With both of the College Cups in the books and two first-time champions – the Stanford men and Penn State women – crowned, it’s time to look at the future of those events.
It is time – actually, well past time – to shelve that onerous second-weekend schedule in the women’s NCAA tournament where teams play two matches in 48 hours. Eight of the top 16 seeds could end up playing on the road for that Friday-Sunday turnaround, which devalues their regular-season accomplishments and compacts the schedule too drastically.
There’s a simple solution. Follow the lead of the men’s tournament, which plays its first two rounds at home sites on Thursday and Sunday. That extra day of recovery time makes a big difference in tired legs, improving the quality of play. Also there’s a net gain of eight home crowds boosting tournament revenue, and it eliminates the possibility of upsets dampening third-round attendance.
Consider the regional at Clemson last month. When second-seeded Clemson and third-seeded North Carolina were upset on Friday, a whopping 218 fans showed up for Sunday’s third round to watch Texas A&M get past Mississippi on penalty kicks. A&M averaged 2,880 fans per home game, while Ole Miss drew 853. At Clemson, they got crickets.
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If the seeds hold true, you still end up with Nos. 1-4 and 2-3 matchups in the third round. Except that now teams have nearly a week to prepare for those games, not one day.
UNC coach Anson Dorrance has correctly pointed out for years that soccer isn’t meant to be played with such a short turnaround. It’s not a disingenuous argument coming from a coach whose game plans usually involve 20 players and would benefit from a tight schedule.
Both the men’s and women’s soccer committees also should consider finding a permanent site for their national championships, in the way that baseball plays the College World Series at Omaha, Neb., and softball has the Women’s College World Series at Oklahoma City.
It’s an ugly sight on national television to see pockets of fans huddled into the corners of brightly gleaming and barren MLS stadiums. Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., the site last weekend of the men’s College Cup, was the latest example. Its capacity is listed at 18,467. The NCAA announced a crowd of 4,042. It looked more like 467 fans sitting there in the rain Sunday.
Sure, it’s bad luck about the weather, and there wasn’t a local team to boost attendance the way Duke helped WakeMed Soccer Park top 11,000 fans for each round of the Women’s College Cup in Cary two weeks ago. But was that such an anomaly? Two years ago the Florida State-UCLA women’s final there drew 8,800. Last year the Virginia-UCLA men’s final garnered over 8,000. Who knew UCLA was such a big draw in the Triangle?
It’s not feasible to consider hosting both tournaments, but the Women’s College Cup seems to pair nicely with CASL’s girls showcase tournament that weekend. And if the final was played later in the day, say 2 p.m., more youth players might be able to attend. Many were still playing their showcase games when the Duke-Penn State final kicked off at noon.
Victory Tour continues: Crystal Dunn continues to impress on the Victory Tour for the World Cup champion U.S. Women’s National Team. Dunn scored her fourth international goal, all in six Tour matches, in a 2-0 win Sunday over China at Glendale, Ariz. The Victory Tour wraps up Wednesday with another match against China in New Orleans (8:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1).
Dunn, the 2012 college player of the year when she led UNC to the NCAA championship, is considered the likeliest addition to the U.S. roster for next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics. This year’s NWSL MVP was famously left off the World Cup team, but it’s unlikely U.S. coach Jill Ellis will repeat that snub. Dunn has filled a void left on the wing because of an injury to Megan Rapinoe, who tore her right ACL in training last week in Hawaii.
U-20 update: With UNC sophomore forward Jessie Scarpa scoring five goals in the tournament, the U.S. U-20 women’s team won the CONCACAF championship last weekend in Honduras by beating Canada 1-0 and qualified for the 2016 U-20 World Cup. Scarpa ranked second in goals to UCLA commit Mallory Pugh, who took the Golden Boot with seven.
Two UNC commits, Taylor Otto of Apex and Emily Fox, started at the outside backs for the U.S. in the final. Midfielder Zoe Redei gave UNC another prospect on the team. Duke commits on the squad were midfielder Ella Stevens and goalkeeper Brooke Heinsohn.
Mighty Quinn: Duke junior center back Rebecca Quinn scored a goal Sunday in a 4-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago in the International Tournament of Natal as Canada continued to tune up for February’s Olympic qualifying. Quinn did not play in a 3-0 win over Mexico, having joined the team late because of Duke’s appearance in the College Cup, but started the second match.
Preliminary play wraps up Wednesday when Canada plays host Brazil. Those two teams have already assured themselves of meeting in Sunday’s championship match.
MLS combine: Three area standouts are among the 59 college seniors invited to the MLS Player Combine, set for Jan. 7-12 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. UNC defenders Jonathan Campbell and Jordan McCrary and Duke midfielder Zach Mathers are part of a nine-player contingent from the ACC.
Campbell was named a first-team All-American by the NSCAA last week. Mathers, who led Duke in scoring, was a first-team All-ACC selection along with Campbell. McCrary was a four-year starter for the Tar Heels.
A committee of MLS coaches and NCAA Division I coaches from every conference put together the list of players, who will work out for the 20 MLS teams at the combine in advance of the Jan. 14 SuperDraft in Baltimore.