After the long wait of summer, college soccer is back.
Preseason is officially in the books, and the women’s season is prepped and ready for kick off, with teams eying a spot at the College Cup in Cary, N.C. in December.
As is usual during the early stage of the college season, there are a handful of tantalizing nonconference matches that should provide some entertaining action.
Five Games to Watch
Life in the Big 12 went very well for the Mountaineers in 2012. While this isn’t a conference matchup, testing themselves against the Nittany Lions is an opportunity to not only prepare for conference action, but also send a national message by picking up a result. While significant talent left, forward Frances Silva leads a strong WVU attack that will look to break down a very good Penn State back line. Led by returning Big Ten Defender of the Year Whitney Church, the Nittany Lions are going to be difficult to contend with this season after last season’s national title game appearance. They’ll look to forward Maya Hayes to propel what is a deep offense.
Fewer games look as exciting as this one, especially considering the potential battle of North Carolina phenom Crystal Dunn against Santa Clara standout Julie Johnston. The pair both earned their debut caps for the full women’s national team this year, and will likely do battle throughout the evening. It’s also a likely debut for Morgan Marlborough after the former Nebraska scoring ace transferred to the Broncos and sat out the 2012 season.
Of course, it’s about the two teams that will take the field, and the defending national champion Tar Heels are going to be a handful every game, making this quite the opening test for the Broncos. A possible NCAA Tournament preview? Perhaps, but both teams will aim to get the season off on the right foot against a quality opponent.
Another California program making the journey across the country for its opening slate, the Cardinal have plenty of questions to answer – especially along the back after the loss of so much talent. Lining up against a program like BC is helpful simply because the Eagles lost Kristen Mewis, who just wrapped up a strong NWSL season and picked up a cap with the WNT this year. Both teams are likely to experiment a little bit while also looking for the result. Taylor Uhl, who transferred to Stanford from Minnesota this year, will make her debut for the Cardinal and spearhead the offense along with Chioma Ubogagu.
Everything on paper about Duke’s offense looks like they’ll be a menace in 2013. What better place to test out that theory then College Station? Experienced forward Laura Weinberg and Kim DeCesare will look to get on track from the opening game against a Texas A&M back line solidified by Rachel Lenz and Meghan Streight. The Aggies will be motivated to make an impression against an ACC opponent and send a message to the rest of the country. They're certainly capable of threatening up front with Kelley Monogue and Annie Kunz.
There’s a lot to like about this battle between two Midwest programs. The Illini suffered a bit of disappointment in 2012, but Illinois midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo will be available for the whole season if she can avoid injury, and it bodes well for their chances in the Big Ten. However, taking care of business against the Fighting Irish will be difficult, as Cari Roccaro and Mandy Laddish lead Notre Dame into their first ACC season with high expectations. This game should also see the debut of the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2013, midfielder Morgan Andrews, who will look to adjust and make a splash in college soccer.
Team of the Weekend
Cross-country swings are always worth keeping an eye on, and Santa Clara faces that test on the opening weekend with a pair of top 10 opponents. Along with the Friday opener against the defending national champions, the Broncos face host side Virginia which will be another tricky test. Julie Johnston gets an early chance to prove her Hermann Trophy credentials with the pair of games.