(Note: I was under the weather on Thursday, so I’m a little behind schedule. Check back later on Friday afternoon for previews for the handful of later games listed below.)
Florida vs Florida State – 7:00 PM
It seems a bit hyperbolic at this stage of the season to be touting an “unstoppable force vs immovable object” matchup, but on a matchday short on outright elite showdowns, it’ll do. Florida’s Savannah Jordan had an immensely impressive debut weekend for the Gators last week, netting five goals in her first two collegiate matches. Jordan would come up big late in the club’s opener last week to net the winner and insurance goal in the final ten minutes against a stubborn Florida Gulf Coast, before a hat trick paced the Gators against Oregon State on Sunday. Obviously, it’s going to be tough to replicate that scoring pace for the rest of the season, more so considering the defense Jordan will be facing on Friday night. While the Gators do have other offensive outlets, most notably Havana Solaun, if the opening weekend of the season is any indicator, a lot of the offense is going to run through Jordan this season. The Gator defense was pretty stout last weekend, holding opponents to just four shots overall and conceding just once, to Oregon State. FSU’s a whole different matter though, and it will be interesting to see how the Gator defense copes and whether the club uses Nora Neset Gjoen or Taylor Burke in goal after each started once last weekend. It’s difficult seeing Florida struggle with any of the remaining non-conference opponents after FSU, so this might be the club’s last major test in a while.
The Seminoles were also very impressive in a perfect opening weekend. A 1-0 final against Oregon State in the opener perhaps flattered the Pac-12 side, with the scoreline not indicative of the dominance of FSU, who could have had many more had they not hit the woodwork multiple times. The defense was equally crushing, with FSU limiting OSU to just a single shot on goal. They were even more impressive in the match after, pounding Auburn, 4-1. Despite some squad rotation, the Noles, the ACC powerhouse held Auburn without a shot on goal until a flurry in the eighty-sixth minute that led to the Tigers’ goal. Redshirt freshman Berglind Thorvaldsdottir showed the Noles some of what they were missing last year with a brace and an asset on a third goal and looks like forming a fearsome attacking partnership with Dagny Brynjarsdottir for Florida State. The defense, anchored by center-back titans Kassey Kallman and Kristin Grubka, will have a big test in shutting down Jordan, and the duo has found an able full-back partner in Irish international Megan Campbell, who has won rave reviews for her early play for FSU. Jordan will likely need to find pockets of space away from the heart of Florida State’s defense, as 2v1 against Kallman and Grubka is almost always a losing proposition. FSU steps right back into the fire on Sunday against UCF, but a win here would give them momentum and likely a big piece on their resume come Selection Monday and the battle for national seeding.
Virginia Tech vs Louisville – 4:00 PM (Winston Salem, North Carolina)
And now the tests really begin for Virginia Tech, who had a rather easy time of it in their first two matches of the season, putting the heat on High Point, 7-1, before easing past East Tennessee State, 2-0. In typical Hokies fashion, it’s largely been a balanced effort thus far, with seven players scoring goals last weekend, with the club being led by towering rookie Murielle Tiernan, who netted a brace on opening weekend, and senior Ashley Manning, back in a super sub role that she filled in her first two seasons here, who also netted two goals last week. The defense was a bit uneven against High Point but still held ETSU to zero shots on goal last Sunday. It has to be said though that the score against the A-Sun side was still 0-0 through an hour despite VT’s domination, with the ACC side only striking paydirt when ETSU went down to ten men. Louisville’s a much bigger test, though the Cardinals’ defense has proven to be pliable in the first weekend of the season. The AAC side and future ACC rival is almost assuredly going to be the Hokies’ biggest opportunity to net a big non-conference win, with three mid-major sides to follow to close out the slate before ACC play. Given the unpredictability of league play, VT may want to score a victory here and increase their margin of error come Selection Monday.
Louisville will be in the heart of a make or break section of their non-conference season this weekend, continuing a stretch that began with Illinois last Sunday and ends with Kentucky next Friday in Lexington. The Cardinals were very assured in avoiding a banana peel in the opener and taking down Butler, but the game against the Illini was absolutely bonkers, and not necessarily in a reassuring way for the AAC side. The Cardinals blew two leads, needing a late equalizer to just force extra time, in which they were quickly dispatched by the Illini. If there’s a happy note, it’s that Charlyn Corral looks like turning into one of the nation’s most dangerous attacking players. The fact that Christine Exeter also seems to have rediscovered her scoring touch bodes well for the season as well. The bad news? Uh, did you notice they gave up five goals last Sunday? Virginia Tech, and especially Wake Forest, aren’t going to be accused of not being able to score any time soon, and if the Cardinals can’t tighten up, it promises to be a lost weekend. If they can keep the offense flowing though, the possibility of an upset is certainly there, and a win (or two) in Winston-Salem could be priceless for NCAA Tournament hopes.
Michigan State vs San Diego State – 5:00 PM
OK, Michigan State, time to prove it. The Spartans have played a bunch of stiffs in non-conference play for years but have appeared to finally grown smart to the whole non-league scheduling thing and put together a slate with some tests on it. OK, it’s really a lot of traditional mid-major powers, but baby steps, alright? The Spartans face a crunch weekend against San Diego State on Friday before traveling to Dayton on Sunday. Admittedly, MSU’s looked good so far against rather modest opposition, with Jessica White pacing the club with two goals over the weekend, while Rachel Van Poppelen had a goal and two assists in the 5-2 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee. There’s evidence that San Diego State isn’t going to be as strong as last season’s tremendous squad, but the Aztecs still have name value, with a win by MSU important for them to shift the perception of them as mere flat track bullies. The Spartans were 5-0 up against Wisconsin-Milwaukee after an hour last Sunday, meaning their 5-2 final scoreline against the Panthers wasn’t indicative of their domination, but they still can’t get complacent against a SDSU side eager to net a big scalp after a weekend of mixed fortunes.
San Diego State were welcomed rudely into 2013 by USC last Friday, with the Trojans essentially tap-dancing on the Aztecs’ skulls all game long, leading 3-0 at the half before cruising to a 4-1 victory. While it’s not like USC didn’t come into the game highly tipped to make a major impact, the margin of victory against SDSU had to have been disappointing for an Aztecs side trying desperately to shed the ‘inconsistent’ tag that the club has been labeled with for ages. They’d grind out a win against Saint Mary’s (CA) on Sunday, though five shots on target (+1 off the woodwork) out of twenty-three shots total wasn’t exactly something to crow about. Senior Jensen Skinner had a great performance and will need to continue to produce to keep teams from just keying in on Hannah Keane up top. The defense did a much better job of keeping the Gaels at bay on Sunday, but Michigan State’s attack will probably be closer to USC’s than Saint Mary’s (CA). This is a very big game for the Aztecs. They’re testing themselves, no doubt, but they really don’t want to go into Sunday with the prospect of being 1-3-0 with a loss to Michigan. Looking ahead, Michigan State could also be a potential bubble rival for an at-large bid if both clubs play up to their potential this season.
UCLA vs Marquette – 5:00 PM (South Bend, Indiana)
Now comes the hard part for UCLA. The really hard part. The next four games are almost ludicrously difficult for the Bruins, with Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Duke the next three teams on the docket after a testing neutral site game against Marquette on Friday evening. The Bruins didn’t seem to need too many gears last weekend to put Northeastern and Cal State Northridge in their place in two almost criminally easy victories. The Pac-12 side gave up one (one!) shot on goal COMBINED in two games and just four shots overall last weekend. Both games were essentially over after a quarter of an hour following an explosive burst of offense from the Bruins, who have effectively spread the wealth thus far. Jenna Richmond and Darian Jenkins have paced the club with a pair of goals each, while Caprice Dydasco’s marauding runs down the flank and Sarah Killion’s steady passing have kept the chances coming. Marquette’s a massive step up in class from the likes of Northeastern and Cal State Northridge though, and it’s going to be very interesting to see how UCLA deals with a side that has the ability to strike back with some offense. The Bruins will be hoping for another fast start so they can rotate players with Sunday’s match against Notre Dame in mind. They can’t overlook the Golden Eagles though, especially considering Marquette will be eager to please after an uneven first weekend.
It’s been a turbulent beginning to the new season for Marquette. The exhibition blowout loss to Wisconsin probably raised a few eyebrows, while the club’s roller coaster weekend in the Pacific Northwest may not have calmed nerves much. The defense kept it tight against Portland for much of last Friday but couldn’t sufficiently clear a ball, leading to the match’s only goal, as Marquette’s offense couldn’t really do much to trouble the Pilot defense, putting just two shots on goal. Marquette generally dominated Portland State on Sunday but still found themselves down going into the final quarter of an hour before turning it on for three goals, helped no doubt in the end by PSU going down to nine men after two players were sent off. The defense absolutely has to tighten up ahead of this showdown against a UCLA team that is lethal if given good looks in front of goal. Marquette has usually been lights out against teams of similar reputation but have often struggled to replicate that form against the top of the cut. This is their one and only chance to rectify that notion in the regular season this year, and an upset here would not only send shockwaves through the NCAA but also be a big boost to their national seeding hopes. It might be just the win that could give the club the confidence to slay giants regularly as well.
Virginia vs Penn State – 5:30 PM
So what in the world can Virginia do for an encore? Their four goal dismantling of Santa Clara could eventually go down as one of the results of the regular season, but there’s no time to bathe in the plaudits that came after that performance. Virginia had begun the weekend by crushing VCU, with midfielder Morgan Brian savaging the Rams with six shots on goal and two assists to her name. Makenzy Doniak came alive on Sunday with a goal and an assist, while Brittany Ratcliffe continued to be a super sub extraordinaire, netting two more off the bench after having added one as a reserve on Friday. The defense had given up a pair of goals very much against the total run of play against VCU but made no mistake against Santa Clara, limiting the Broncos to a paltry one shot on goal and holding Morgan Marlborough, Sofia Huerta, and Julie Johnston to zero shots combined. Interestingly, Virginia opted for hotshot rookie Morgan Stearns in goal against the Broncos against SCU despite splitting Churchill O’Connell and Danielle DeLisle against VCU a few days earlier. Picking right in goal again could be key for Virginia’s hopes for victory against an explosive offense. Going the other way, UVA will be thankful to have Morgan Brian’s services after the midfielder was recalled to the USWNT for a friendly against Mexico. Helping to mastermind a win against Penn State would be another feather in her and her side’s cap and could reap big dividends in November.
Penn State were expected to keep on rolling going into the new season despite some heavily losses in the offseason but stuttered a bit on opening weekend. PSU dominated the stat sheet against West Virginia on Friday but still found themselves staring at defeat with ten minutes to play, down 2-0. They’d pull it from the fire with two late goals from Taylor Schram and Maya Hayes, but it was probably still too close for comfort for Erica Walsh, while the boss will likely also see it as a chance for a big win spurned. Though the club would come out furiously against Hofstra, racing out to a 2-0 lead, they struggled to salt the game away, with the club having to defend doggedly during a sluggish second half which featured the Nittany Lions up by just a goal for most of the period. It’s not exactly the roaring start some had envisioned for PSU, but they certainly have enough talent to burst into life at any moment. A reworked defense and new starting goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom will be put to the test against a Virginia club that has shredded defenses thus far. Penn State’s not going to face another ‘elite’ team (probably) until they host Michigan in mid-October in league play. With one potentially big chance for a trademark win having gone against West Virginia, it’s going to be critical for PSU to grab a victory on the road here for their hopes of a high national seed.
(Check back later for previews of the following five games.)
UCF vs Tennessee – 6:00 PM
Wake Forest vs North Texas – 6:00 PM
Washington vs Baylor – 6:30 PM
Boston University vs South Carolina – 7:30 PM
Texas A&M vs Arizona State – 8:30 PM