It’s that most wonderful time of the year for NCAA men’s soccer fans, because after this past weekend’s four Elite 8 games, we’ve finally arrived at College Cup.
College soccer’s Final Four will kick off on Friday at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., which means that the very best that the college game has to offer will be on display and, more importantly, nationally televised (ESPNU).
Before we get to that, though, let’s recap the last round.
The Pac-12’s showing at the NCAA Tournament officially became a disappointment. The conference had the highest RPI during the regular season after racking up a stunning number of scalps in their out-of-conference schedule, and was consequently awarded three of the top four seeds.
None of them will be going to Philly. Last weekend, Connecticut edged No. 1 UCLA on penalties and, on Saturday, No. 2 Washington and No. 4 California joined them after losses to No. 7 New Mexico and No. 5 Maryland, respectively. The ACC added two more teams to the College Cup mix in No. 3 Notre Dame, who defeated No. 11 Michigan State 2-1, and No. 8 Virginia, who finally ended unseeded UConn’s season.
Here’s the full list of results:
- (8) Virginia 2, Connecticut 1
- (4) California 1, (5) Maryland 2
- (3) Notre Dame 2, (11) Michigan State 1
- (2) Washington 0, (7) New Mexico 1
What does that mean?
It means that the ACC’s going to send three teams to College Cup, and has decisively retaken the mantle of “Best Conference.” Maryland’s win against Cal was particularly satisfying for a Terrapins team that lost to the Golden Bears on the first weekend of the season. Now they have a chance to better last year’s semifinal finish in their matchup against No. 8 Virginia.
It also apparently means that we didn’t give enough credit to New Mexico this season. The Lobos’ season seemed to be headed no place good after back-to-back losses in September against Cal State Northridge and Drake. That loss to Northridge was the only one of UNM’s five losses this season that came against teams that made the NCAA tournament, and their latest defeat was a 3-0 drubbing by Tulsa.
But here they are, taking advantage of a relatively weak area of the bracket and, oddly enough, the icy conditions in Seattle on Saturday to beat Washington. The Lobos had the run of the first half partly because they were wearing flats, which paradoxically gave them better traction. The Huskies switched at halftime, as well, but New Mexico’s first-half goal by Ben McKendry held up, and the Lobos have earned their ticket to the College Cup.
Big Men on Campus
Virginia sophomore forward Darius Madison – He didn’t score a goal this weekend against UConn, but we’re not quite sure how. It seemed like every time the Philadelphia Union Academy product touched the ball, he was tearing Connecticut’s backline to shreds.
Madison absolutely skinned Huskies center back Sergio Campbell on Virginia’s first goal, playing a perfect near-post ball to Ryan Zinkhan, and had his hand in the second goal – albeit less spectacularly – by helping keep a scramble in front of Connecticut’s goal alive long enough for freshman Jordan Allen to bicycle kick it into the back of the net from close range.
Those were certainly not the only two times he was dangerous, however, and his runs at Connecticut’s defense definitely put the fear of God in the Huskies. A truly standout performance.
New Mexico senior defender Kyle Venter – As we mentioned, the Lobos had the run of play in the first half against Washington, outshooting the Huskies 10-1 and scoring the only goal of the match. After UW changed out of their cleats, though, the attack was on and New Mexico had to deal with 45 minutes of the Huskies throwing the kitchen sink at them.
Venter, who had to tough out the last 10 minutes of the game after picking up an ankle knock, and the backline stood firm and kept Washington off the board for a big upset win over the highly touted Huskies.
We haven’t given nearly enough love yet to Notre Dame’s Patrick Hodan for his goal against Michigan State. Skip to 2:07 to see what kind of sorcery he managed to pull on the Spartans, but you can watch the whole video, too, if only to hear Irish head coach Bobby Clark saying “dancing in December” in his lovely Scottish brogue.
Not to beat a dead horse, but Kansas City was not the only cold spot they were playing soccer this weekend. Temperatures in the Seattle area hovered in the 20s on Saturday, and this is the kind of game that sort of weather produces.
What to Watch for:
All of the soccer, PPL Park, Friday & Sunday (ESPNU)
Notre Dame kick off the College Cup against New Mexico on Friday at 5 pm ET, and Maryland and Virginia will follow up in the second semifinal at 7:30 pm ET. The two winners will face off in the final on Sunday at 3 pm ET. You can (should) watch all of it on ESPNU.