CHESTER, Pa. — The four College Cup squads went through Thursday’s walkthrough at PPL Park with temperatures in the low-30s and lingering patches of snow in the stands from a mid-week storm.
It was a taste of what’s to come on Friday, with temperatures forecasted in the same range, and certain to dip into the 20s as the night progresses.
“What weather conditions?” Maryland head coach Sasho Cirosvki joked. “We’ve played for about three weeks in this kind of weather. When you’re at the College Cup, it’s a special moment and I’m sure Friday night everyone will be pretty warm inside.”
Added Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark: “I’ve got the sun tan oil on. It’s minus-two degrees my wife told me this morning when I called in to South Bend. This is very pleasant. The ground is a little hard is the only disappointment. I wish they would have covered the field earlier.”
That’s an expected attitude from the game’s elite teams. Each has strung together a run of three-straight NCAA tournament wins to get to this point, none needing the drama of penalty kicks.
And it’s almost an all-ACC party as well, with three out of the four in the field representing the conference – including a pair of teams meeting for the third time this season, Maryland and Virginia.
“It’s not uncommon being in the ACC [to play three times],” Virginia head coach George Gelnovatch said. “The more you progress and the more teams get eliminated, the more the ACC teams rise to the top. 2009 which was the last College Cup we were in, we played Maryland three times and we played Wake Forest three times. So that’s just something we’re used to, being in our conference.”
The first meeting between the two ended in a wild 3-3 draw, smack in the middle of early season defensive trouble for the Terps. During their 10 game winning streak, which includes a 1-0 win over UVA in the ACC tournament championship, Maryland has tightened things up defensively, conceding just four goals in that stretch, and bringing a much improved defense into Friday’s third meeting.
“We were not a connected team,” Cirvoski said of their early season defensive struggles. “We didn’t do a great job of defending from front to back, from our forwards to our midfielders. We were not paying attention to details and as time progressed, the players started to understand that it’s not all on the back line or the goalkeeper – it has to be a combined effort. The way we play, the way we press, the way we open the game up, if we’re not on the same page we can be in trouble.”
This time around, the Cavs will once again try and lock down Patrick Mullins, who was named as one of three Hermann Trophy semifinalists on Thursday.
“The two times we’ve played them, he’s the guy that’s been killing us,” Gelnovatch said. “As a team, we’ve just got to be cautious of it and do a better job. But in the ACC tournament, for 88-plus minutes, I think we did a great job. And he got away from us in a split second in the last two minutes of the game and ended up having a hand in the winning goal.”
Like Maryland, the Irish boast a senior attacker in the running for the Hermann in Harrison Shipp. He’s a player that Fishbein is certainly concerned about, but just one of many decorated and talented players who will be on display.
“In games like these you get to a final four, there’s going to be moment for players to do special things, on all four teams,” Fishbein said. “It’ll be interesting on this stage to see which guys take them. There’s a lot of high caliber players out there. As good as Harry Shipp is, they have ten other ones on the field that can cause you problems. And I like to believe that we have the same thing on our team, some pretty special players.”
Clark, who leads the Irish into their first College Cup in program history, expects to see a tough game from the Lobos.
“They’re a very good all-around team,” he said. “You have two big, strong center backs that are pretty direct. They knock diagonal balls up, they get balls into your half, they pressure you very well, they’re good in set pieces. Someone said to me they’re one of the best teams we’ve played, if not the best team we’ve played all year. So I have a great respect for their teams, a great respect for their coaching staff. We know this is a big task but it’s one we’re looking forward to.”
And while the conditions may end up becoming irrelevant, all coaches were eager for Friday’s main event with the backdrop of PPL Park and the Delaware River.
“This is one of the great MLS facilities,” Gelnovatch said. “I’ve been here before to see games, they’ve done a great job given the weather conditions. I saw the before and after picture of the snow yesterday. Given all of those things, the field looks great. I think it will play great and we’re looking forward to it.”