#3 Seed Akron’s Region:
Akron (19-1-1) vs Indiana (10-2-7)
Breakdown: Talk about a perfect historical story line for a game. Akron enter this game with a 37 game home unbeaten streak on the line. Indiana are second in the all-time records with a 38 game home unbeaten streak (1982-1985).
Indiana, widely regarded as one of the most prestigious programs in college soccer history, are six years removed from their last College Cup appearance. Akron, considered the up-start program that has dominated the college landscape for the last two years, has yet to grab one of those College Cup trophies but was in the final last year.
It is a battle of old vs new. Indiana still has much of the same philosophy that made them successful a decade ago. With Todd Yeagley taking over the program, he brought some of the same ideology from his father who built the program to such esteem during their run a handful of years prior.
Indiana still play their brand of soccer. They put a big target up front (Will Bruin) and let him battle for long balls. He is very successful at it with 18 goals on the season and counting.
Akron tries to play a new style to the college game. It is all about the flowing attack for the Zips under coach Caleb Porter. Their most valuable weapon on offense might be their right back Kofi Sarkodie. The junior defender flies down the right side and swings in service with great effectiveness. He had an assist in the second round game against West Virginia.
Players to watch:
Darren Mattocks, Forward, Akron
The Jamaican has five goals in his last three games for the Zips. The streaky striker continues to find gaps in defenses which allow him to capitalize on crosses sent into the box by Sarkodie and others.
His strength is his ability to finish off the chances that the other Akron attackers provide for him. There are many weapons on the Akron attack and it is difficult for any defense to account for all of them, which is where Mattocks benefits.
Fellow forward Darlington Nagbe typical draws a player or two to follow him on runs while the left back is stuck out on an island with Sarkodie’s overlapping runs. This leaves the middle of the field suspect for Mattocks. His quick first step and nose for the goal has helped him score over a dozen goals this year.
Will Bruin, Forward, Indiana
To me, this game boils down to two battles on the field. The previous mentioned Mattocks vs the Hoosiers defense, and Bruin against Akron center-back Zarek Valentin.
Both are future MLS prospects. Valentin is a compontent of the current U.S. U20 squad. So, these are two very skilled individuals going head to head. Give the size advantage to Bruin, and the craftiness to Valentin in what should be a pretty even battle.
Bruin has carried this Hoosiers team through a handful of games this season. He is capable of doing the same in this game. Sometimes, he looks like a grown man playing against boys on the field. Other times, he looks like a neglected talent up top while Indiana are being overrun else where on the field. Indiana and Bruin are hoping it won’t be the latter on Sunday.
Akron are 57-0-0 when leading at half under Caleb Porter. That is absurd. It also means the longer Indiana can keep Akron off the scoresheet, the better off the Hoosiers will be. Indiana have had mixed results this season when playing against teams that like to attack from all over the field.
However, it is hard to read to much into those results because there is no comparison to playing against Akron on the road. The speed of play, the skill of the players, and the different positions that they can attack from makes it close to impossible to close off all channels.
Indiana will definitely have a lot of confidence entering this game after demoralizing Tulsa in the second round to a 5-1 thumping. If Bruin can get going against the Akron defense that leaked a few goals in their second round game, the Hoosiers could have a chance to pull the biggest upset of the year.
Caleb Porter is still the best coach in college and Akron’s home field advantage is better than any other stadium in the country. They kept most of their home tournament games last year close on the scoreboard but in reality, they were never threatened. This game won’t be any different.
Akron 2-0 Indiana.
California (13-3-2) vs Brown (12-4-3)Breakdown: California thrives in overtime, and that is going to be the story of this fixture. Of the ten home games the Golden Bears have played this season, seven of them have gone to overtime including their second round rumble against UCSB. In that game, the Golden Bears scored with just over one second left on the clock in overtime.
It has become the calling-card for this Golden Bears team. Of their eleven overtime games (both home and away) this season, they are 7-2-2. The majority of those games have gone to double overtime, and they have still found a way to win. This team thrives under the pressure of the dying seconds of games.
Brown earned a berth in third round by beating Boston College in the first round. Then, knocking off UCONN in penalty kicks in the second round. The second round clash was hidden in a cloak of darkness as the power went out at the UCONN stadium and live video and stats were not available.
Brown Bears prevailed 7-6 in penalty kicks after eight rounds. However, the game was statistically dominated by the Huskies. In the first half, UCONN outshoot Brown, 8-4. In the second half, Brown only registered one shot while UCONN put up 11.
The trademark for both teams have been their stout defenses. Cal have only let in ten goals in their ten home games this season. Brown are the third best scoring defense in the country, only letting in 10 goals in 19 games this year.
Stylistically, this is not going to be a free-flowing game with a ton of flair. This is going to be two tough teams with veteran rosters playing with all the chips on the table. The victor will come out of this clash worse for the wear, but damn proud of the effort it took to grab a spot in the last eight.
Players to watch:
David Bingham, Goalkeeper, California
The junior keeper was named on the initial list of possible Generation Adidas candidates for the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Since Generation Adidas started in 2005 (it was called Project-40 before that), there have been three college goalkeepers selected to the program: Stefan Frei (Cal), Chris Seitz (Maryland), and Sean Johnson (UCF). It is pretty rare for a goalkeeper to be so desperately sought by MLS.
For this current season, Bingham has clocked 113 saves. That is good for second best in the nation. Added to the fact, he has kept a 0.71 GAA during the season. It has been a very good statistical year for man between the pipes for the Golden Bears.
If this is his Swan Song and MLS is on the horizon, Bingham will need to be sharp to keep his legacy at Edwards Stadium at an all-time high. Brown don’t take many shots in most games, so Bingham will have to be alert when they get that one effort on goal. And this game could very well end up in penalty kicks, which would leave the tie in Bingham’s mitts.
Taylor Gorman, Midfield, Dartmouth
Gorman has been carrying the Brown offense in the tournament. He had both assists in their 2-1 first round victory over Boston College. In the second round, he provided the opening goal against UCONN. He also contributed with a made penalty kick in the shoot-out.
The recent out-burst of offense from the junior has come as a bit of a surprise. Prior to the post-season, he had two goals and two assists to his name in 17 games. Over his career, he only has five goals, five assists (including his recent streak) in three years.
Brown won’t be complaining as they have leaned on different goal scorers all season. Eleven different players have scored for the Bears this season with no one tallying more than six goals. Gorman is the hot boot right now, and the Bears, specifically their playmaker, Sean Rosa, will be trying to find Gorman in hope he continues that streak in the Bay Area on Sunday.
Unbelievably, Brown never travelled farther than Penn this season. Now, they are given the task of flying across the country to play a game on the opposite coast. This is one of the main reasons west coast teams have a beef with the NCAA tourney. They are normally the one taxed with a cross-country flight.
Well, the PAC 10 champions are given a chance to hold serve for the Pacific Coast teams in a very important game for both squads and their conferences. It is a major adjustment for teams to go from riding in a bus to their games to flying so this all favors California.
The other thing working in California’s favor is the fatigue of the Brown squad. They looked exhausted after their game against UCONN. (Check the post-game interview on the Brown website.) The players were talking about the long season and two very difficult games to get to this point.
Obviously, a week off will help them rejuvenate, but one still has to wonder how much they have left in their tank for a team that hasn’t played this late into the season since 2000.
This game won’t be easy for either side as both will try to grind out a victory here in a physical contest. Neither offense is very explosive, and Cal’s propensity to take games to overtime will again be on display. The heart-break kids steal another one late in double overtime.
California 2-1 Brown
#4 Seed North Carolina’s Region:SMU (15-1-2) vs William and Mary (15-3-3)
Breakdown: SMU survived an upset bid by Creighton in the second round to earn the right to host this third round fixture. Prior to that SMU lost in the Conference USA semifinals to South Carolina but ended up with the fifth seed thanks to a successful regular season campaign.
The victory over Creighton marked the second time this season SMU had come from behind to beat the Bluejays. Technically, the game goes down in the record books as a draw, but it sure won’t feel that way to either side.
After the game SMU coach Tim McClements talked about SMU’s ability to overcome early deficits by citing the goal-scoring abilities of his players. He specifically mentioned freshman Juan Castillo who finally found his tenth goal of the season against Creighton.
It is those varied weapons that makes SMU such a dangerous team to face. Similar to California, there is no way to write these teams off. They just want to fight until the final whistle and hope for a goal late in the game.
It was a lucky break for SMU to survive in that game. They were out-shot 27-14. Creighton put 16 of those shots on frame compared to SMU’s measly five. Better yet, SMU somehow registered three team saves. For those unfamiliar, a team save is a shot (normally saved off the line) by anyone except the goalie.
William and Mary had some luck of their own surviving against a surging UMBC Retrievers squad. The game came down to penalty kicks, but it could have been over well before it came to that.
In the 66th minute, UMBC forward Levi Houapeu was taken down in the box by William and Mary keeper Andrew McAdams. Houapeu stepped up to take the penalty kick, which may be my biggest pet-peeve. It is hard to second guess actions without being there, but you never want the player who was fouled taking a penalty kick.
There are too many emotions involved with the fouled player stepping up to hit it. Added to the fact any nagging injuries from the foul, and it is a recipe for a bad result. McAdams blocked the initial shot, and Houapeu hit the rebound over the bar.
McAdams blocked Houapeu’s effort in penalty kicks as well and the Tribe prevailed 4-3 on penalty kicks.
Players to watch:
Author Ivo, Midfield, SMU
When you are lucky, things just go you way. I guess we could call Ivo “el sueño.” He hit a 30 yard bomb with 15 seconds left on the clock against Creighton. SMU was trailing 2-1 at this point and it seemed like SMU’s season may be over.
The shot took a deflection and floated over Creighton goalkeeper, Brian Holt, to notch the score and force overtime. Ivo would be the ultimate hero of the game with the winning penalty kick later in the evening.
Ivo’s goal was his ninth of the season and probably most meaningful for the red-shirt junior. SMU has relied on a blend of the old with the new for a roster full of new additions. It has worked for the most part thanks to the veteran leadership of Ivo, Josue Soto, and Craig Hill.
While the rookies have cut their teeth through the year, and no longer play like freshman. It will still be on the upperclassman to will them to another victory in the tournament.
Andrew McAdams, Goalkeeper, William and Mary
The Tribes’ senior keeper is probably the lone reason they are in this game. He won the battle of captains against UMBC with the two PK saves against Houapeu.
SMU’s attack offers more variety than the one the Retrievers put out in the second round. However, they don’t have a player with the speed and skill of Houapeu, but they have players who can finish with limited opportunities. Plus, the breaks appear to be going in the Mustangs favor after that improbable finish in the last round.
McAdams has had a very successful career with the tribe, a four year starter and a three year All-CAA honoree. The Florida native will be called upon again to keep the game close for the Tribe. He probably won’t have to save a penalty kick in dramatic fashion, but they may need him to thwart a Castillo or Ivo effort early in the game.
Both teams had luck on their side to get to this point. William and Mary are riding a better wave of results heading into the game with only one loss since September 21. The loss came at Maryland toward the end of the regular season for both teams.
SMU, on the other hand, are undefeated at home with quality wins over Tulsa and South Carolina. None of the teams on their schedule is really comparable to the Tribe though. Given William and Mary’s desire to control and knock the ball around, their style won’t scare the Mustangs. SMU will enjoy the fact that they are facing a team who is not going play direct and challenge their questionable defense.
However, the down side of a good possessive team is they limit chances for the opponent. It will take a good counter-attack effort from the Mustangs to get on the scoreboard in this game. They are capable of it, but did their luck run out in the last round?
William and Mary 2-1 SMU
North Carolina (16-2-3) vs Michigan State (13-1-7)
Breakdown: The Tar Heels held on against the Hoyas in the second round fixture to grab their spot in the third round. Nothing was easy for UNC without Michael Farfan in the line-up. While UNC did register 20 shots in the game, they only managed to get five on frame. However, video of that game won’t help Michigan State much as UNC is a completely different team with Farfan in the game.
He adds another dimension to the attack. He puts his foot on the ball and controls the pace of the game, and he makes everyone around him better as the defense mainly focuses on his movements. His return to Elmar Bolowich’s roster sheet will be a sigh of relief for the coach.
Michigan State are also a team with a changing identity. Over the last month of the regular season, the Spartans struggled in every game they played. They showed up in the NCAA tournament though. A victory over Oakland in the first round came as no surprise.
However, the win over Butler in the second was an impressive result. Going into the Butler Bowl has been a very difficult task for many teams this season. The field is old-school turf so the game is played at hyper-speeds. The Spartans adjusted well to the adverse field conditions and weathered early Butler pressure to keep the score even until half.
The other part of the Spartans game plan that was especially surprising was how well they defended set-pieces. The bread and butter of the Butler attack had been on free kicks and long throw-ins. Spartan keeper Avery Steinlage was superb in picking his spots to come off his line to collect the ball, and when to stay at home and let his defense clear the threat.
If Michigan State can game-plan that well against a team with very few faults tactically, there is no reason to doubt them being ready for a North Carolina team that can be exposed.
Players to watch:
Michael Farfan, Midfield, UNC
Farfan picked up a red card in the ACC final against Maryland. He was forced to sit out and watch his team go to penalty kicks in the second round game. The Tar Heels eventually pulled it out but the senior probably doesn’t want that helpless feeling again.
He will be the focus point of the Spartans defense. The Spartans did an excellent job of limiting Butler’s Ben Sippola, who plays a similar role to Farfan, in the last round. The difference between Farfan and Sippola is the experience.
Farfan has been to this point in the post-season before. He knows that teams will key in on him. He also knows how to exploit over-aggressive defenses. Sippola didn’t have that kind of knowledge in the previous round.
Farfan is another player on a very long list of stars who have battled through injuries this season. If he were healthy for the whole season, he probably would have ended his collegiate career with a few player of the year awards. Unfortunately, that was not in the cards for the Cal State Fullerton transfer. He is still one of the most dangerous players in the country with the ball on his feet and should be priority number one for the Spartans.
Avery Steinlage, Goalkeeper, Michigan State
This will be a different task for the senior keeper than the one he faced last Sunday. In the last round, he was mainly asked to collect crosses and long throw-ins. This time, he is going to be required to make some one vs one saves. UNC have speedy forwards with the ability to get behind even the best defenses. It will be up to Steinlage to keep the four in front of him organized, and the net behind him empty.
This is the first trip to the third round for the Spartans since 1968. That is a great story, but not a good sign. Teams aren’t used to playing this late in the season unless they have been here before, and it usually shows around this point in the post-season. They need that experience of getting to this point and tasting defeat to know how to compensate in next year’s preparation.
North Carolina know how to win these games. They were a College Cup team last year. Losing to Akron in penalty kicks in the semifinal. In fact, out of UNC’s last five NCAA tournament games, they have only let in one goal. A very impressive (under the radar) streak by a team that has battled through injuries this season.
The return of Farfan in Tar Heel blue is too difficult to overlook even though Michigan State’s performance in the second round was admirable. Bolowich wins another tournament game at home.
UNC 2-0 Michigan State
J.R. Eskilson is the youth soccer editor of Goal.com. Follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer
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