(Previews for later matches will be up later in the day.)
North Carolina vs UCLA – 8:00 PM (in Durham, North Carolina)
The last time North Carolina took the pitch against an Amanda Cromwell coached team, UCF fired an arrow through the heart of the Tar Heels in the Sweet Sixteen of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The penalty shootout defeat at the hands of the Knights remains one of the most shocking results in UNC history and affirmed Cromwell’s reputation as one of the nation’s best coaches. That reputation earned Cromwell a move to UCLA over the offseason, where the former USWNT international has taken little time in making the Bruins, again, look like a team capable of finally lifting the big prize at the end of the season. UCLA certainly looks the part after last weekend’s comeback win over Marquette and utterly dominant defensive showing against Notre Dame on Sunday. The Bruins held the Irish to just one (off-target) shot and completed the smash-and-grab win with a late Darian Jenkins strike. Jenkins has stepped nicely into the role of offensive talisman, with four goals thus far, and she can further her resume on Friday night with a strong showing against North Carolina. The UCLA defense will also surely relish the challenge of stopping another powerful offense, but the real onus might be on defensive midfielder Sarah Killion to put the brakes on Crystal Dunn, who has looked nigh-unstoppable in her attacking midfield role thus far. After this weekend, the Bruins will likely be favored in every matchup, save the road trip to Stanford. If the club can get two results out of Durham, they could well be well on their way to a #1 seed in November.
Barring some brief defensive follies against New Mexico last Friday, North Carolina’s looked equally unstoppable. The Tar Heels lost no momentum after their impressive opening weekend showing, though admittedly, the competition wasn’t exactly top flight. The Heels did show they were capable of coming from behind though, erasing a deficit against the Lobos before easing past minnows Kennesaw State, 3-0, without Crystal Dunn, who had gone to join up with the USWNT ahead of their friendly against Mexico. There really aren’t any more gimmes from this point on. League play starts next week in what looks like an ultra-competitive ACC, and the club gets UCLA and West Virginia, two clubs tipped for titles in their own conferences, this weekend. The matchup between Dunn and Killion in midfield is obviously the starring attraction, but there’s also eager anticipation to see if the Tar Heel defense can shut down UCLA’s attack as they did Santa Clara’s in the opener. Also worth watching is how the frontline of Summer Green, Kealia Ohai, and potentially Alexa Newfield, recovering from injury, does against a Bruin backline that all but erased Notre Dame’s attack from the equation last Sunday. The last time these two teams met, it was a 7-2 massacre in favor of the Tar Heels in 2009 at Fetzer. Don’t count on a similar scoreline on Friday, in what could be a College Cup preview.
Baylor vs Missouri – 5:00 PM (in College Station, Texas)
It’s a blast from the past this weekend for Baylor, as the Bears face two old Big XII rivals that have since moved on to the SEC. First up is Missouri, with the Tigers coming into this one off the back of two wins last weekend in dominating fashion. Missouri’s problem is that those two triumphs, over Southeast Missouri State and UMKC, along with the opening night win against Pacific, aren’t likely to do much for their cause in the RPI come season’s end. The one match against an opponent of any repute, Memphis, ended in a 2-1 extra time loss for the SEC side. As you might imagine, it’s a pretty big weekend for Bryan Blitz’s side, who make the commute down to College Station to take on the Bears, along with San Diego on Sunday. After springing a few leaks on opening weekend, Mizzou tightened things up last week, but that was against inferior opposition, with this weekend’s foes promising to be much tougher on the Tiger defense. Offensively, Missouri has run roughshod over their overmatched foes with a well-balanced attack, with four player tallying at least two goals. The lead gun at this point, surprisingly, is Taylor Grant, who fired a goose egg last year with zero goals, but who has two goals and three assists this seas thus far. The club surely wants more though from Alyssa Diggs, highly tipped to make a big impact at the start of the season, who has just a single goal so far, as well as Dominique Richardson, who leads the club in shots on goal but has just one goal as well.
Opponents Baylor are looking for a little affirmation of their own in by far their toughest matchup of non-conference play thus far. The Bears didn’t have any trouble on opening weekend against overmatched opposition before digging a little bit more into a deeper part of their schedule last week. Of course, Washington doesn’t exactly look hot right now, and SMU has been middling as well, meaning Baylor may not really have a win of consequence so far. Still, this is a Bears team that is one of a handful to have not conceded yet, which is impressive regardless of opposition. The offense has continued to roll along in the opening weeks of the season, with rookie Ashley York looking like a potential star for the Bears based upon early returns. Already a key cog of the attack, York leads the club with four goals, and along with Natalie Huggins, has been doing a lot of the heavy lifting on offense so far. Both these clubs have a reputation for not giving any quarter, meaning Friday night’s affair between old conference rivals could be a bruising affair that’s full of blood and thunder on a big night in college soccer.
Michigan vs Pepperdine – 5:00 PM
The Michigan attack has been putting up video game numbers thus far, netting a whopping eighteen goals in five games to put them amongst the top teams in the scoring chart thus far and will get another chance to add to that total on Friday evening against visiting Pepperdine. You can’t argue that Michigan hasn’t been a little conservative with their non-conference scheduling, not even bothering to venture outside of Ann Arbor for their first six games, but the Wolverines have knocked down every challenge in front of them rather confidently. Nkem Ezurike has been the focal point of the offense as expected and has a hand in eight of the club’s fourteen goals, with three strikes and five assists, tops on the team in both categories. The Wolverines have showcased their depth throughout, with the reserve crew of Madisson Lewis and Nicky Waldeck also impressing with five goals and four assists combined despite neither having started a match for the club yet. The one worry might be how well the club holds up against an elite level defense, which the club has definitely not faced yet. The Wolverines have worryingly conceded a goal in their last three games and face a tough challenge in stifling a Pepperdine attack that has been very impressive early this season. Unless San Diego State turns it on, Michigan’s non-conference wins aren’t exactly looking pristine, meaning they might really need this one for national seeding purposes.
Lynn Williams’ name was on everyone’s lips after last Sunday’s brilliant performance against Texas A&M in College Station. The explosive forward stunned the partisan Aggie crowd with two goals right after the break and assisted on the Waves’ third to ice it for the Malibu club. Williams has been without question the club’s offensive workhorse early on this season, taking over a third of the club’s shots and scoring three of their five goals so far (and assisting on one of the two others). Williams’ stock soared after last Sunday’s showing and could rise even further on Friday if she can inspire the Waves to an upset of the Big Ten powerhouse Wolverines. Rookie Kristen Rodriguez has provided a bit of spark off the bench with two goals in three games despite not starting a single match so far and may need to be a big contributor again if Pepperdine can’t get Williams going. The Waves passed a pretty big defensive test against Texas A&M, bending just enough not to totally break, and they’ll need more of the same against a potent Michigan side. If Pepperdine can pull off another road upset, they may be well on their way to a national seed in the NCAA Tournament, with further opportunities to come against USC and UCLA to boost their resume.
USC vs Ole Miss – 5:30 PM (in Minneapolis, Minnesota)
It’s clearly time for Ole Miss to make a statement after two weeks of batting around mid-majors like flies. Everyone at the beginning of the season figured the Rebels were going to be where they were at this point: 4-0-0 and in need of a quality win for the resume. Ole Miss, besides a patch of trouble in a contentious game against UAB, has been spot on both offensively and defensively, holding three of four opponents without a goal and putting the boots to everyone offensively. Last Sunday’s 2-0 win against Saint Louis was actually their worst offensive showing of the season, which speaks well of the Ole Miss attack. As expected, the combined talents of Mandy McCalla and Rafaelle Souza up top have driven the Rebels forward, with the duo combining for eight goals and two assists thus far. The club also has to be encouraged by three goals from Jennifer Miller and reasonable offensive contributions from quick triggered Olivia Harrison. Clearly though, USC’s by far the biggest test the club will have faced, and the Rebels will have to raise their game on both offense and defense to stand a chance against the red hot Trojans. On a non-conference schedule short on real opportunities to gather spotlight wins, this is the opening contest of a critical weekend for Ole Miss’ NCAA Tournament hopes.
The Trojans probably aren’t going into this seeing Ole Miss as anything more than another challenge in a long line of them to open up the season. USC hasn’t been playing patsies and has thrown San Diego State, San Diego, and Cal State Northridge into the wood chipper in successive games, scoring four times on each occasion. It’s unlikely Ole Miss is going to be worlds better than any of the sides USC’s faced, but the Rebels’ potency on offense and the occasionally leaky Trojan defense could give the Pac-12 side some pause going into this neutral site contest. USC’s given up four goals in three games and hasn’t kept a clean sheet yet, which isn’t a big deal considering the club’s offense, but it’s the type of series of lapses that could cost the club down the line. The club will just have to keep scoring then. That they’ve done in spades. Elizabeth Eddy looks like the player everyone thought she could become coming into college, while rookie Kayla Mills has befuddled opposing defenses so far to the tune of two goals and three assists. Add in the deadly Tanya Samarzich off the bench, with the Mexican international having netted three goals in cameos, and you’ve got one hell of a strikeforce. The big test may be next week back in Los Angeles against Pepperdine, but showing they can keep their composure with the increased attention while being away from California at the same time would be another show of this side’s maturity and potential this year.
Duke vs West Virginia – 6:00 PM
It’s essentially the undercard to the main event of the evening, but what an undercard! The Blue Devils come into this one with it all to prove after something of an unconvincing start to the new season. The win in College Station was fine enough against a fancied Texas A&M team, but everything since has raised eyebrows. The ill-advised trip back to South Carolina on the Sunday of opening week resulted in a flat 1-0 loss to the Gamecocks that saw the club fire blanks on offense, an unthinkable proposition going into the new season. Duke then dominated the stat sheet against Kennesaw State and New Mexico but still scored just once in two 1-0 wins against each opponent. The offense is clearly misfiring. Kaitlyn Kerr and Kim DeCesare have looked most likely to score and have one goal each, but Laura Weinberg and Kelly Cobb have both been slumping badly so far. Neither has a point, while Weinberg is putting just 38% of her shots on goal. It’s worse for Cobb, who has put just two of twelve efforts on frame. The good news is that the defense looks surprisingly spry for a unit with so much turnover in the offseason. Truthfully, holding Texas A&M off the board was the most impressive effort thus far, with last week’s opponents lacking the firepower to challenge the backline. That should change this week, and it’s going to be very interesting indeed to see how offense and defense fare against West Virginia’s strong units.
The visiting Mountaineers also had a fairly uneventful second weekend of the season last week. Central Michigan would normally be problematic, but the Chippewas are in a rebuilding season and fell by a 4-0 count, while Morehead State was also turned over, 2-0. It was something of a relief after a challenging first week that had seen the club blow a two goal lead late to Penn State before having to battle for victory against Syracuse. The powerful duo of Kate Schwindel and Frances Silva haven’t missed a beat this season, with both combining for four goals and four assists, while Kelsie Maloney has provided additional firepower with two goals and assists of her own for the club. WVU has also relatively seamlessly incorporated Canadian starlet Kadeisha Buchanan into the lineup following her recent star turn, and the rookie figures to be key in helping keep Duke’s potent attack off the board on Friday evening. The club did suffer a big blow with a season ending injury to midfielder Bryce Banuelos, and it’ll be interesting to see how WVU copes without one of their most promising players. Nikki Izzo-Brown’s side’s national reputation took a bit of a battering after last season’s postseason debacle, but a tremendous recruiting class and stellar start to 2013 has gone some way in repairing that image. A positive result or two would only further that effort and affirm the Mountaineers’ status as a potential dark horse for a spot in Cary in the College Cup.
(Following Match Previews Will Be Up By Late Afternoon)
*Florida State vs Oklahoma State – 7:00 PM
*Penn State vs Boston University – 7:00 PM
*Virginia vs Rutgers – 7:00 PM
*Cal vs Harvard – 7:30 PM (in San Francisco, California)
*BYU vs Utah – 9:00 PM
*Santa Clara vs Maryland – 10:00 PM
Other Matches to Watch:
Clemson vs South Carolina – 5:30 PM – The battle for superiority in the Palmetto State has some real heat behind it. Finally. Both these sides have enjoyed fine starts to the season, though the visitors will likely be more confident considering their defense and big game pedigree after beating Duke earlier. Clemson pulled the upset last season in Columbia though and will be looking to run their unbeaten streak to four as ACC play approaches.
Wisconsin vs Vanderbilt – 6:00 PM – Good Vandy or Bad Vandy? The Commodores side that shows up in Madison will likely determine how rough Wisconsin has it on Friday. If the Dores side that beat Memphis and drew with Oklahoma State shows up, this one could be a deceivingly tough game for the hosts. If the side that lost to Rice and UAB shows up, the Badgers should win it in a walk.
Arizona vs Kansas – 7:30 PM (in Tempe, Arizona) – Let’s welcome Arizona back in from the wilderness after so many years of painful struggle. The Wildcats battled to a deserved draw against Ohio State last weekend to continue their unbeaten start to 2013. This weekend could show the Wildcats are more than just a feel good story. It starts Friday against a Kansas side that has rebounded well from an opening day setback against Arkansas.
Kentucky vs Louisville – 7:30 PM – This intense state rivalry could pack extra meaning this season with both clubs potentially on or around the bubble come Selection Monday. The home side got their offense going with some tactical switches against lesser opposition, but it’ll be their defense that’s key in trying to shut down the Cardinals’ deadly attacking duo of Christine Exeter and Charlyn Corral.
Iowa vs Iowa State – 8:00 PM – Are either of these sides for real? Two clubs who traditionally have inflated their records with creampuff non-conference schedules have been doing much of the same this season, though ISU did challenge itself (and lost) against Minnesota last week. Iowa has been in control of the rivalry as of late, but who knows what’s in store for the derby’s latest installment on Friday night?
Minnesota vs LSU – 8:00 PM – LSU will naturally be feeling the heat for results after a 4-2 defeat to BYU at home in their first major test of the year, while a resurgent Minnesota side will look for another notch on their belt in the first of three straight against SEC opposition. A weekend sweep would certainly put the Golden Gophers back in the at-large bid discussion.
Texas A&M vs San Diego – 9:00 PM – The home side endured an up and down weekend against Arizona State and Pepperdine and will be looking for better fortunes against another WCC side on Friday night. The Toreros have been spot on other than a spanking at USC’s hands and will be looking to boost their at-large hopes with a big scalp away from home.
Arizona State vs Illinois – 10:00 PM – Fireworks are likely the order of the day as Illinois’ explosive attack becomes a road show. The Illini have won three straight under a torrent of goals despite a leaky defense and will be looking for their biggest result yet against ASU. With Devin Marshall and Cali Farquharson leading the line though, the Sun Devils could cause yet more headaches for the Illinois rearguard.