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Tournaments Dec 08, 2013

Commentary: Goalkeeping, tactics, speed will decide NCAA Women’s College Cup

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Cary, N.C. — The UCLA Bruins and Florida State Seminoles are set for the grand finale to the 2013 NCAA Division I women’s soccer season at WakeMed Soccer Park on Sunday. After downing Virginia and Virginia State, respectively, these two teams are poised for an epic showdown with some of the top college talent on display.

Their tactics are vastly different and the personnel at the respective coaches’ disposal each offer plenty of intrigue. Here we take a look at three factors that could decide the outcome of the NCAA Women’s College Cup championship.

UCLA: Speed kills and the Bruins have speed to burn. Despite playing against a superior opponent in terms of possession and ball control, UCLA forced No. 1-ranked UVa on their heels with swift counterattacks and speed down the flanks. Their high-octane offense will be essential to breaking down the Seminoles; the only question is whether or not the the Bruins will be able to replicate that two days after an emotionally exhausting, double-overtime shootout win.  

Employing the track-star-turned-soccer-player Ally Courtnall out of the back versus Virginia was the key to the Bruins advancing to the finals. Courtnall’s 85th-minute goal came after after a full match of lung-bursting sprints and dogged tracking back. Provided Friday’s victory didn’t exhaust her weary legs, you can expect to see her play a pivotal role in the championship.

Courtnall though is not the only fast weapon in UCLA’s counter-attacking arsenal. Forwards Rosie White and Taylor Smith broke through the Virginia defense multiple times during the semi, stopped only by brilliant goalkeeping or an unfortunate hit off the post. If White and Smith can match their previous energy levels in the finale, then FSU will have their hands full.

Florida State: The ‘Noles have multiple attacking options at their disposal. In their match versus Virginia Tech it was remarkable how many methods of offense the put to use. Through-balls, the long ball, counter-attacks and possession build-up were all on display for the Seminoles. Not only do their methods come in varied approach, but their personal is a who’s-who of top talent in NCAA soccer.

Jamia Fields has the hot foot entering the championship after scoring two goals for FSU versus Tech, while the Icelandic duo of Berglind Thorvaldsdottir and Dagny Brynjarsdottir provide physical prowess in the box. Couple that with the midfield support of Marta Bakawska-Mathews and a defense boasting the strength of Kristin Grubka, Kassey Kallman and keeper Kelsey Wys, it becomes clear that the Bruins will have their hands full. Grubka is in fine form after scoring a diving header in the semi finals while Bakawska- Mathews had the assist.

Perhaps the biggest variable will be how UCLA reacts to that dynamic attack, including the unpredictability of junior defender Megan Campbell’s throw-ins. On more than one occasion Campbell’s long throw-ins caught the Hokies watching, with one leading to Fields’ first goal.

One thing is clear: if the forward line can’t break down the Bruins’ speedy back line, then the Seminoles will bring their defenders forward and launch a multi-pronged attack. The battle in Florida State’s offensive third will be where this game is decided.

The difference will be the goalkeeping. UCLA head coach has called her netminder the best goalkeeper in the country. and to win the championship, Katelyn Rowland will have to be. After stopping two PKs and weathering the storm that is the University of Virginia’s attack, Rowland will face a Seminole offense that has scored 19 goals in the past five games.

Rowland’s opponent at the opposite end will be Kelsey Wys, who came up big in Florida State’s victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies. Wys may not have played hero in overtime or a shootout, but her performances have been steady and true, allowing just one goal in the lead up to the semi finals. The command that Wys has in her box may not be reflected in the stats, but she could be seen multiple times stifling the Hokies attack by being quick off her line and smothering through balls.

The verdict will be decided by how well UCLA can manage Florida State’s dynamic offense. If the Bruins can weather the early storm, then it’s likely we’ll see a counterattacking goal by way of a fast break. Their speed is their best weapon and one they’ll be hoping to exploit by putting FSU on their heels early.

Prediction: After defeating favorites Virginia and before that, UNC, the Bruins ride their momentum through the final and beat the Seminoles 3-2.

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