks and will punish anyone foolish enough to concede free kicks within shooting range. Freshman Morgan Brian won the coveted ACC Freshman of The Year award after living up to the considerable hype that followed her into Charlottesville. Though she’s a bit of a conscious-less gunner type from her attacking midfield role, Brian still did plenty of damage with many of her quite numerous shots with eleven goals while also setting up eight more. Brian’s a multi-faceted finisher with the ability to slice through defenses with the ball at her feet or power home thumping headers from range. When you consider she has three more years to grow, it’s downright frightening to consider her ceiling. Another freshman, Danielle Colaprico has mostly served as a super sub as a rookie but has held down a starting spot as of late. The freshman is still learning at this level and has displayed some erratic form in attack this year between the usual promise from Virginia’s bountiful first-year talents.
Forwards – Center forward Caroline Miller is the main focus up top for the Cavs. The junior had shown great flashes of potential in her first two seasons in college but didn’t really start to come into her own until this year. Miller quickly aimed a reputation as a big game predator, with goals against Penn State, Maryland, North Carolina, and Florida State, among others. Without a doubt, Miller figures to be doing most of the scoring for the attacking band of three, with Erica Hollenberg and Lauren Alwine mostly valued for their ability to drive passes into the danger area. Alwine, a senior, is the program’s all-time assists leader with forty-two and a sizable threat out on the wing. It hasn’t been until recently that Alwine’s heated up with her goalscoring though, with goals in three of her last four matches. On the opposite flank, Erica Hollenberg is one of the team’s smaller members but packs a mighty punch, leading the team with ten assists on the season. Hollenberg’s not a great threat to score herself though, with just a single goal on the season, and packs a ghastly 28% shot on goal percentage, meaning she’ll probably refrain from pulling the trigger on Friday.
Reserves – As you might expect with such a settled defensive unit, most of Virginia’s key reserves are in the midfield and attack. Sophomore Gloria Douglas looks like a budding star and should see major minutes up front, perhaps even a starting spot if UVA opts to bring Colaprico to the bench and Hollenberg back into midfield. If anybody’s going to score from the bench, it’s likely to be Douglas, who’s third on the team with seven goals. Sophomore midfielder Shasta Fisher is a versatile option who has six starts this year and can also fill in in defense. Youngsters Kaili Torres and Amber Fry are also options for fresh legs to run at defenses as well.
The teams may be tied at 1-1 in the season series in 2011, but this was a very one-sided rivalry for the longest time. Florida State’s win in the ACC Tournament was the Noles’ first win ever over the Cavs in program history. There could finally be a sense of the worm turning though with FSU’s historic victory in Cary a few weeks ago. Don’t overlook the advantage Florida State has with this match being in Tallahassee either. Virginia only played six of twenty-three matches away from Charlottesville and looked very mortal away from home, going 2-3-1. The Cavs beat North Carolina but also needed extra time to beat NC State and were beaten soundly by both Boston College and Wake Forest. FSU will be wary of the status of Stephan though. Her not being able to go could unbalance the midfield and rob the team of some of what little bench depth they do have.
Florida State coach Mark Krikorian has stayed out of the headlines this season but has delivered the same consistent effort in Tallahassee that has defined his tenure there. Krikorian did a fantastic job of steadying the ship through a rough middle part of the season and has his side peaking at just the right time. They’ve done that a whole lot in recent years with seven trips to the Elite Eight, though FSU has been tripped up at this stage for the past three seasons. Krikorian will also take heart in having won the tactical battle in the team’s last meeting in Cary.
Virginia’s Steve Swanson has drawn the plaudits for his side’s flowing pass and move football but has also been stuck with the reputation as a coach who hasn’t been able to get his side over the hump. In the last few seasons, the Cavs have been known for bizarre and unexpected meltdowns, including last year’s infamous Sweet Sixteen defeat at home to Ohio State. But it’s been a far better year for Swanson in 2011, being named U.S. U20 coach and overcoming some serious losses from last year’s squad to build another contender. Friday could well be his finest hour as a college coach if he can guide his side back to the College Cup.
Famous Last Words
I’ll go out on a limb and say that Virginia will enjoy more possession and probably have more shots than Florida State on Friday. But quantity and quality of possession are two different things entirely, and Virginia, at times, can be accused of favoring the former over the latter. The Noles may have the higher seed and home advantage, but Virginia may actually have the greater pressure on them to finally put their postseason underachievement behind them and get to the College Cup after so many near misses. Betting on a visiting team who have been entirely lukewarm in their travels so far this year is a risky proposition, especially coming in against a team that just beat them at a neutral site a few weeks ago and who is on an impressive run of form. But little could separate these two teams in two previous meetings, meaning this might be the most likely match of the Elite Eight to come down to penalties.