SAN JOSE, California - West Virginia and USC both claimed 1-0 victories on Friday from the 2016 Women’s College Cup at Avaya Stadium. As the season winds down, the games have been decided by very tight margins with the last six games in the NCAA Division I Tournament being decided by a 1-0 scoreline.
West Virginia and USC will meet on Sunday in the National Championship.
North Carolina ran 18 players into a brick wall. The Mountaineers held strong. Junior Michaela Abam’s goal in the 75th minute sent the Mountaineers into the National Championship in a 1-0 result on Friday afternoon at Avaya Stadium.
The Tar Heels finished the game with 0 shots on goal from the 90 minutes. Freshman Madison Schultz had the best chance of the game for UNC in the final minutes, but her shot went over the crossbar.
The Tar Heels tried to rely on a style of play that has made North Carolina the most successful women’s program in college soccer. Head coach Anson Dorrance used 18 players through the game, but the waves of bodies could not crack Kadeisha Buchanan and the West Virginia defense.
The Mountaineers were the worthy winners on the day. West Virginia was the more composed team on the ball while North Carolina looked like it did not want to do anything with the ball in the first half. The Tar Heels went into the break without a shot from the first 45 minutes, and not much in terms of passing sequences.
Dorrance lamented the difficulty of facing Buchanan in the postgame press conference. He cited the Canadian National Team defender as she dominated in the air and sent away any clearance. The Tar Heel coach said the game plan for Friday wasn’t to give the aerial balls to Buchanan.
“The default setting for amateur players is to whack it in the box,” Dorrance said after Friday’s 0-1 loss to West Virginia. “I think anyone who has been around the game understands the difference between a professional and an amateur. When an amateur is under pressure, she just goes back to what she does when she panics and she whacks the ball in the direction of the other team’s goal. That seemed to be our modus operandi but that wasn’t our game plan going in.”
Considering this is North Carolina and the Tar Heels select the best U.S. Youth National Team players from every recruiting class, it’s a horrifying indictment on the state of the elite club player in the U.S. that the default setting is a kickball mentality.
The hope for college soccer (and women’s soccer in the U.S.) is that the default setting changes, but Dorrance was not so bullish on this experience in San Jose fixing the whack and hope method from his players in the coming years.
“I don’t think this will transform these kids to be ice-cold (Cesc) Fabregas in every position,” Dorrance said. “I think they will still struggle under pressure and in bigger games, but we will continue to get better and I think when they look at this game they will see that they could have done a lot better.”
The storied head coach also cited his depleted roster after losing two players (Jessie Scarpa and Taylor Otto) to the U20 World Cup, another to a redshirt, and five others who moved onto the professional realm after last season. The reality could be closer to the fact that the days of success for that style of play are finally coming to an end. This is already the longest period of time between National Championships for the Tar Heels and the loss on Friday condemns the program to another season without the hardware.
West Virginia was the dragon-slayer on Friday. The Mountaineers needed another stellar performance from Buchanan and a classy finish from Abam to seal a spot in the final. They had a bit of luck, but fortune favors the brave and Mountaineers were certainly the more impressive side with the ball on the day. The Big 12 program moved the ball against the high-pressure from North Carolina and finished the day with 13 shots with six on goal.
It was far from an ideal performance, but it was a good enough against a team that makes life difficult on the opposition.
“It’s kind of hard when balls are just coming down our throats over top,” Buchanan said when asked about North Carolina’s style of play. “If we can be patient, it becomes easy, getting a head on the direct balls. It’s tough getting that second ball in the first half, but we did a much better job in the second half. Again, it’s hard when they’re coming at us and we’re just trying to clear pressure ... I think in the first half it was a bit chaotic.”
Buchanan handled the UNC threat over and over again. She looked the part of a player who was clearly capable of playing at a much higher level on Friday. Buchanan gets one more game against the amateurs as she searches for that National Championship on Sunday.
The nightcap lived up to the billing as the College Cup palate cleanser. Both USC and Georgetown put together impressive displays in the second semifinal from Avaya Stadium with good passing sequences and thoughtful approaches to breaking down the opposition.
The Pac-12 squad escaped with the win thanks to a goal from senior Katie Johnson in the 60th minute. Morgan Andrews recorded the assist on the goal. Johnson received the ball eight yards from goal with her back toward pay dirt. The forward did well to hold off her defender and then turned with a quick finish to the opposite post.
USC controlled much of the second half with efficient movement off the ball and a midfield that sprayed the ball all over the pitch in order to keep the Georgetown defense honest. After a first half with only one shot on goal between the two teams, both teams increased their pace of play in the second half.
The Trojans sent numbers forward and relied on Mandy Freeman to snuff out any attack. Freeman did just that as she forced the Hoyas to play through the wide channels in hope of breaking down the USC defense. Georgetown did not find much success in that area of the field as the USC defenders did well to stand up the attackers and limit mistakes in 1v1 duels.
Following the goal, USC looked to catch Georgetown on the counter while the Big East squad searched for a chance at an equalizer. The USC defense held strong against Rachel Corboz and her cohorts.
“They teach a technical and tactical soccer game,” Johnson, the goal scorer, said about the coaching staff. “They always tell us to use our eyes and be aware of the spaces around us. I think they do a great job of teaching us that and giving us the tools that we need to do well on the field.”
Goalkeeper Sammy Jo Prudhomme also cited the leadership of the coaching staff in developing a winning culture with the Trojans.
“The coaches have brought the best type of environment that we could ask for,” Prudhomme said. “Even when things start to get too intense or too tense, they loosen it back up. They remind us why we are here, because we love playing soccer and we enjoy it. That’s a good thing to keep in mind when you come into situations like this. You need to enjoy the moment and go out and play as hard as you can. I think they do a great job of cultivating that environment.”
USC advances to their second National Championship in program history. The Trojans won their previous appearance in 2007.