After the long and eventful offseason, women’s college soccer returns. Florida State’s trophy triumph in December 2014 is but a distant memory, with the Seminoles flying around the country with a target on its back as the reigning title holders.
Below is a look at what to keep an eye on this weekend, from the top five games to watch, to a player and team to look out for.
Top Five Matches to Watch (all times EST)
An inter-state battle is a heck of a way to open the season for both the Gators and Knights, as Florida makes the trip to Orlando to renew their rivalry. Both sides have big gaps to fill from graduation, while simultaneously bringing back talent, as Florida is bolstered in the attack by Savannah Jordan, and led defensively by returning All SEC talent in Claire Falkner and Christen Westphal. Ashley Spivey is a key name back for UCF, which must re-tool its attack after the loss of Tatiana Coleman.
A new era for the Bruins begins on the road Friday night, as the reloading effort begins with their first foray into regular season action. UCLA hasn’t lost away from home since September 6, 2013, a stretch of 20 games including postseason action. With a number of new faces in the starting lineup, an upset from underrated Long Beach State isn’t out of the question, as the Big West side is led by formidable talents like goalkeeper Ashton McKeown, forward Ashley Gonzales and midfielder Mimi Rangel.
Ambitions are high in Berkeley, as the Golden Bears were tipped to finish third in the Pac-12 between UCLA and Stanford. A road test against BYU is a great way to start the season for a side that certainly has the talent to make some noise in the conference. Transfer Emma Fletcher is one of the key figures here as she makes the move from LSU to Cal. On the other side, rising star Ashley Hatch is a big reason why many fancy BYU to make an impact on the national level this season.
Two teams tipped as potential dark horses square off on Sunday, with one of the individual battles of the weekend on display. West Virginia’s outstanding center back Kadeisha Buchanan will need to slow down physical force Murielle Tiernan, as each side looks for a big-time victory playing the second of two games in three days.
Talk about a heck of a way to open a season full of high expectations for USC, which sets up shop for a pair of Top 25 clashes against Texas Tech on Friday and then this bout against the defending champions. The Seminole machine rolls into town as the consensus No. 1 team in the country. And even without the services of the graduated Dagny Brynjarsdottir, Cheyna Williams is ever dangerous. Meanwhile, Morgan Andrews faces a significant midfield battle with Isabella Schmid and Michaela Hahn, looking to create chances up front for the Trojans. A win would provide a huge confidence for USC, although a loss wouldn’t be reason for doom or gloom.
Player to Watch
A slew of new faces are in new places, not to mention the usual deluge of top high school and club talent. Morgan Andrews and her move to USC was the most notable transfer move of the recruiting stretch, and the aforementioned tests against Texas Tech and Florida State are high level opportunities to start the new phase of new career off on the right foot.
Team to Watch
The post-Morgan Brian era begins for Virginia on Sunday at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville as UNC Wilmington comes to town. Head coach Steve Swanson has built a behemoth in the ACC that’s come up short in the past two College Cups. Replacing Brian and fellow star Danielle Colaprico, not to mention the addition of his largest-ever recruiting class (they brought in 14 players for this fall) means the Cavaliers may not be the same force as before. Sunday will offer a first glimpse at what that might look like, and it’s not as though UVA has lost everyone: senior captains Makenzy Doniak and Emily Sonnett are two of the nation’s best and can help propel this young yet experience team deep into the postseason once again.