USC vs Pepperdine – 6:30 PM
Southern California college WoSo fans have probably never had it so well. Be it UCLA or these two teams, Los Angeles is in many ways the nexus of women’s college soccer at the moment. The visitors will likely come into this one with most to gain, as the Waves pursue their fourth straight win after their lone defeat on the season to UCLA a few weeks ago. Since that loss, Pepperdine has scored seven goals in three wins, with the offense looking to be humming again after a goalless weekend in Hawaii at the beginning of the month. After the thrilling win against Kentucky a week ago, Pepperdine came back home to face Mountain West side Boise State and got one of their most complete performances of the season. The defense shook off some shaky moments against Kentucky to conceded just one shot on goal against the Broncos while getting great games from Lynn Williams, Taylor Alvarado, and Ally Holtz, with the trio combining for seven shots on goal and the club’s two goals. Given the painful struggles of the WCC this season, this is, realistically, the last chance for the Waves to get a big RPI boosting win. Victory here would be another feather in their cap as they pursue a top-two national seed. A club with wins over USC, Maryland, North Carolina, and Kentucky would be hard to not consider for that coveted position.
USC enters this one unbeaten and, after Friday’s farcical match with SWAC side Arkansas-Pine Bluff, likely unfatigued. The Trojans’ win against the SWAC side was little more than a training exercise designed as a competitive match, with the Pac-12 side breaking their program record for goals in a match in the 9-0 battering that could’ve been double that. While it remains to be seen what effect that UAPB has on USC’s RPI, a win against the WCC favorites would certainly go some way in counteracting that damage. The Women of Troy have a nice profile already with wins over Notre Dame and Long Beach State, but they probably need a few more big results to get themselves in contention for a national seed. With all do respect to the likes of Katie Johnson, Megan Borman, Alex Quincy, and Jamie Fink, all of whom have looked more than competent in the attack this season, the defense is probably going to make or break the Trojans this Sunday. Converted attackers Kayla Mills and Reilly Parker have been brilliant as the club’s full-backs this season but will have to be disciplined positionally in this one given the Waves’ counterattacking power. If one gets caught too high up the pitch, Lynn Williams could burst into the channels and create real problems in transition. USC hasn’t given up multiple goals this season, but they also have just three clean sheets in eight matches. Keeping a clean sheet may not be essential to victory, but keeping the chances for the Waves down might be. This should be a superb test for both sides who each have hopes of making a deep run into November.
Auburn vs South Carolina – 1:00 PM
Both of these clubs will begin their SEC seasons with the expectation of an NCAA Tournament bid in a month and a half, but despite lofty RPIs right now, neither has an overwhelming profile of big wins thus far. The home side has some wins over Furman, UC Irvine, and Minnesota, which have helped it up the RPI, but there’s also the feeling that a couple of losses in the league could see them start to slip down the table. Victory over dark horse league title contenders South Carolina would certainly firm up their position. The Tigers have seemingly put last year’s scoring problems in the rearview mirror, not being shutout once this season while putting up multiple goals in six of their matches, all wins. That included last Sunday’s win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where the offense didn’t exactly produce an overwhelming display but one that nonetheless got the job done. The Tigers don’t look entirely dependent on Casie Ramsier for goals any more, with Kristen Dodson and Ellie Leek combining for five goals and six assists. While its hard to argue that there’s an alpha dog leading the offense yet, the scorer-by-committee approach is working just fine. However, they will be facing a defense that has conceded just once this season, which could put the Tiger attack under pressure to convert what chances do roll their way. The defense has been solid for much of the season, but conceding two to the unfancied attacks of Clemson and Samford do show a little vulnerability. The schedule is actually pretty favorable for the Tigers after this. A win here would bring some momentum that could see Auburn rack up the wins in the first half of the league slate.
South Carolina’s defense has been on point through non-conference play, shutting out opponents in each of the club’s seven wins thus far. The victory over South Florida suddenly doesn’t look so meaningless, while the victories over Boston University and Florida Gulf Coast aren’t bad either. But one of the resounding images of South Carolina’s season is the 1-0 loss at home to Clemson, by far the best side the Gamecocks have played thus far. A win over Auburn probably won’t totally erase that memory, but it would go a long way in showing South Carolina’s ambitions of a national seed aren’t a pipe dream. The defense has long been this program’s calling card, but the offense hasn’t actually been that bad either considering some of the concerns going into this season. Center forward Savannah McCaskill came into Columbia with a great reputation and has had a license to shoot, but has just one goal thus far despite leading the team with three goals. Thankfully, the Gamecocks have gotten three goals apiece from Sophie Groff and Raina Johnson, though the club really does need to find a consistent bellcow to bring home the goals to contend for trophies this season. Be it through offense or suffocating defense though, a Carolina win on the road against a surprising Auburn team would go a long way in defying notions that these Gamecocks are mere flat track bullies.
Boston College vs Florida State – 1:00 PM
Neither Boston College nor Florida State enjoyed the most serene of matches on Thursday in their non-conference finales. The home side had come into their match against South Florida on the back of six straight wins and looked to be solid favorites for notching number seven as they took a 2-0 lead against the AAC side. But then, it all went horribly wrong. The Bulls came out of the break like a house afire, drawing themselves level after just six minutes. Bad went to worse when starting keeper Alex Johnson was forced off injured, while the visitors added insult to injury when Sara Miller nodded home from a corner for a USF winner. It was a meltdown worthy of the old Boston College that had made them frustrating and fascinating for so many years going into 2014. The Eagles have mostly played against type as an offensively solid and defensively stout side going into Thursday, but the stunning loss raises a whole slew of questions again. First and foremost might be Johnson’s injury status, with rookie Darien Dunham now likely to be pressed into starting duty, at least in the short-term. With sudden questions about the defense, it might again be up to Stephanie McCaffrey to provide the lumber after two goals Thursday. She and Hayley Dowd have formed a potent duo thus far, but it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to have the same effect against ACC foes.
Florida State also fought an AAC side in a five-goal thriller but came out victorious. Like South Florida, FSU found themselves down by a pair of goals after Rachel Hill had netted a brace. But the Noles wouldn’t stay down by two goals for very long. Less than a minute after Hill’s second, FSU got back to 2-1 through Berglind Thorvaldsdottir, who then brought the clubs level in the sixty-fifth minute with her fifth of the season. It was then perhaps an unlikely scorer through an unlikely goal that would put FSU up for good, as on a free kick, Kristin Grubka ended up on the ground with the ball just a short distance in front of her, with the center-back propelling her head at the grounded ball to nudge it over the line. It may be one of this season’s most indelible images and a goal that could ultimately mean so much for the Noles come season’s end. It was a stirring performance by the Tallahassee side, who were playing without numerous internationals, including Dagny Brynjarsdottir, who were returning home after Women’s World Cup qualifiers. That complement of international players should be back on Sunday, though there’s no telling how many minutes each will see on Sunday. Hill’s performance though has to raise a few questions about the defense’s performance against top forwards. The defense as a whole has not been as solid as in years’ past, and that could make for a stomach churning afternoon against a side boasting McCaffrey and Dowd. These two sides almost invariably play thrillers against each other, and there’s little reason why that should change on Sunday afternoon in Newton.
Rutgers vs Michigan – 1:00 PM
Dead and buried in San Diego at one point, Michigan has now won five in a row, including their first three league games and get main league title contenders Penn State in Ann Arbor in the middle of October. That’s perhaps a bit premature, but the Wolverines would appear to have as good a chance as any at usurping PSU, considering they still have a 100% record in the league after a 1-0 win at Maryland Friday, one match after having brought Wisconsin’s perfect record tumbling down. The defense, so poor on that road trip to California has given up just two goals in five games, with the Wolverines holding Maryland off the board on Friday. The offense wasn’t really in resplendent form against Maryland, with Ani Sarkisian held off the stat sheet with zero shots on goal. But Sarkisian did make a big impact in providing the assist for Madisson Lewis’ game winning goal in the eighty-third minute, with the defense holding the Terps to just two shots on goal in College Park. Another away win would certainly see the Wolverines as favorites to head into a huge league clash with Iowa in a few weeks at 6-0-0. Even if you can’t gaze that far into the future, a win here by the resurgent Michigan side would be another big step towards an at-large bid, a stunning turn of events considering where Greg Ryan’s side was at the end of August.
Standing in their way on Sunday will be a Rutgers side that rebounded well from their first loss of the regular season by downing Michigan State on Friday for their first league win as a member of the Big Ten. It was affirmation for the Scarlet Knights, who some were likely dismissing as flat track bullies after they rolled through what could generously be called an underwhelming non-conference schedule. But against MSU, Rutgers did a fantastic job of shutting down the Spartan attack, holding forward threat Jamie Cheslik shotless and generally dominating the stat sheet. Amy Pietrangelo had a fine game for the Scarlet Knights, chipping in with three shots on goal, but it’d take over eighty-eight minutes for the league newcomers to find the back of the net, with Samantha Valliant ripping home a free kick to settle matters with a little over a minute left to play. A daunting road trip to play Nebraska and Iowa looms next weekend, so the Scarlet Knights best take home as many points as they can get while still on home turf. 6-1-0 would like mighty good as far as an NCAA Tournament at-large bid is concerned as well.
San Diego vs Oklahoma – 4:00 PM
It might be time to wonder if these two clubs are heading in opposite directions as the season nears its halfway point. Oklahoma began with a furious start including a win over Florida in Norman that immediately put it in a great position for an at-large bid. The momentum looked to be in full swing when the club won three in a row at the beginning of the month, but a scoreless draw with Tulsa followed by a 2-1 loss to UC Irvine on Friday has stopped the club’s momentum in its tracks. The Sooners got their goal against UCI off a late free kick but were inconsistent offensively otherwise and are still searching for an alpha dog on offense. Irvine found success through Laura McGrail, who had three shots on goal, a goal, and an assist on the evening. Needless to say, OU’s going to need to be a little better on offense and defense to come away from Sunday afternoon’s meeting with San Diego with more than a second straight loss. As much as it matters for record and RPI purposes, OU really needs a win here to gain back some momentum. A third straight match without a win may have some questioning whether teams are beginning to figure the Sooners out.
San Diego are 2-4-2, but they might be the best 2-4-2 team on the planet. Strength of schedule aside, USD really needed a win going into Friday. It added increased importance to the derby against San Diego State, always a highly charged affair regardless of the circumstances. The Toreros made the best of their chances, scoring on a set piece in the first half and weathering a storm in the second half from the Mountain West side. While the Aztecs groused about the officiating, and the Toreros held on by their fingernails, USD found a second goal against the run of play from Nikki Pappalardo. With positive results against USC, Michigan, Long Beach State, and now San Diego State, you could make a solid argument that the WCC side has a much better non-conference resume than a good many other major conference clubs at this point. Oklahoma represents the meatiest prey left before WCC play, and another win would also have the bonus of getting them a goal closer to .500. USD may not have played at their best against SDSU, but above all other things, the Toreros needed a result, especially a shutout having conceded two goals in each of their past two matches. Another win would surely have the club buzzing as the halfway point of the season approaches.
Another Big Match That May or May Not Get A Preview Later
UCF vs Ole Miss – 6:00 PM