Victoria Barba & San Diego State Will Aim For A Big Upset on Friday Night
Stanford vs San Diego State – 8:00 PM (Santa Clara Classic at Santa Clara, California)
How high can San Diego State climb? We could find out on Friday as the streaking Aztecs come into Santa Clara to square off against defending national champions Stanford. It’s a de facto home game for Stanford, but they’ll be facing off against one of the nation’s quickest starters, as SDSU has begun their 2012 campaign with seven straight wins to be one of just six remaining teams with a 100% record going into Friday. They opened up with six straight clean sheet wins before finally conceding last Sunday against Iowa State. In the end, the Aztecs came from behind for a 2-1 win to keep their perfect streak alive. The Mountain West title favorites have an unforgiving defense, with just one goal conceded all year, and they’ll need to be on their toes on Friday against a powerful Stanford offense. The Aztecs haven’t scored more than two goals in a game, meaning an offensive shootout would likely be curtains for their hopes of an upset. After a rare two game winless streak at the end of August, Stanford got a little of their mojo back last weekend with two clean sheet victories at home. They labored a bit against Boston University en route to needing a late winner to squeak out as 1-0 victors but promptly eviscerated Georgetown, winning 6-0 despite the visitors trying their best to make a game of it. The weekend was Stanford’s offense in a nutshell, bouncing between the sublime and the sluggish. Joint leading scorer Mariah Nogueira is mainly known for her rocket shots and heading ability, while the other leader, Natalie Griffen, is still trying to turn into a consistent scorer at this level. The big addition of course is that of Chioma Ubogagu, who returns after collecting a winner’s medal for the U.S. U20 team at the U20 World Cup. Stanford will almost assuredly need her at her best for a deep run into the postseason. At the very least, they’ll need her or one of her teammates to step up on Friday night to try and breach the defenses of a very stingy and ambitious San Diego State side.
Notre Dame vs Louisville – 4:00 PM
Could the Big East title be decided right off the bat on the first matchday? While there will still be plenty of battles to be fought, the Irish know that this could be a make or break fixture for their Big East title hopes, with Louisville likely to be one of their biggest challengers for silverware this year. Then again, the Irish might be more concerned with just winning matches right now. Notre Dame enters into this one on the back of a three match winless streak after a promising stretch of three straight wins. The last match of that dire run was a 3-0 defeat to Washington in Seattle, the club’s worst loss since the infamous beating they took at the hands of North Carolina in South Bend on opening night of their current stadium. Youth has dominated the Notre Dame lineup this year, but that youth will have to grow up in a hurry if this group is to make an impact deep into November this year. Louisville began this season on fire, with four straight wins to open up the new year but took a big hit when they lost to Kentucky on home turf in the state derby last week. They recovered with a 3-1 win over Toledo, but their RPI is still lagging a bit, and the Cardinals really need some wins in Big East play to feel safe about a return to the NCAA Tournament. Ambitions of course are higher than that this year for Louisville, as the Card will be looking to reel in some league silverware to build on last year’s success. The club looks to be still trying to integrate Christine Exeter into the offense after her stint at the U20 World Cup for Canada, and the Cardinals will be hoping that that process takes a big step forward this weekend. With three very winnable games after this, Louisville knows that a win on the road against a title rival would be a massive step towards the title. Winning in South Bend is no picnic though, and the Irish should be motivated to deliver a big win after last Sunday’s nightmare in Seattle.
Kansas vs Denver – 6:00 PM
Denver’s resurrection over the past few weeks has been impressive to watch, as the Pioneers have climbed the ladder back into contention for an at-large bid after a rather shaky start that saw the Pioneers go 1-1-1 to open up the new year. While a couple of wins over mid-majors weren’t enough to draw much attention their way, last weekend’s bravura display at home against Colorado and UC Irvine was eye catching to say the least, with the club pounding both sides to run their win streak to four matches. The offense, which had only shown brief glimpses of the scoring form that had so devastated many opponents last year, came alive, with the Pioneers blowing away their rivals in fine fashion. While next Sunday’s match against Portland may be the true test of Denver’s at-large ambitions, Kansas presents a fine challenge as well. The Jayhawks perhaps haven’t hit the heights expected of them by some before the season, but then again, they really haven’t had many chances to truly prove their mettle against an elite team. While the defeat to Northwestern was a shock, the club has also beaten Georgia and NC State, though a draw with Arizona State might be seen by some as a sign for pessimism. The continued absence of Colombian internationals Liana Salazar and Ingrid Vidal for reasons unknown continues to be an almighty puzzle, though the club has shown plenty of firepower in their stead. Caroline Kastor has already notched seven goals to her name, while freshman Ashley Williams has picked up much of the slack in Vidal’s absence, with six goals. The defense, so often a problem last year, has given up just a goal a game, which should also be a hopeful sign. The Jayhawks are treading right near the RPI danger zone though, so they need every win they can get, and a victory over Denver could be a valuable one come November.
Kentucky vs Florida – 7:00 PM
It was equal parts ecstasy and agony for Kentucky last weekend, as the Wildcats racked up one big one and one potentially damaging loss in a three day span. Big Blue surely took great pride in vanquishing state rivals Louisville, 2-0, in the club’s biggest non-conference test by far, in a result that could have major consequences for both in the push for an NCAA Tournament bid down the line. The joy was relatively short lived though, as UK ended up dropping a game to Samford in shocking fashion, with Jon Lipsitz’s team well off the pace in a costly 3-1 defeat to the SoCon contenders. While Samford have been a traditional pain in the neck for many SEC clubs, this didn’t look like a year where they could manage an upset of a flying Kentucky side. Their RPI taking a hit from that loss, the pressure will be on to make a strong start to the league campaign. They couldn’t have asked for a more challenging opponent to open up the new season with though, as league title contenders Florida come to Lexington on Friday night. The Gators will come into the new SEC season with no shortage of motivation after failing to capture a major trophy for the first time in ages last season. After some shocking showings early on, Florida reinvigorated their season with a stirring comeback win over Duke while also winning their last two at home over formidable mid-majors. The offense, which had been hit or miss early, has seemingly found its form as of late. Attacking midfielder Erika Tymrak should be one of the league’s top players this year and is the offensive conduit, while Havana Solaun has also shown glimpses of greatness early. With a marathon league season ahead of them, defeat here wouldn’t be fatal for either side’s hopes, but both will be eager to grab the three points to kick the league campaign off in style.
South Carolina vs Mississippi State – 7:00 PM
It’s reality check time for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have been one of the nation’s big mysteries thus far, reeling off a perfect 7-0-0 record to rise to a comfortable position in the RPI. The only problem is that MSU has been feeding on a lot of regional minnows, puffing up their record without testing themselves much. They’ve played just one uRPI Top 100 team, Georgia State, and it’s questionable as to whether GSU will finish there at season’s end. Nobody really knows how good the Bulldogs are going into league play. If they’re anything like last season, MSU will likely be outshot by many an SEC foe this year but will be dangerous on the counter. Veteran Elisabeth Sullivan and rookie Honeye Heydari lead the attack with five goals each, but it remains to be seen how both fare in the face of better defenses. South Carolina certainly counts as a better defense than what MSU’s faced thus far, with the Gamecocks having conceded just one goal in their last four matches. Unfortunately, Carolina conceded that in extra time against Clemson, in a loss that could severely damage their NCAA Tournament hopes. SC hasn’t beaten anybody higher than #180 in the uRPI thus far, explaining why they’re stuck at #140 in the RPI going into Friday. The offense has struggled to fire against top competition, with Danielle Au still firing blanks, though Coryn Bajema has been solid with three goals in six games thus far. More than likely though, SC will have to it with defense in the league. It’s a good thing then they have one of the nation’s best in Sabrina D’Angelo between the pipes. How busy she’ll be on Friday is up in the air, but then again, one wonders how much Carolina will trouble her counterpart in the Mississippi State net given their hit and miss offense thus far.
Tennessee vs Alabama – 7:00 PM
The rivalry here doesn’t quite simmer like the gridiron meetings between these two programs, but it’s still rife with storylines, as one of the league’s old guard tries to protect its turf against an up and coming Alabama side. The Lady Vols didn’t find much fruit from their trip out to California last weekend, drawing with Cal State Northridge before losing to UCLA. While the results certainly aren’t going to drag UT’s season into the abyss, they did reveal some offensive frailties within the group, especially in the absence of Caroline Brown, who missed both games through injury. It was expected that Brown and newcomer Hannah Wilkinson were going to combine to form a deadly duo in attack, but the former’s status is unknown for this weekend, while the latter looks very much to still be finding her feet at this level after coming off the bench in both games last weekend. Opponents Alabama have some work to do after losing their biggest non-conference match by far to Maryland last time out. The match was even for much of the night, but Bama would be pegged late and had no response. That Alabama could hang with an inconsistent but talented Maryland squad was encouraging, and so were the five wins before that match, though some would certainly question the strength of those wins given the opposition. The RPI also shows that Alabama needs to do a little more convincing on the pitch, meaning the Tide are going to have to net some big wins in the league if they want to return to the NCAA Tournament. Bama shouldn’t be lacking in goals, with the combo of Theresa Diederich and Katie Bourgeois having combined for ten goals thus far this year. Dutch players Pia Rijsdijk and Merel Van Dongen add a little continental flair to the proceedings, while Shelby Church has fit in seamlessly in goal after transferring from USC. Bama certainly doesn’t get it easy to open up league play, with three of the league’s expected top-half finishers right off the bat. A win would be a big result, but even a point would be a solid achievement considering how much the Tide has struggled against UT in Knoxville historically.
Auburn vs Missouri – 8:00 PM
Missouri’s addition to the SEC means a couple more guaranteed “Tiger Derbies” a season in the league and more confusion for media pundits everywhere. There’s no confusing the pressure on the home side going into this one though. Auburn may have kept itself from walking the plank so early in the year by beating Texas Tech, but the defending SEC Tournament champs are far from out of the woods as far as the RPI is concerned and will need to have a good league season to make it back to the Big Dance. The win of the Red Raiders snapped a string of three losses in four as Auburn floundered after two easy wins to open the season. In large part, the Tigers are still waiting for a consistent threat to emerge in front of goal. Leading scorer Tori Ball is a natural forward but has been used at full-back early this season, while Tatiana Coleman and Ana Cate have both floundered thus far, with just one goal between them. It hints that the home side could be in trouble if this one turns into a high scoring contest, which could be a distinct possibility given the opposition. Missouri was scoring goals for fun for much of non-conference play, including five against Memphis and three against Cal. The last impression Missouri left wasn’t a great one though, as this set of Tigers had little roar to their offensive game in the non-conference finale to Ohio State, a 1-0 loss in extra time. Bryan Blitz and co. will be hoping that that was an anomaly and not the beginning of something more sinister as league play begins. The opening of the SEC season looks pretty forgiving for these Tigers, and Mizzou could be in a great position by the time they face their first real league title challenger in the form of Tennessee in a few weeks. For dreams of glory though, Missouri has to take down a motivated Auburn team on The Plains on Friday night.
LSU vs Texas A&M – 8:00 PM
LSU will be looking to not just open up their league campaign in style but to also avenge last season’s NCAA Tournament defeat where they were sent packing from College Station with a 4-0 defeat in which the Aggies toyed with their quarry. They might have home advantage this time around, but LSU will still be heavy underdogs against one of the league title favorites. The Tigers come into this one with a four match unbeaten streak capped off by a win over Memphis, but the club’s non-wins might be leaving a lasting impression as well with a defeat to NC State and draws with Rice and Florida International lingering in the mind. Offense has been an inconsistent proposition for LSU thus far, with the Tigers scoring just a little more than a goal a game in non-conference play. That means the home side might need to count on their defense to slow down Texas A&M, which is a lot easier said than done, especially in the visitors’ current form. The Aggies were a bit up and down early in the season on an opening week road trip but have looked irrepressible back at home since, with big wins over Rutgers, Long Beach State, and Central Michigan lining their resume. Despite starting just a combined two matches so far, Annie Kunz and Kelley Monogue have been dangerous weapons in attack for A&M, with each netting four times thus far for the club. They and the Aggies will be hoping they find league play just as easy as non-conference play, with the possibility for goals galore against some of the SEC’s lesser sides. A&M’s big wins have all come at home this season though, and until the Aggies get it done away from College Station, some may still remain skeptical about their postseason hopes. A convincing win on Friday wouldn’t answer all questions, but it’d be a start for the SEC newcomers.
Oklahoma State vs North Texas – 8:00 PM
So, raise your hand if you thought that North Texas would be entering this match with the higher RPI. It’s that grim reality that confronts Oklahoma State as they edge closer to league play. The Cowgirls may have a lot of wins on their resume right now, but there’s not a lot of quality results dotting said resume, with the club’s victories over Vanderbilt and Memphis currently standing out, though neither is currently in the uRPI Top 50. Compounding matters for OSU is the loss to Oklahoma, a side who currently aren’t in the uRPI Top 100. Opponents North Texas certainly aren’t going to be a pushover, especially with the Mean Green still in with a sliver of a chance at an at-large bid. The Sun Belt title contenders opened up the season in a fine run of form, albeit against middling competition, but proved their mettle last Friday by playing a tough Baylor side to a standstill in a 0-0 draw. The Mean Green would look a bit shellshocked in the follow up as they were quickly down 2-0 to Long Beach State before fighting their way back level, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion in extra time. That defeat pretty much makes this match a must win for their slight chance at an at-large bid, but even if the North Texas does emerge with the upset, OSU’s rather disappointing profile may not be enough to get it done in the end for them should they not win the auto bid from the Sun Belt. The Cowgirls know they’ll slide into deeper trouble with a loss though, meaning the Big XII side will be eager to build on last Sunday’s 4-0 win over Rice as they look to down another mid-major from the Lone Star State.
San Diego vs USC – 8:00 PM
It’s crunch time for USC, as the Women of Troy try to turn around their flagging 2012 season. After winning their first two games, USC has now gone winless in their last four, a run including three losses at home, with the defense leaking goals like a sieve, with the Trojans having not kept a clean sheet all season. The 2007 national champions are getting dangerously close to being a non-factor again in the NCAA Tournament picture, an unthinkable fate for a club that was lifting the big prize just a half-decade ago. To break their winless run, they’ll have to beat a San Diego club they’ve lost to four times in the past three seasons. Playing a home-and-home series again with the Toreros this year, USC was felled again by their nemesis a few weeks ago, scoring first but then being pegged back twice to fall, 2-1. Speaking of bad defenses, San Diego’s defense is actually in the bottom ten nationally in goals conceded after last weekend’s horror show in The Triangle. The Toreros have given up twenty-one goals in eight games, keeping just one clean sheet. USD will be looking to eliminate the defending that saw them ship nine last weekend to Duke and North Carolina, with the club having conceded three or more goals four times now. Despite a 3-5-0 record though, San Diego still has plenty of hope for an NCAA Tournament bid thanks to a very difficult non-conference schedule that has seen them play seven teams in the uRPI Top 100. The only team not in that list? USC. A loss to the Trojans would be a big wrench in San Diego’s NCAA Tournament plans. Conversely, another defeat by USC to the Toreros might just spell the end for the Women of Troy’s hopes for a return to the NCAA Tournament.
Texas Tech vs Long Beach State – 8:00 PM (Cal State Fullerton Under Armour Invitational at Fullerton, California)
You only get so many chances to make an impression, and Texas Tech’s impression upon many thus far in 2012 is of a team that still can’t close the deal against the big teams. The Red Raiders entered September in desperate need of a big win they could hang their hat on come Selection Monday and had a chance to get a pair of them at SEC schools Ole Miss and Auburn. They came up short in both, the once airtight defense looking much more vulnerable as they gave up two goals in each. The offense, which had looked so promising early, also went sour, scoring just one goal in those two matches. Though it’s still early, TTU is already flirting with danger, an ominous sign for a club that has never qualified for an NCAA Tournament in its history. They get one more chance to seal a big win before league play starts though, traveling to California for two games, including Friday’s contest against Long Beach State. The 49ers are riding a strong start to the season to a lofty RPI standing right now, with wins over Baylor, Michigan, and North Texas all combining to make LBSU look like a near lock at the moment. There’s still work to be done though, and a win over the Red Raiders could get the Beach even closer to an NCAA Tournament return. 49ers scoring talisman Nadia Link has found it a little harder going at the beginning of this season but broke out in a big way last Sunday, scoring a hat trick to shoot down a brave North Texas team. If Link is the present for LBSU, then Janine Beckie could be the future for Texas Tech. The rookie was heavily hyped coming into the college ranks and has been the centerpiece of the offense thus far, taking nearly three times as many shots as her next closest counterpart. Three goals and two assists are a decent return, but a game winning goal on Friday would be sweetest of all for the rookie as she tries to lead her side to a big non-conference win.