NCAA Soccer: 5 Things You Need To Know
It's a busy world. We understand. That's why espnW will be here all season with five things to know to stay up to speed on soccer's road to the College Cup.
1. Stanford has that look again
Short of sticking around the Pacific Northwest after a win against Portland to see if it could get a game from the winner of Sunday's National Women's Soccer League championship match, Stanford did just about everything it could in the first two weeks of the season to show it's ready to reclaim a place in the College Cup.
The Cardinal remained unbeaten with a 1-0 victory against the Pilots on Saturday in front of 4,847 at Merlo Field, a bigger crowd than even the full house in Seattle the next day for the NWSL final. That win came a week after the Cardinal beat North Carolina and Duke in games played in Chapel Hill. There are teams of consequence that won't play three games away from home of that quality all season. Stanford did so before Labor Day.
Now just imagine how good the Cardinal can be when they have time to practice together.
The early success in tough road venues is all the more impressive considering that defender Stephanie Amack, goalkeeper Jane Campbell and freshman midfielder Andi Sullivan, starters with a combined two seasons of college experience among them, missed effectively the entire preseason while playing for the United States in the Under-20 World Cup.
"They're playing a lot of minutes, so we didn't get a chance in training camp to really form our identity and how we're playing," coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "But they're great players and they're adaptable, so they're blending in."
The Cardinal also played Portland without central defender Maddie Bauer because of a minor injury but didn't miss a beat, a statement about the depth on a roster that features a nice mix of veterans and young potential. The schedule doesn't get much easier, but the next test will be to see if the Cardinal can turn the possession they crave into more goals. They at least have a focal point. A week after scoring the overtime winner against North Carolina, senior Chioma Ubogagu scored the eventual winner against Portland and appears poised for a strong final season.
"The sky is the limit for this group," said Ratcliffe, no small praise from the typically laconic coach.
2. California is the place to be
In Malibu, Pepperdine pulled off one of the most eyebrow-raising results of the season's second week with a 1-0 win against North Carolina. The Waves trailed the Tar Heels by only eight spots in the NSCAA Top 25 entering the game, so it was by no means an upset for the ages, but it is Pepperdine beating North Carolina. Waves senior Lynn Williams, named to the Hermann Trophy watch list before the season, scored the game's only goal, and Pepperdine finished with a 10-9 advantage in shots.
USC capped off a good weekend in South Bend, Indiana, with a 2-1 win against Notre Dame. The Women of Troy are now 3-0-1 or better to start the season for just the third time since winning the national championship in 2007. The most recent such instance, a 3-0-1 record a season ago, wasn't enough to save Ali Khosroshahin's job after the team went 5-10-1 the rest of the way, but this is a good beginning for new coach Keidane McAlpine -- and for North Carolina transfer Reilly Parker, who scored the winner against the Fighting Irish and has two goals in four starts.
Meanwhile, top-ranked UCLA settled for a scoreless draw in its game against visiting North Carolina to open the weekend, but it beat San Diego on Sunday, extending its unbeaten streak to 25 games.
3. Dayton's Nicole Waters is flying high
A person needs to build some momentum to get a Hermann Trophy campaign going from Dayton, Ohio. Consider University of Dayton junior midfielder Nicole Waters picking up speed. Waters led the nation with 17 assists as a sophomore and already has five through the first four games of her junior season. But the composed Canadian isn't just distributing the wealth this season; she's keeping some of the spoils for herself with four goals. That's one more than she scored last season.
These aren't just right-place, right-time goals. Waters is finishing with style.
She scored twice in Dayton's season-opening 4-3 loss at Texas A&M, which may go down as both the wildest and one of the most entertaining games all season (down 3-1, the Flyers scored twice in a span of 19 seconds in the 82nd minute to tie the game, only to see the Aggies score the winner one minute later). Waters' goals were struck well from distance, the second a wonderful free kick around the wall from 25 yards. Her goal in last week's 2-0 win against UC Santa Barbara was in a similar vein, as she took one touch around a defender at the top of the 18-yard box and another touch to open up a shooting angle before finishing back across the face of the goal.
Ohio State, Santa Clara and Stanford are among Dayton's next four opponents, which gives Waters more opportunity to turn heads.
4. Oklahoma stuns Florida
It wasn't a total surprise that the Big 12 pulled off an upset against a former national champion Friday. The stunner was that it happened twice.
Texas Tech's 2-1 win at Notre Dame qualifies as an upset mostly because of the venue, not because Tom Stone's Red Raiders are outclassed in talent by the Fighting Irish, or by any other team beyond the top four or five contenders. It's a good win for Texas Tech, which played a soft schedule out of conference a season ago, but it's a team that already has some credentials.
Oklahoma's 2-1 win over Florida, on the other hand, was a result worthy of a double take. Oklahoma scored early, drew a penalty kick for its second goal and defended well in numbers, all familiar ingredients in upsets that turn the soccer world on its head but aren't necessarily replicable. All the same, when added to a win a week ago against Oklahoma State -- long the only nationally relevant program in the state -- and even a 1-0 loss against Florida State on Sunday, the Sooners seem to be repeating quality performances in their third season with coach Matt Potter, who against the odds maintained a winning program at Washington State for nearly a decade.
Oklahoma was picked to finish last in the Big 12 and didn't place a single player on the preseason all-conference team. It hasn't outshot an opponent and hasn't played away from home. A big splash in August may fade into fall oblivion. But even the possibility that it may not is progress in Norman.
5. Tennessee gets it right
It is possible Friday's 1-0 loss at home against BYU could come back to haunt Tennessee as it seeks to return to the NCAA tournament after missing out in 2013. Already saddled with a one-goal loss against Wisconsin, a win against BYU would have been nice to have in constructing a résumé worthy of an at-large bid. Yet whatever awaits, anyone whose daughter plays for the Lady Vols ought to feel more secure about that fact after the game against the Cougars.
In the very early stages of the first half, Tennessee sophomore Emily Morrow was hit in the head by a deflected ball. With the ball out of play, the referee immediately stopped the game as Morrow doubled over. Both Tennessee trainer Greg Mytyk and coach Brian Pensky were by Morrow's side as she then knelt on the grass. She soon rose to her feet with their support but appeared unsteady and just as quickly sank back down to her knees. Unlike the unsettling scenes in the World Cup this summer, nobody gave her a chance to continue. Pensky signaled for a substitution as Morrow continued to receive treatment, and she remained out of the game even when eligible to return in the second half.
The issue of head injuries remains a sleeping giant in women's soccer. What happened in Knoxville shouldn't merit mention; it should be the minimum standard. But until it's clear that is true nationwide, and it isn't yet, then it is worth highlighting. Tennessee lost a game. It also acted responsibly. One matters much more than the other.