For many years now the NCAA has coined the build up to a National Final Four as “All Roads lead to ____(insert city that the tournament will conclude in)”. After the Elite Eight matches concluded last weekend: Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and UCLA will take to the road one more time, with the destination being WakeMed Park in Cary, NC. Two national semifinals will be played on this evening and the victors comes the opportunity to play for a National Championship on Sunday afternoon.
Semifinal One will feature the Florida State Seminoles and the Virginia Tech Hokies. These two teams have gotten very familiar with each other very recently as this will be the third meeting between the two sides in the past six weeks. Florida State won the regular season contest at Virginia Tech 2-1 back on October 24th and then two and a half weeks later, at the very same park that this semifinal match will be played, the Seminoles clinched an ACC Conference Championship title with a 1-0 win. Dagny Brynjarsdottir has scored all the goals for Mark Krikorian’s side in those matches and is coming into this encounter with four goals in the NCAA Tournament thus far. Florida State have dominated their competition in those four matches; outscoring their opponents 16-1 and with perhaps the strongest squad they have boasted in years, there is not much doubt that Seminole fans are thinking that 2013 might be their year.
Meanwhile for Chugger Adair’s Virginia Tech Hokies, they took out surprise Elite Eight participant Duke 3-0 last Friday afternoon in a straight forward victory. That performance was one that Virginia Tech needed going into the College Cup, as goals were hard to come by in their first three matches. Still, only conceding one goal through the tournament thus far is a very good mark and goalkeeper Dayle Colpitts has been getting stronger in each match. Virginia Tech has never beaten Florida State since joining the ACC in 2004, so Adair’s side will need to come up with something special if they want to keep Florida State from advancing to the Championship on Sunday.
The Match-up to Watch: Jazmine Reeves vs. Florida State’s Defense: During the ACC Championship game, the back four for Florida State had one job to do: contain Jazmine Reeves, one of the fastest wingers in the NCAA. And for the most part, they did the job. They limited Reeves to two shots on the afternoon and stemmed any chance of Virginia Tech had to attack in that match. The Hokies like the get the ball wide to the right flank and let Reeves run at and beat her defenders to the end line. If Florida State can shut down that wing like the last time these two met, they will be in good position. What Virginia Tech needs to do is if that plan does not work, they have to switch to a Plan B very quickly and figure out other ways to get Reeves into good positions on the pitch.
Semifinal Two will feature the Number One overall seed Virginia Cavaliers and the lone non-ACC representative at the College Cup, the UCLA Bruins. This will be the Cavaliers first trip to the College Cup in 22 years but Steve Swanson’s Virginia will want to turn things around on their second trip to Cary this year after a disastrous 4-2 loss to Virginia Tech at WakeMed Park in the ACC Semifinals, their only loss of the season. But since that day in early November, Morgan Brian and Co. have been on a tear, outscoring their opponents 10-1 in their four NCAA Tournament matches and have dictated the play every time they have stepped on the pitch. Both Brian and Makenzy Doniak have hit the back of the net four times and the team as a whole has dominated possession in each match. The only time Virginia has blinked in the past few weeks was this past weekend, where minutes after Morgan Brian scored the games first goal, Michigan’s Nkem Ezurike caught Virginia’s Emily Sonnett in possession and found Meghan Toohey inside the box to finish off the attack. But Virginia restored order 22 minutes from time when Danielle Colaprico’s cross found Molly Menchel on the back post and bundled the ball across the line. As long as Virginia can continue utilizing their possession game to jump start their attack and find Doniak and Brian, they will be in good shape.
UCLA are coming into the College Cup with their first win in program’s history over North Carolina. It was a very tightly contested match, with the host Tar Heels holding a good amount of possession in the first half and then leveling out into a tightly played match into overtime. But soccer sometimes can be a game of momentum shifts and North Carolina was dealt a cruel hand after seeing defender Katie Bowen stretchered off in the first overtime period. After that injury, UNC was out of sorts from that point on and early into the second overtime period, Taylor Smith scored her third goal of the NCAA tournament to send the Bruins to Cary. As mentioned, they are the only team in the College Cup not from the ACC, but they can hang with any of the other teams that will play in the College Cup. They come to this match with a record of 21-1-2 and have only conceded seven goals in 24 matches and none so far in the NCAA tournament. Similar to Virginia, this group of UCLA players has never been to this stage as the last time the Bruins made it to a College Cup was back in 2009 when Lauren Holiday (Cheney at that time), Sydney Leroux and Co. lost to Stanford 2-1 in Overtime.
The Key Aspect to Watch: Virginia’s wide service vs UCLA’s center backs. After getting a good look for the first time at UCLA’s defense this season, they are a very compact team when not in possession. The team only has allowed 170 shots and only 71 on goal (roughly seven shots and under three on target per match) but did allow a few opportunities for North Carolina last Saturday to get out wide. With Virginia’s service on the flanks, this might prove a stiffer challenge for UCLA’s back line. For UCLA’s defense to be successful, they have to contain the ball to the middle of the field and limit Virginia’s shots from outside the box.
The College Cup Matches will be broadcasted on ESPNU, with the semifinals shown live at 5pm and 7:30pm (ET) and the Final on Sunday at 3pm (ET). Florida State and Virginia Tech will play at 5pm with Virginia and UCLA to follow. Enjoy the matches and let us know who you think will win tonight in the comments section below.