College: Heavyweight clashes on NCAA’s opening weekend

Center: University of Louisville head coach Ken Lolla

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of University of Louisville

While the looming arrival of Hurricane Irene may wreak havoc with some of the opening matches of college soccer on the East Coast, there are plenty of enticing matchups around the rest of the country.

One of those massive clashes is UCLA’s trip to Louisville, a battle of two of the top five teams in MLSsoccer.com’s college poll and a rematch of last year’s NCAA College Cup quarterfinals (Saturday, 7 pm ET).

“Like us, they’ve returned a lot of players,” Cardinals head coach Ken Lolla told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “I would expect UCLA to be talented, fairly experienced. It’s a good contest for us early on in the season to measure ourselves and see where we are.”

The last meeting between these two sides was a game for the ages in last year’s NCAA tournament quarterfinals. The Bruins took a 2-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes thanks to Eder Arreola and Kelyn Rowe, only to see Louisville rally and win the game in the last minute on a goal by current Columbus Crew forward Aaron Horton.

Both sides return a large chunk of their starting lineup, with Arreola and Rowe among those leading the Bruins, while the Cardinals have two experienced and talented seniors in forward Colin Rowe and defender Austin Berry.

Even though it’s the first game of the season, the stakes are high in what may turn out to be a preview of this December’s College Cup final.

No. 12 Virginia vs. West Virginia – Friday, 5 pm ET

The ACC-Big East Challenge kicks off the slate for Virginia and West Virginia when they square off outside of Washington, D.C. The Mountaineers will look to make a splash as they face a talented Cavaliers side featuring attackers Brian Ownby, Will Bates and Brian Span.

No. 9 Maryland vs. St. John’s – Friday, 8 pm ET

Part two of the ACC-Big East Challenge pits the Terrapins against a St. John’s team looking to rebound from a disappointing season in which they missed the NCAA tournament. Of particular interest is whether Maryland will be able to adequately replace current Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath.

No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 13 Indiana – Saturday, 7 pm ET

Transfer Ryan Finley has the opportunity to get his Notre Dame career started on the right foot against a high-profile opponent. In addition to Finley, Indiana should also have their hands full with Notre Dame midfielder Dillon Powers and defender Aaron Maund. The Hoosiers have also reloaded, however, after losing Rich Balchan (Columbus Crew) and Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo) to MLS.

No. 4 North Carolina vs. UNC Wilmington – Saturday, 7 pm ET

Carlos Somoano makes his coaching debut as the Tar Heels seek to integrate new players against instate rival UNC Wilmington. Defender Matt Hedges will make his debut along UNC’s back line, and forward Billy Schuler is slated to return after missing almost all of 2010 with an injury.

No. 2 Akron vs. Cleveland State – Saturday, 7:30 pm ET

This matchup produced one of the most memorable upsets in college soccer history last year as Cleveland State handed the Zips their only loss. While numerous Akron players have bolted for MLS, returning starters Darren Mattocks, Scott Caldwell and Chad Barson will lead the charge for the defending champs.

Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.