The NCAA Women’s College Cup semifinals kick-off Friday with Stanford taking on UCLA at 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2/ESPN360.com) and North Carolina battling Notre Dame in the nightcap at 8 p.m. ET (ESPNU).
Traditionally, these are four of the best teams in the college game,and things are not any different this year. Many are dubbing this asone of – if not the best – College Cups ever. It will showcase a slew of future WPS stars, and should play out to be an epic weekend of women’s college soccer.
Instead of rambling on about the usual, beaten-to-death, ‘Kelley O’Hara is great, UNC is incredible,’ mainstream stuff, The Equalizer thought it would be good to share some expert opinions on the 2009 Women’s College Cup.
Contributing to the preview is Sky Blue FC midfielder Yael Averbuch, FC Gold Pride Head Coach Albertin Montoya, Chicago Red Stars Head Coach Emma Hayes, Atlanta Beat Head Coach Gareth O’Sullivan, Los Angeles Sol General Manager and Pali Blues Head Coach Charlie Naimo, and Chicago Red Stars General Manager Marcia McDermott.
Let’s get right to it:
UCLA vs. Stanford
Stanford: Team of Destiny?
What can you say? At 24-0-0, it is tough to find anything wrong withthis team. Naimo says there might be some opportunities to exploit space in front of the back four, but even that is a stretch.
Montoya: “I think Stanford isthe best soccer-playing team in the country, but what also sets them apart is that they have the athletes to go with it. Their three attackers are as good as anyone else in the country with Kelley O’Hara,Christen Press and Lindsay Taylor.”
Naimo: “You have the most dynamic attack in the country with Taylor, Press and O’Hara at Stanford. Only eleven other pairs in history have scored 55 points apiece.”
UCLA: Peaking at the Right Time?
Everyone seems to agree that ever since UCLA lost 2-0 to Stanford onOct. 18, the team has gotten better every game. The fire-power of Sydney Leroux and Lauren Cheney will be tough to contain.
Montoya: “UCLA is playing the best soccer that they have played all year, and it could not have come at a better time.”
Hayes: “While I think Stanford have been one of the most impressive teams this year, but I think Cheney and Leroux are two game-changers in themselves.”
North Carolina vs. Notre Dame
North Carolina: Experience Prevails?
Averbuch admits she is biased as a North Carolina grad (who is still at Chapel Hill finishing classes), but she feels that the experience of the team will help the Tar Heels do well. Montoya and Naimo point to North Carolina’s high line in a three back system as a potential weakness.
Montoya on Casey Nogueira: “To me it is whenever she wants to turn it on, she is unstoppable. And it is just a matter of whether she wants to turn it on or not. I think she saves her best, always, for the playoffs.”
Notre Dame: The Unkown or the Underappreciated?
It was clear in talking to most folks that Notre Dame is a team that is by far less well-known than the other three teams in the College Cup. Many have barely seen them play, and admit that they are a very young side that is much-improved from August.
The question is, can the Fighting Irish fly under the radar en route to a championship?
Naimo: “They definitely lack the star power that they had in the past, but once again, here they are- great record and back in the Final Four. So, anything can happen.”
Montoya: “They’ve gotten healthy and they’ve got a great coaching staff there and they’ve putthe team together and they can give anyone a game.”
Hayes: “All around they are the youngest team in the Final Four, but they are not lacking talent. They have got some wonderful young players, and in [Melissa] Henderson and [Lauren] Fowlkes they start a front line that will cause any team a problem. I think you have to give them some credit. They have a history of being in the Final Four and your experience carries you a great deal. Knowing Anson [Dorance], too, there is no way he will underestimate them. They’ve got a very attacking system that will test Carolina’s back three, and in Henderson they have a player who is capable of a great deal and she will be a top pick in next year’s college draft. It’s like, while they are the underdogs, it’s a good position for them to be in.”
One thing is for sure: Nobody wants to predict who will win this tournament. Sure, the four teams are very equal, but nobody at least has a hunch? A gut feeling? And instinct?
Just to put this out there (after going three for four on my quarterfinals picks), I’ll be predicting a UNC-Stanford final, but I will go ahead and actually say something: Stanford is my pick. I think it is just the year of Stanford, and nobody else is going to stand inthe way of destiny.
Below are some thoughts from everyone else, though some may seem a bit vague.
Yael: “I think it’s one of those things that whoever shows up and plays well on the day couldwin. It’s competitive enough and there are enough quality players out there that whatever team executes their game plan could win.”
McDermott: “I think what is interesting from a WPS perspective is that you have a lot of players that are being discussed as top WPS picks that have the opportunity to take their team to a championship.”
O’Sullivan: “Well I think it will be a North Carolina-Stanford final, and I don’t know where to go after that.”
Montoya: “I think Carolina will have just too much for Notre Dame and I think Carolina is tough to beat at this time of the year.”
“For me, the Stanford-UCLA is an interesting one because I think Stanford has been the best team in the country all year, but UCLA is playing much better than they have been all season.”
Picking a UNC-Stanford final.
Naimo: “Every team has got major strengths and very little weaknesses, so this is one of those College Cups where I am not even going to pretend to have an opinion on who can win this one. I think anybody can win it, especially those three teams. I think they are the best three teams in the country that I have seen.”
“It’s a guess. You can roll the dice on this one in my opinion. There are a lot of great players, great coaches, and this is going to be one of the best Final Fours that I can remember.”
Hayes: Picking a UCLA-UNC final.
Also check out more in-depth thoughts from me on the Set Piece Analysts women’s soccer podcast with Richard Farley.
What are your thoughts? Who will winthe 2009 College Cup? What do you think of some of these expert opinions? Share your thoughts below.
Follow my live thoughts and commentary on both semifinal games Friday at Twitter.com/JeffKassouf
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