The College Cup is finally here.
Four of the best programs in the nation are on the road to Boca Raton this week, destined for a collision course Friday night, with three of the four chasing a first-ever national title.
Below is a preview of the action, with all times EST.
A superb game plan from head coach Steve Swanson and terrific execution from Virginia helped them past UCLA and into a second straight College Cup appearance, holding on to a 2-1 victory in Westwood. That could be the boost needed to spur them to a national title in Boca Raton, as Virginia is playing its best soccer of 2014 at the right time. It starts with the triumvirate of Morgan Brian, Makenzy Doniak and Danielle Colaprico, all three named as Hermann Trophy semifinalists on Tuesday. An offensive outburst in the tournament has boosted the Virginia attack to the nation’s best, with 85 goals in 24 games. Sixteen different players on the roster have scored, and this is a team built to attack and pile on the goals.
That being said, Emily Sonnett’s play at center back is crucial here against an Aggie offense that is capable of keeping pace with the Cavaliers. Colaprico, who has lined up in the holding midfield spot in UVA’s diamond 4-4-2, also needs to be steadfast against an A&M team that is going to pose a serious threat.
This year’s College Cup debutants represent the most experienced team in the field, as eight of the team’s expected starting XI is a senior. Of course, none of that group has made it this deep in the tournament, but it would be surprising to see nerves as a factor. The team’s offense is more than capable of turning this into a high-scoring affair, led by spark plug Shea Groom and buoyed by the likes of Allie Bailey, Bianca Brinson, Kelley Monogue and Annie Kunz.
At the back, goalkeeper Jordan Day, who missed a chunk of the 2014 campaign with a knee injury, is a crucial figure behind the likely center back partnership of Meghan Streight and freshman McKayla Paulson. Day’s heroics in the quarterfinal helped the Aggies progress against a plucky Penn State side that didn’t have trouble creating chances.
The goal-scoring records of these two in the tournament indicates that there should be plenty of offense in this one, as Virginia has bagged 20 goals in four tourney games, while A&M has added 16 of its own.
Prediction: Virginia 3, Texas A&M 2
This weekend is an opportunity for Stanford’s 2011 recruiting class to bookend their college careers with a national title. That wasn’t the Cardinal’s last visit to the College Cup, as they fell in the national semifinal in 2012 against eventual champions North Carolina. Chioma Ubogagu, Kendal Romine and Alex Doll are the holdovers from the 2011 title-winning game, while Lo’eau Labonta’s season was hampered by injury that year.
Translation: this team is experienced, talented and ready to make another run at a title. Their run to this point in the NCAA has featured a come-from-behind victory, a pair of tight 1-0 shutout wins, followed up with a win on penalties against Florida the last time out. Romine is part of a formidable center back partnership with Maddie Bauer shielded by freshman Andi Sullivan, who will be tasked with quieting FSU’s standout Dagny Brynjarsdottir. The Cardinal defense has conceded just 12 goals on the season, with four of those coming in the tournament, though they’ve been vulnerable on set pieces the last few games. Up front, performances are needed from Ubogagu, LaBonta and fellow senior Taylor Uhl in order to unlock the stout Seminole back line.
Speaking of experienced teams, Florida State has plenty of that at their disposal as they enter their fourth straight College Cup, still looking to break the duck at this stage of the season. Perhaps this is the best chance yet, as the Seminoles could be the most talented group at least on paper. They haven't lost a game since September 5 (to in state rivals Florida), tying just one game since then as well. But games aren’t won on paper, as they’ve learned previously, and it’s up to the likes of Brynjarsdottir, Jamia Fields and Cheyna Williams to spark an offense to win.
Florida State’s all-around strength is notable, as they’ve conceded nine goals all season, the last a throwaway tally in the ACC semifinals back on November 7. Kristin Grubka anchors the defense in the middle of the park next to Kirsten Crowley, one of the best in the country. The Seminoles are capable of scoring in a variety of ways, troubling the opposition either through the middle with Brynjarsdottir, down the flanks with Carson Pickett and Fields or on set pieces.
The first goal in this game is critical, as both teams like to possess the ball and feature such stout defenses that a 1-0 result could be on the cards here – or perhaps even a scoreless draw.
Prediction: Florida State 0, Stanford 0 (Stanford wins on PKs)