Another scintillating plate of non-conference action will be served up this weekend as the Division I women’s soccer season rolls on.
Here’s a look at some of the top games and players to watch.
Top Five Matches to Watch
One of two Top 10 clashes on the weekend, Clemson makes the trip up to Morgantown looking to maintain the momentum after picking up a pair of wins in its opening two games. While Clemson’s defense looks stout as ever – even with goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan in Brazil last week – and the offense found the back of the net five times in two games against SEC opposition. Continuing that trend against the Mountaineers would only lend stronger credence to the notion that Clemson could be legit contenders this season. West Virginia could be without its dynamic seniors as Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence are also returning from the Olympics. Even if they are undermanned, Michaela Abam and Amandine Pierre-Louis make the Mountaineers a tough out, especially on home turf.
Prediction: West Virginia 2-1 Clemson
Facing two SEC opponents over three days this weekend, the Bruins take their redemption tour to College Station for a meeting with an Aggie side capable of giving them plenty of problems. The early story for UCLA so far is the revitalized Darian Jenkins, who enjoyed a dominant showing in the team’s opener against San Diego State. This is certainly a step up in the caliber of opposition, as Mikaela Harvey’s ability to create from A&M’s central hub will ask a question or two from UCLA’s back line.
Prediction: UCLA 2-2 Texas A&M
Another significant Top 10 clash pits the visiting Gators against the top-ranked Cardinal. Back in 2014, Stanford beat Florida to advance to the College Cup, something that surely plays on the minds of Florida even at this early stage of a new season. It should be an entertaining and high-scoring clash, provided Savannah Jordan can find a way through the stout Stanford defense. On the other side, Florida’s young defense will have its most difficult test of the season against a Stanford side that likes to throw numbers forward.
Prediction: Stanford 3-2 Florida
Not to be outdone by big games on the West Coast, Rutgers’ trip to Storrs should provide a picture of just how good the Scarlet Knights can be this year. Already without the graduated center back duo of Erica Skroski and Brianne Reed, Casey Murphy is redshirting the season to play for the U.S. U20 World Cup team. The opening weekend featured a shaky 1-1 draw against a Providence team Rutgers probably would’ve liked to beat. Colby Ciarrocca is key in this one, as she and Madison Tiernan look to fire the offense against a very good Connecticut side. The Huskies are strong in a number of departments on the pitch, with Emily Armstrong an underrated goalkeeper and Rachel Hill and Stephanie Ribero tough forwards to slow down.
Prediction: Connecticut 2-1 Rutgers
Will this year prove to be a renaissance for the Pilots? The first game of the season was a strong one for Portland, winning 2-1 at home against Washington. A second win in two tries against Pac-12 opposition would be another step forward. On the other side, California lost 1-0 in overtime to Santa Clara on Sunday when they were without the services of the 2015 Pac-12 Player of the Year Arielle Shipp. This game will paint a picture of where these teams stand and what the rest of the season could look like – though Portland is the side that can make a bigger statement with a win.
Prediction: California 2-1 Portland
Team to Watch
Hitting the road this week for a pair of clashes against Big West opposition UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly, San Francisco can lay the platform for a strong season even at the early stage of the season. While a WCC title challenge might be out of reach when all is said and done, the longer they continue winning at the start of the season the greater their chances become of snatching an at-large bid.
Players to Watch
Keep an eye on the lineups for Ohio State, Clemson, Duke, UCLA and West Virginia heading into the weekend. Those five programs await the return of Rebecca Quinn, Nichelle Prince, Jessie Fleming, Sheridan, Buchanan and Lawrence from Rio, as they were busy just a week ago capturing a Bronze Medal at the Olympics. It may be too soon for them to be involved back in action with their college teams, but worth checking in on as the programs take the field.