Finality. It’s what Sunday will bring in Boca Raton as Florida State and Virginia finish out a trilogy for the biggest prize in college soccer. It’ll also be the final collegiate match for the likes of Morgan Brian, Dagny Brynjarsdottir, and Danielle Colaprico among others as each tries to go out with a win. Unlike many trilogies, this one isn’t coming into the third match on level pegging, as FSU has won both previous affairs this season, including winning the ACC Tournament against UVA, 1-0, the last time out. Common logic says it’s not easy to be a team three times, especially when there’s very little to pick from between the sides. Then again, it’s hard to doubt either of these sides given their NCAA Tournament form.
There’s little to pick from between the two starting goalkeepers in this final. Virginia’s Morgan Stearns has the advantage in experience and did fine against Texas A&M on Friday and should again be steady against the Noles on Sunday. Florida State’s Cassie Miller has been strong in net for a player with no collegiate experience coming into this season. Her distribution put her defense in trouble on occasion in the semi-final though, so FSU will be hoping for some improvement in that regard. Neither of these keepers is likely to be a goat, though neither seems especially likely to steal the match either.
The Battle In Midfield
As has been the case with Virginia’s last two matches, the battle in he middle of the park will feature multiple players likely to be high picks in the NWSL Draft this season (if they declare). Morgan Brian has been the name on everyone’s lips since the end of Women’s World Cup Qualifying, and she’ll want to sign off from the collegiate game with her school’s very first national title. Florida State have been a real thorn in her side thus far this season though, as Brian doesn’t have a single shot on goal or assist against the Noles in their two meetings thus far in 2014. Isabella Schmid and Michaela Hahn have done a masterful job of shielding the defense thus far in the NCAA Tournament and will probably be doing their utmost to keep Brian from having room to breathe when the ball is at her feet.
Virginia will have to find an answer to Dagny Brynjarsdottir if they’re to emerge victorious though. The Cavs have not managed the feat thus far in their prior two encounters this season, with Brynjarsdottir combining for five shots on goal and the only goal in the regular season meeting between the teams. Much of the defensive burden is going to fall on the shoulders of Danielle Colaprico, who faces a whale of a task in reeling in the burly Icelandic senior. There’s every possibility that UVA’s wide midfielders may pinch in to help double up on Brynjarsdottir. One thing’s for sure: if the Cavs can’t find a way to slow down Brynjarsdottir, they could be in for a rough day in Boca Raton.
The battle in the center of midfield may get a lot of attention, but each of these two clubs also has a big-time threat up top to wield as well. Stanford knows all too well the sting of Cheyna Williams after her pair of goals downed the Card in the semi-final. The eventual game-winner was a masterful finish in the final third after an FSU cross from the far post, while the coup de grace was a perfect example of Williams’ explosive pace to chew up space while Stanford had committed numbers in hopes of trying to find an equalizer. Much attention has been paid towards Emily Sonnett’s slick precision on the ball, but her defensive ability will be of paramount importance in this one. Williams is in scorching form, with two goals in each of FSU’s last two wins and has scored in four of five NCAA Tournament matches. More of that on Sunday could see FSU as champs and Williams as a much touted first round prospect for the 2016 NWSL Draft.
Virginia counters with two forwards, but the one everyone will be keeping a close eye on is Makenzy Doniak. Doniak made it an even twenty goals on the season with the opener against Texas A&M on Friday, heading in a brilliant ball from Morgan Brian. Doniak’s talents with the ball at her feet are talked up, and with good reason, to the point that some may forget the Cavs forward is pretty good in the air as well. With Morgan Reuther and potentially Veronica Latsko alongside Doniak on the frontline to take up some of the defensive pressure, Doniak shouldn’t be swallowed whole by FSU’s backline if her forward partner can offer a modicum of danger. Doniak has managed just a single shot on goal in the two matches against the Noles this season though, so there may be worries about whether the junior forward and the rest of the UVA offense can crack the code and threaten the Seminole defense. Still, Doniak is one of the best hopes the Cavs have of finally breaking through against FSU and putting points on the board against the ACC champs.
Whoever wants to win the national title on Sunday is going to have to control the flanks as well, with Florida State perhaps holding the advantage out wide on paper. Jamia Fields continues to have an NCAA Tournament to remember, after another bravura performance on Friday night against Stanford. Fields didn’t score, but she was a constant threat down the line and will be key in stretching the field against Tina Iordanou on Sunday. Virginia will be wary of her cutting inside and opening up space for Emma Koivisto, who has shown no shortage of desire to get up and down the line from her right-back spot. Koivisto will have to be mindful of defensive duties as well though, as Kaili Torres is more than capable of hitting right back on the counter in the vacated space if Koivisto gets sucked too high up the pitch.
The danger isn’t restricted to just that flank though. Florida State are still dangerous on the opposite flank, with Carson Pickett more than capable of swinging crosses into the box (to go with her dangerous corners). Megan Campbell will probably be the most defensive of the four Florida State wide players, as she’ll have to be tracking Brittany Ratcliffe (and Alexis Shaffer) on the flank. Neither Ratcliffe nor Shaffer are as ruthlessly consistent as some of their UVA teammates, but both have match-winning ability on the day. It’d be a surprise to see Campbell dart forward as much as her full-back partner Kovisto given the defensive challenge facing her. Indeed, the Irish defender’s biggest impact offensively may be her rocket long throws into the area for the Noles.
Both of these sides are spoilt for choice as far as weapons off the bench are concerned. The big hitters for the Cavs off the bench are Shaffer, who added the coup de grace for UVA against Texas A&M on Friday and who would be starting for many sides if she weren’t the Cavs’ super sub. Veronica Latsko isn’t quite as prolific yet but has shown glimpses of real ability for one so young this year. Meghan Cox figures to see action at full-back in place of either Megan Reid or Tina Iordanou if needed, while Campbell Millar is a handy option in midfield if UVA’s looking to shut up shop.
There’s not much mystery in Florida State’s substitution patterns. Thorvaldsdottir for Williams up top, Bakowska-Mathews for Pickett on the wing, and Murakami for Schmid in the center of midfield. All three have been very effective off the bench for the Noles down the stretch, though they were perhaps less influential than usual against Stanford on Friday. The real question is what FSU does if they go behind. It’s not a challenge they’ve faced yet in the NCAA Tournament.
Both of these sides will undoubtedly believe that the College Cup is their destiny. Or at least their supporters will. Both the Cavs and the Noles have known heartbreak when glory seemed a certainty before but will likely feel that this may be their best chance at a national title. There are no quibbles with form nor have their been any close calls for either thus far in the NCAA Tournament. Both have won their five matches thus far in convincing and often overpowering fashion. It’s hard to argue that either overpowered their opponents on Friday, but few could have argued with the end result for either.
In the end, it might come down to the answer of one question: Will the law of averages catch up with Florida State, or are the Noles just a decisively better team than Virginia? It’s hard for teams so closely matched as these two are to beat the other three times in one season, but Florida State has been thoroughly convincing in their two 1-0 wins against the Cavs thus far. It’s a case of the warm narrative of Morgan Brian (and Danielle Colaprico) having the chance to go out as a conquering hero and an all-time great in NCAA WoSo history after leading her side to glory against the icy cold logic of the Seminoles just having UVA’s number and being a superior side. The sentimental value of a UVA win is tugging at my heartstrings, but I can’t shake my brain telling me that Mark Krikorian’s side just has all the answers against their ACC rival.