NCAA College Cup semifinal preview

Dixon, UNC face Louisville in first semifinal tonight

HOU_Dixon_UNC_2010_01

Photo Credit: 
Jeff Camarati, UNC Athletic Communications

The work that began during spring practice early this year
culminates this weekend in sunny Santa Barbara, Calif., when one of
four remaining teams – Akron, Michigan, North Carolina or Louisville –
is crowned 2010 NCAA Champion.

The Zips lost in the 2009 final
to Virginia via a penalty-kick shootout, and the Tar Heels – champions
in 2001 – are in their third straight College Cup. Friday's
semifinals should provide for entertaining viewing, as four talented
teams toe the line for the right to face off for this year’s crown.

No. 1 Louisville (19-0-3) vs. No. 4 North Carolina (16-3-1), 7:30 p.m. CT, ESPNU

A
third consecutive College Cup appearance is an accomplishment for coach
Elmar Bolowich to be proud of heading into UNC’s semifinal clash
against Louisville. And while the previous two visits ended without a
trophy, perhaps the third time is the charm.

Overcoming injuries
has been the recurring theme throughout the Tar Heels’ year, and it’s
with good fortune that they enter Friday’s matchup with a clean bill of
health. Carolina’s
strength is in its midfield, with Michael Farfan (right) the pick of
the crop. Dustin McCarty and Stephen McCarthy give the Tar Heels the
ability to control things in the middle of the park. Up front, the Dynamo Academy's Alex Dixon (Humble Atascocita) is part of a three-forward attack.

Both teams
like to keep the ball, however, knocking it around along the ground in
midfield. Advantage in the finishing department goes to Louisville,
though, with Colin Rolfe up top. The Hermann Trophy semifinalist is the
centerpiece of the Louisville offense, which scored five goals its last
time out. Rolfe will look to bring others into attack with him, namely
Dylan Mares and Nick DeLeon.

The most pressing issue for UNC
against Louisville will be converting. The Tar Heels have scored just
twice in three tournament matches, advancing all three times via penalty kicks, and must match the Cardinals’
offensive prowess if they hope to advance to the final.

Players
to Watch: Louisville – F Colin Rolfe, F Dylan Mares, MF Charlie
Campbell; North Carolina – MF Michael Farfan, MF Stephen McCarthy, F
Enzo Martinez

No. 3 Akron (20-1-2) vs. No. 10 Michigan (17-4-3), 10 p.m. CT, ESPN2

The
Zips trounced the Wolverines 7-1 back on Oct. 19, so it would be easy
to discount Michigan in this match. But factoring that result
into Friday night’s semifinal is misleading, as Michigan has improved
by leaps and bounds since then.

After that loss, the Wolverines
have rattled off nine straight wins, scoring at an impressive rate of
three goals per game. Nevertheless, Akron comes into this one with the
best attack in the nation. No
team possesses the sort of firepower the Zips do. Whether it’s by way
of forwards Darlington Nagbe and Darren Mattocks, a host of scoring
midfielders like Anthony Ampaipitawkong (right) and Michael Nanchoff, or
even Kofi Sarkodie bombing in from his right-back spot, the entire
lineup is a scoring threat.

But that’s not to say the Zips are
unbeatable. At times in the tournament, the defense has looked shaky,
and goalkeeper David Meves had some trouble in the quarterfinal against
Cal before stepping up in penalty kicks.

Converting quality
possession into goals is the key for a Michigan upset. Akron does so
well in keeping the ball that the Wolverines have to anticipate losing
the possession battle. Being efficient with their chances and
converting what they create could lead the Wolverines to the title game. And with brothers Soony and Hamoody Saad, and Justin Meram leading the attack, that’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Players
to Watch: Akron – F Darlington Nagbe, MF Anthony Ampaipitakwong, D Kofi
Sarkodie; Michigan – F Soony Saad, F Justin Meram, MF Hamoody Saad