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