Who’s ready to lift a little hardware? That’s the question as the College Cup gets under way on Friday in Hoover, Ala.
The top two seeds are in with a good chance, a longtime powerhouse could regain the title they’ve won four times, and an unseeded Cinderella looks to crash the party.
No. 2 Creighton (21-2-0) vs. UNC Charlotte (16-4-3)
6 pm ET | ESPNU, ESPN3
The tournament’s lone unseeded team remaining, UNC Charlotte are looking to keep the dream alive.
It’s going to be tough to breakdown the Creighton backline, though. The Bluejays defense, led by centerback Tyler Polak, was the nation’s stingiest this season, conceding just five goals all year. Finlay,
Not that the 49ers are intimidated.
“I know they’re very good defensively, but so are we,” senior defender Charles Rodriguez told MLSsoccer.com. “You never know what will happen, soccer’s a very unpredictable game.”
Charlotte have one of the most exciting attackers in the country in freshman Giuseppe Gentile, who had 10 regular-season goals this year, plus the winner against Akron in the tournament’s round of 16 and the lone goal in the 1-1 quarterfinal draw with Connecticut, which Charlotte won in PKs.
But Gentile is one of the few underclassmen who regularly starts for coach Jeremy Gunn’s veteran side. Their experience gives them a possible advantage over their younger opponents.
“Charlotte is a team that is very experienced, they have a senior team basically, very mature,” Creighton coach Elmar Bolowich told MLSsoccer.com. “They are very confident because of the results they have going on the road and winning games, beating Akron, the defending national champs at home. They have a lot going for them.”
Having Bolowich in their corner gives Creighton the advantage of experience. The former UNC Chapel Hill coach, now in his first season with Creighton, has reached the last three College Cups with his old program.
It also helps that they have senior forward Ethan Finlay, who had 14 goals this year, including the winner against South Florida in the quarterfinals.
Players to Watch:
Creighton: F Ethan Finlay, D Tyler Polak, M Greg Jordan
UNCC: D Charles Rodriguez, F Giuseppe Gentile
No. 1 North Carolina (20-2-2) vs. No. 13 UCLA (18-4-1)
8:30 p.m. ET | ESPNU, ESPN3
Friday night’s late game is the matchup of two of college soccer’s most prestigious programs.
North Carolina are making their fourth straight College Cup appearance, while UCLA are arguably the most successful program in NCAA Division I history.
But the Bruins were not the most successful team this year. That honor fell to the Tar Heels, who boast one of the most vaunted attacks in the nation, led by strikers Billy Schuler (15 G, 5 A) and Ben Speas (6 G, 9 A), and midfielders Robbie Lovejoy (6 G, 5 A), Enzo Martinez (9 G, 10 A), and Kirk Urso (3 G, 7 A). It’s an intimidating quintet to see lining up on the other side.
“I expect to play the best team we’ve played all season,” UCLA coach Jorge Salcedo told MLSsoccer.com. “When you see them on tape, and look at the characteristics they have individually and the five players in the more attacking positions are all high quality players.”
Coping with UNC’s attack will be tricky, but the Bruins have been extremely strident at the back. They have ripped off eight straight wins, not conceding a single goal. Led by seniors Andy Rose and Shawn Singh, both of whom were invited to next month’s MLS Combine, it’s an experienced backline that allowed only 18 goals in 23 regular-season games.
Plus, UCLA have plenty of attacking talent to balance the tough defense. Striker Chandler Hoffman leads the side (18 G, 4 A), but he’s only as good as the support he gets from US U-20 attacking midfielder Kelyn Rowe (10 A) and senior Eder Arreola (3 G, 4 A).
It’s a formidable challenge the Tar Heels face, but with three College Cup appearances in a row, they should know how to prepare for what’s coming.
“We know it’s going to be a battle, a fight, and I think our coaches are going to do what they need to do to help us to prepare and get a better idea what to expect from them,” UNC midfielder Urso said.
Players to Watch:
UNC: F Billy Schuler, M Enzo Martinez, D Matt Hedges
UCLA: F Chandler Hoffman, M Kelyn Rowe, M Eder Arreola
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com.