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After all the chaos of the NCAA Tournament, three no. 1 seeds and one no. 2 remain. In other words, the University Cup looks more or less as expected. But that’s not to say it lacks emotion. 3 of the four coaches are heading to their first college cups as head coach. Two of them are in their first seasons leading a program. Despite the inevitability of the field, there are plenty of new stories and novel experiences to track here.
And the four teams? All of them could comfortably win the whole thing. UCLA has been among the favorites from the start. The state of Florida has taken shape. North Carolina is always a threat. And College Cup rookies Alabama have put together a dream season, and are arguably the most refined team on the field. So predicting how this could all play out is tricky. So here’s a look at both parties, with very uncomfortable guesses as to what could happen.
State of Florida vs. North Carolina, 6 p.m.
So here we are again. These teams have met twice this season, splitting the series 1-1. The two games were also remarkably similar, with North Carolina defending deep in a rigid 5-3-2 system, while picking its moments to attack. It worked in the first contest, as North Carolina won 2-1, despite being outshot, 17-12. The second leg was reversed, with Florida State making the most of their opportunities, and showing a bit more defensive stamina, to clinch a 2-1 victory.
On paper, the Seminoles could be in line for another win here. North Carolina’s star midfielder Samantha Meza is out for the season, making the Tar Heels look significantly weaker in the middle of the park. That could be a big problem against a Florida State team that uses Jenna Nighswonger’s passing range from center positions. Opponents have enjoyed success against Florida State when Nightswonger doesn’t have time to think. Without Meza in the picture, Nightswonger might have the space to dominate. Still, it’s hard to bet against any team led by Anson Dorrance. The North Carolina boss has plenty of championship experience and a coaching staff sure to plan the intricacies of Florida State’s attack. And with forward Ally Sentnor rounding out his scoring form, the Tar Heels will certainly have a chance. But Florida State could have more in the day, and it should find itself playing for a second straight national championship on Monday night.
Prediction: Florida State 2-1 North Carolina
UCLA vs. Alabama, 8:30 p.m.
And what to do with this one? Head coach Wes Hart has led Alabama to a record-breaking season, and the Tide are now in their first College Cup. He has done it with a well-defined structure that uses a series of offensive weapons. The tide settled in a 4-4-2, with creative midfielders and deadly shots up front. They also have an exciting bench, with substitutes like the electric Gianna Paul eager to leave. There can be no real complaints about Alabam’s path to the final four, either. He had to beat Duke last Friday and worked his way through a historically strong SEC list.
But Alabama has yet to face a team of the quality of UCLA. The Bruins aren’t as dominant as they were earlier in the season, but they do have wins over Duke, UNC and Virginia to their name. First-year head coach Marg Aozasa has assembled a balanced lineup, anchored by USYNT star Lily Reale and bolstered by the scoring prowess of Reilyn Turner and Sunshine Fontes. UCLA is also versatile, able to hang on to the ball, but also deadly on the fast break. He showed himself like that against Virginia, dominating proceedings for the first hour before scoring a winner thanks to a graceful counter-attack in extra time. Alabama has been a level above for most of this year, but UCLA’s versatility might be too much.
Prediction: UCLA 3-2 Alabama