NCAA Soccer – The First XI for October 7, 2012 – Texas A&M;vs Florida

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Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 2:58pm EDT

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Annie Kunz

Annie Kunz & Texas A&M Will Look To Take Another Big Step to The SEC Title on Sunday Against Florida

(Note: I mistakenly had the game between Minnesota and Iowa listed for Saturday, when it’s in fact today (Sunday). As a result, that preview’s been listed again below.)

(13) Texas A&M vs (12) Florida – 1:30 PM

With all apologies to Missouri, there’s a good chance the SEC title will be decided in College Station on Sunday afternoon, as Texas A&M hosts Florida in a crunch SEC showdown that could have implications beyond the league title race. Both of these sides currently look like being a step behind in the race for one of the coveted #1 or #2 national seeds and will be looking for victory here to propel them towards that distinction and the right to host the second weekend of the tournament. The Aggies are pacing the SEC at the halfway point of the conference season, though they’ve got Sunday’s opponents and Missouri hot on their heels, with both to play down the stretch.

Currently unbeaten since an early season loss at San Diego, the Aggies put on a ruthless display at home against Alabama on Friday to keep pace at the top of the table. Though the visitors had their moments on offense, A&M was remarkably efficient in front of goal to win, 5-0. The display featured a pair of great goals from Shea Groom, along with strikes from two of the Aggies’ other offensive bellwethers, Annie Kunz and Kelley Monogue. It also marked the club’s second straight clean sheet, a welcome return to form after A&M had given up an uncharacteristic two goals against Kentucky last Friday night.

Defense had been the Achilles’ heel of Florida for the longest time this season following the loss of Kathryn Williamson to a meniscus tear early in the season. At one point, Florida conceded in six straight goals, which would’ve normally been cause for alarm bells to be ringing if not for the fact that the club also won five of those six contests. Florida’s rebounded to net a pair of clean sheets in both of their last two games though, showing that the defense may finally be settling in. Defensive worries aside, the offense looks to be purring at the moment, with multiple goals in six straight and in eight of nine. The conductor of Florida’s potent attack is midfield marvel Erika Tymrak, who has been eased back into action following a sprained ankle, but who still managed the winning goal from off the bench on Friday against LSU.

While Tymrak pulls the strings on the club’s attack in the run of play, Florida’s also shown to be dangerous on set pieces, with bruising midfielder Holly King a favorite target on dead ball service. Intimidation’s unlikely to be a factor for Florida in this one either. The Gators have played tough opponents in plenty of hostile environments and probably won’t be cowed by College Station in any event. The stakes are massive on multiple fronts, and this could well go down as a turning point in the seasons of both come in the end of the year.

(7) Wake Forest vs (48) Kansas – 12:00 PM

Non-conference games with this much meaning this late in the season are a rarity, but with this matchup and Portland-San Diego State later, all the top games definitely aren’t confined to league play this Sunday. The Demon Deacons used their set piece mastery to fuel a second half comeback against Virginia on Friday, netting a huge win in the process and moving into range of a high national seed. While Wake needs some serious help to put themselves in a position to win the league, a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament is a realistic possibility with a strong finish down the stretch.

Wake doesn’t come into this game without worries though. The Demon Deacons were already without injured forward Rachel Nuzzolese, but they also may be sweating over the health of Katie Stengel, after the star went out with injury early in Friday’s second half. She didn’t return in the win after leaving, and her status for Sunday is up in the air. Missing both of their top options up front would be a huge blow for the club and could further their reliance on dead ball situations to generate offense.

Generating offense against Sunday opponents Kansas hasn’t been a problem as of late. After three straight clean sheets early in the year, the Jayhawks have now conceded in eight straight, perhaps explaining why they’re very much on the bubble heading into the final weeks of the regular season. Friday saw a heartbreaking loss at the hands of Big XII leaders West Virginia, that saw the club lose their third game in five, furthering their bubble worries. Despite the adverse result, KU still got a big boost from the return of defender Cassie Dickerson, the All-American having missed most of the season through injury. She’ll have to do a great job in marshaling a defense against a dangerous opponent on Sunday.

The bigger opponent for Kansas might not be Wake themselves though. Flying from Lawrence to Winston-Salem and playing on the road on Sunday after a Friday home game is a recipe for disaster, and fatigue could play a huge role in Sunday’s outcome. But Kansas could’ve hardly asked for a better opportunity to rack up a much needed quality win. Accomplish that feat, and their odds of an NCAA Tournament berth will rise considerably.

(9) Duke vs (19) Boston College – 1:00 PM

Laura Weinberg’s emergence on the big stage may have come this past Thursday, as the Duke forward scored twice, including the golden goal in extra time, to seal the Blue Devils a crucial three points in the ACC against Virginia Tech. Duke had opened up the season as one of the favorites for the national title but had faced the prospect of potentially having won just one of four heading into the club’s final four league games. It certainly would have been game over for their ACC title hopes, which still hang by a thread thanks to the red hot form of Florida State.

But the win over VT kept Duke right in the mix for a high national seed and with it the right to have the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament go through Durham. For Duke to have any hope of climbing to a #1 seed though, they’ll have to keep missteps to a minimum down the stretch.

That doesn’t figure to be easy on Sunday though, as a Boston College side desperate for points and wins comes into town. The Eagles played hard on Thursday in Chapel Hill but failed to trouble the North Carolina defense enough and paid the price for a moment of defensive madness, going down to the hometown Tar Heels, 1-0. The loss left BC at 2-2-0 in the league and well off the pace set by the leaders, despite having a game or two in hand on most of their league rivals. After beginning the season on such a hot streak, BC has now lost three of four and been shutout in all three of those defeats.

It’s a jarring sight for Eagles supporters who must have gotten used to their side pounding in goals without mercy over the first month of the season. It’s not exactly a great time to be going cold in front of goal either, with Maryland, Florida State, and Virginia still to come after Sunday’s match with Duke. The recent run of bad form has BC slipping from their once assured post as national seed candidates, and another defeat here could plunge them even further. Victory would bring some much needed relief though, perhaps giving them fresh impetus to work their way up the table during the second half of their league season.

(42) Louisville vs (29) Georgetown – 1:00 PM

It’s quite likely do or die time for Louisville, last year’s surprise team in the Big East, who need to finish strongly to guarantee themselves a chance at another run in the NCAA Tournament. While the Cardinals started off the season strong, including wins over Butler and Purdue that look much better now than they did at the time, it’s been a long and sometimes fruitless slog in the league. A defeat in the Big East opener to Notre Dame seemed to take a toll on the club’s confidence, and they won just two of their next five before beating Villanova on Friday.

The downturn in form saw the Cardinals sag in the RPI, leaving their status very much in doubt as the final month of the regular season got under way. With RPI drains Seton Hall and Cincinnati still to come later in the season, the Cardinals know that they need to take care of business in the next two games against the Hoyas on Sunday and then Rutgers next Friday. Part of succeeding in those ambitions may be getting Christine Exeter firing once again. The Canadian has been off the pace for much of the college season and has now failed to record a point in three straight games.

Not being able to keep up offensively could be a problem against an offensive dynamo in Georgetown. Less than a week after destroying Pittsburgh, 8-0, in a record setting performance, most expected another vicious beating when the Hoyas traveled to Cincinnati on Friday. Instead, it was a rather muted 1-0 win, with the Hoyas perhaps looking towards this clash. While the offense, including star midfielder Daphne Corboz, has gotten most of the plaudits, the defense has reigned supreme in league play, having kept six straight clean sheets.

Given some of the feeble offenses of their league brethren though, the Hoyas may not be as bulletproof as they appear, especially when you consider they shipped six to Stanford right before league season began. While Georgetown’s in a good position to make it back to the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season, the club also knows they aren’t there yet, though a strong finish in the league would all but put them there. Shooting down a motivated Louisville team on the road on Sunday would be a good start for the Hoyas.

(41) Auburn vs (16) Tennessee – 2:00 PM

Auburn looks to be making Harry Houdini proud once again, as the Tigers look to be emerging from another jam, rising from the proverbial dead to be in a spot to qualify for the NCAA Tournament yet again. Karen Hoppa’s side has more often than not this past decade flirted with disaster in the RPI but done just enough to squirm into the Big Dance by the skin of their teeth. And so it is again, as Auburn’s won four of their past five to not only solidify their position in the RPI, but also to rise up the table in the SEC, which might be just as important in the short-term.

After a fitful and inconsistent start to league play, in which Auburn lost three games to the league’s top clubs, they’ve bounced back to win three in a row and will aim to make it a perfect homestand on Sunday afternoon. Despite their recent uptick in form, the Tigers are still far from being out of the woods as far as the bubble is concerned, and with four of the final five on the road, this might be a crucial match when all is said and done.

Opponents Tennessee come in on a two game winning streak and have won three of four, but the offense has looked laggard lately, having netted just twice in the past three games. Friday didn’t exactly easy too many fears, as the Lady Vols struggled to put down a toothless South Carolina side. Being without Hannah Wilkinson hurt, as did the continual need to limit Caroline Brown’s minutes, with the potent forward still trying to get back to being fully healthy. Brown did show what she’s ultimately capable of though, netting the game’s only goal to give Tennessee another big win.

The Lady Vols are in a little bit of a limbo right now as far as the rest of the regular season is concerned. They’re all but in the NCAA Tournament right now but are also all but out of the SEC title race. There’s still a national seed to play for though, and that might be the main goal until Orange Beach for this Tennessee side. A win over the Tigers on Sunday would cap off a fine weekend and put UT right in the hunt for that coveted national seed.

(49) Minnesota vs (39) Iowa – 2:00 PM

Saturday afternoon’s contest between the Golden Gophers and Hawkeyes isn’t just a battle for positioning in the Big Ten but also an opportunity for these two sides to gain ground in the race to hop off the bubble. The past few days have been traumatic ones for bubble sides everywhere, as losses piled up and generally shook up the RPI, especially around the cutline. With both of these sides having been idle through the chaos, each will have a big chance to ease bubble fears with a victory here.

The pressure will arguably be greater on the home side, who have pushed the likes of Florida State, San Diego State, Penn State, and Michigan to the limit, but still find themselves in uncertain straits as far as an at-large bid is concerned. A win over Wisconsin last Thursday was a step in the right direction, but the club again fell just short of a big upset in a rollicking 4-3 defeat to Penn State on the road. The club’s defending has been slack at times this season, with just one clean sheet in league play thus far, but the offense is capable of competing with anyone in the nation thanks to the presence of sophomore Taylor Uhl.

Uhl will be staring down a worthy foe on Saturday in the form of Iowa’s Cloe Lacasse. The Canadian has been struggling with injury in recent weeks, but when healthy, has the ability to change the course of a game with a few touches. At 11-1-2, Iowa has managed to creep their way up the RPI despite a glaring lack of notable wins. A draw at Michigan last weekend provided a little fuel to Iowa’s at-large bid campaign, but the Hawkeyes know they’ll probably need more if it’s to be playing past early November.

With Ohio State and Penn State coming over the horizon, it’s critical for the Hawkeyes to keep the momentum going and get something from this fixture. Questions may still linger over the form of the offense though after two straight 0-0 draws. It means that it could be in Iowa’s best interests to avoid a shootout with the high octane Golden Gophers, especially on the road.

(38) Oregon State vs (2) UCLA – 3:00 PM

They might be fidgeting a bit in Corvallis after three straight without a win in the league. The Beavers had defied lowered expectations early on in 2012, winning their first four and nine of ten overall, including the league opener against Utah. The run of strong results had seemingly put OSU on course to qualify for another NCAA Tournament with ease, but a recent skid has begun to drop the club in the rankings ever so slightly. While nobody expected the Beavers to get much out of a trip to Stanford, a comprehensive defeat to Cal on the road followed by a draw with USC at home were much more disappointing.

How much OSU has in the tank will be in question on Sunday, as they endured a rough and tumble match against the Trojans on Friday that likely drained much of their reserves. Adding insult to injury, the Beavers also lost defender Gwen Bieck for Sunday, with the rookie being sent off for her second bookable offense in extra time. Down starting personnel isn’t the way OSU wanted to go into a game against a squad as tough and talented as UCLA.

The Bruins’ methodical march through the league continued on Friday with a composed, if not necessarily resounding, win over Oregon, 1-0. Despite it being a narrow win, it was a win nonetheless, and one that extended the club’s unbeaten run in all competitions to twenty games. The shutout also marked the club’s eighth clean sheet of the season and first in three games to halt a rather annoying trend begun at the start of a five game road swing.

Though UCLA topped the Beavers last season, they probably don’t have very fond memories of Covallis, with the club having been crushed 3-0 the last time they visited in 2010. Avoiding a repeat could be key to UCLA’s hopes of netting a #1 national seed, with the Bruins trailing just Stanford at the moment in the RPI. A strong finish will be paramount to those ambitions, and UCLA will be looking for maximum points in this most tricky of fixtures on Sunday afternoon.

(40) Utah vs (33) Cal – 3:00 PM

Two Pac-12 clubs currently on the right side of the bubble will try to stay there after Sunday with a win. The Utes continue to be one of the surprises of the season, contending for an unexpected NCAA Tournament berth despite possessing quite a young squad. Utah didn’t quite have enough in the tank to pull off an upset against Stanford on Thursday, but they held the Cardinal offense to just four shots on goal on the day. The offense couldn’t find a rhythm, but it was a solid effort considering what their opponents had done to some of their league brethren earlier in the conference season.

Utah won’t want to make the weekend a total bust though and will be desperate to avoid a losing streak heading into next week. Rich Manning’s side plays their last five on the road, so it’s vital for the Utes to finish up their home season with some momentum before the tough finishing kick.

Sunday’s rivals Cal began their league season in ignominious fashion, going down to Arizona on home turf but have since rebounded nicely to win four straight, including three in the league. It means the Golden Bears have now won eight of nine and are looking solid for the NCAA Tournament at the moment, though a paucity of quality wins means they’re far from locks right now.

It wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty for Cal on Friday against Colorado. The Golden Bears found themselves down by two goals not fourteen minutes in in Boulder and looked to be in real trouble. But they managed to haul themselves out from that trouble with a brace from Ifeoma Onumonu, with Lauren Battung supplying the golden goal early in extra time to seal a fine fightback. Despite the early slip, Cal’s still got plenty of opportunity to finish well up in the Pac-12 standings come the end of the season, but they’ll definitely need another win here if they’re to approach those lofty ambitions.

(25) Washington vs (36) Arizona State – 3:00 PM

Red hot at the beginning of the 2012 campaign, Washington has now gone ice cold through the opening weeks of league play. The Huskies won their first seven matches to emerge as one of the nation’s surprise teams but have since won just one of six after a draw at Utah State. UW, once looking like good bets for a national seed, have since slipped down the pecking order and may be fighting to just get into mid-table in the Pac-12. With UCLA, Cal, and Stanford all still to come, the Huskies need to start picking up points, and in a hurry.

Friday was another exercise in frustration, as the Huskies went down early to Arizona and struggled to get a foothold despite generally controlling the run of play. UW would equalize shortly after the break, but despite outshooting their opponents 14-2 through the second half and extra time, would have to settle for just a point on the day. The Huskies still look pretty safe as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned, but if they keep dropping points, it could get a bit hairy near the end. A win over Arizona State on Sunday would obviously go a long way in ending any doubts.

The Sun Devils are in a battle of their own, in this case a fight to stay at .500 to be eligible for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. With wins over Pepperdine and Washington State and a draw with Kansas, it’d seem to just be a matter of getting to that magic mark, but it’s not exactly a given for the 6-6-1 Sun Devils. Beginning league play with two losses from three wasn’t exactly a great sign, though the club did have a pretty tough draw to begin the league season.

ASU was certainly under some severe pressure in Pullman on Friday and needed six second half saves from Chandler Morris in goal, but the club saw Courtney Tinnin’s early goal hold up, netting them a priceless three points and getting them back to .500. Staying at .500 or getting above it means not going down in defeat to Washington on Sunday which won’t be the easiest task in the world considering the home side will be hellbent on ensuring their recent skid doesn’t get any worse before a tough finishing kick.

(22) Portland vs (10) San Diego State – 4:00 PM

Most of the non-conference showdowns worth savoring are over for this season, but Sunday will still serve up a fine treat when Portland plays host to San Diego State at Merlo Field. The Pilots haven’t been in action for a while, having last played on September 27 against Cal State Northridge. It’s just as well, as Portland began to feel the sting of injuries in late September, and it showed on the pitch, with the club losing to Denver before drawing against the Matadors. The UP faithful will be hoping that the time off has proved sufficient for healing purposes and that the club will be able to climb back towards a national seed that they had appeared to be cruising towards early in the year.

Moving back up the ladder would be made easier with a win on Sunday afternoon against Mountain West leaders San Diego State. One of the surprises of the season up to this point, SDSU will be looking to net its biggest win of the season yet by taking down the Pilots on the road, a result that would solidify its own ambitions for a coveted national seed. The Aztecs have won four in a row after a tough winless weekend against Stanford and Santa Clara in mid-September, benefitting from a slightly less harrowing schedule after the club began with some major tests both at home and on the road.

The offense, which had been a bit hit or miss early on, seemed to be coming around in recent weeks, but the Aztecs were forced to sweat a bit on Friday, needing a Sarah Halverson goal in the last twenty minutes to put away Boise State in league play. Though the offensive sputtering was a bit concerning, it was also the second straight clean sheet for SDSU, which had to be a relief considering the once stout defense had conceded in five straight beforehand. Odds are, the Aztecs will need more of the same strong defense in this one, as they try to silence a potent Portland side in front of a raucous crowd at picturesque Merlo.

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