Several of the contributing analysts for College Soccer News got together via a conference call to discuss the upcoming Elite Eight contests. Each weighed in on what they perceived to be the keys to each of the games and what each team needed to do to prevail. The discussion was brisk and viewpoints varied as always.
Creighton (19-3-0) at Akron (17-3-2) – Saturday, December 5, 4 p.m. – Akron, Ohio
Matty B. Contributing Writer –
Keys to the game: Both teams have high powered attacks so the team that establishes their rhythm on the offensive side of the ball will have a huge advantage.
What Creighton needs to do to win: Play solid team defense. Take control of the contest from the get-go. Be patient but opportunistic.
What Akron needs to do to win: Contain the Creighton attack led by Herbers and Pitter and not lose their shape on the defensive side of the ball. Maintain their composure. Apply pressure on the offensive side of the ball.
Additional thoughts: This is the round of the Tourney where the pressure of the survive and advance environment can become the greatest since teams realize that they are one win away from a trip to the Final Four. That can cause a team to play tentatively and to miss the opportunities that come their way. The teams that advance play smart but continue to play to win instead of playing not to lose.
Keys to the game: Both teams have shown high powered attacks throughout the season, and each has had an offensive explosion in the NCAA Tournament. The key may be which team can defend better, and limit the chances it gives up. Akron has a lot of different players who can score goals while Creighton has relied heavily on Fabian Herbers and Timo Pitter. Look for the team that controls the midfield and limits their opponent's chances to have the advantage.
What Creighton must do to win: Creighton has been dominant all year against most opponents – only Georgetown seemed to have them figured out. If they can maintain their impressive defensive record and find opportunities to let Herbers and Pitter dictate the game they'll be tough to beat.
What Akron must do to win: Akron has been almost impossible to stop offensively all year. Their top five players have combined for forty-two goals and thirty-three assists. Playing with such free flowing attacking soccer has left them open defensively in some games and they'll have to make sure they don't allow Creighton the chances in this one. Akron needs to make their possessions count, and get their creative players lots of touches in the final third.
Additional thoughts: This game could finish 1-0 or 4-3 between these two teams. Akron has always enjoyed a dominant home field advantage, but Creighton is one of the best in the country at going on the road and getting results. This promises to be an excellent game.
Ben R. – Contributing Analyst
Keys to the game: Scoring first. Akron has scored sixteen goals in their last five games and has been consistently getting better attacking chances. Against SMU, the Zips shot the ball forty times, yes forty times, while winning nineteen corner kicks. Creighton, under head coach Elmar Bolowich, is 46-0-2 when leading at halftime.
What Creighton must do to win: Creighton, a great possession team must not get caught on the counter by a very dynamic Akron attack. If the Jays can defend the transition well, this team is almost guaranteed a goal. They've scored in every contest this year and have the Hermann Trophy favorite, Fabian Herbers (15g, 15a), leading the attack.
What Akron must do to win: The Zips need to play with a high tempo and dictate the game early. They're at home and should feed off the energy of the Ak-Rowdies to not allow Creighton to score first. Attack the wings, especially when Creighton's wing backs get caught up the field and test their back line early in the game.
Additional thoughts: These are two of the best possession teams in the country and it will come down to who scores first. I'm taking Creighton with the upset on the road. Coach Bolowich knows how to lead his teams to victory come December.
Bob B. Contributing Writer
What Creighton must do to win: Hermann Trophy front runner junior forward Fabian Herbers will be a handful for an Akron back line that has looked shaky at times. Timo Pitter who has scored ten goals himself will play a major supporting cast role for Creighton but if Creighton is to advance the game might come down to the performance of senior goalie Connor Sparrow. If Sparrow and the Creighton defense can shut down Akron like they did North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen then expect Elmar Bolowich to return to the Final Four…again.
What Akron must do to win: Akron is as good on the offensive side of the ball as any team in the country. Led by Adam Najem (9g, 11a) and Richie Laryea (11g, 6a) the Akron offense has been a handful for every opponent they have faced. But the key to the game for Akron might be on the other side of the ball. Shutting down Herbers and Creighton will be a challenge for an Akron defense that has holes.
Additional thoughts: This is one of the best match-ups of the round. The game being played at Akron is a major factor. Simple fact is the Zips are better at home than when they have to travel. This one could go either way. I really like the balance that Creighton has on both sides of the ball and no one has a better track record for success this time of the year than Bolowich but I am going to say Akron prevails 3-2 in a slugfest.
John S. Contributing Analyst
Keys to the game: Both teams must swallow their pride and play direct or sit in and be ugly at times if that's what the game demands.
What Akron must do to win: Akron must be able to match Creighton's rugged physical play
What Creighton must do to win: Creighton must adapt and be a good road team as they were at North Carolina.
Boston College (11-7-2) at Syracuse (15-3-3) – Saturday, December 5, 2 p.m. – Syracuse, New York
Keys to the game: Put together a full ninety-minutes of play, no lapses on the defensive side of the ball, create and then exploit the opportunities that arise on the offensive side of the ball.
What Boston College must do to win: Continue to do what has been working well for them. Play with confidence. Score first. Gain and maintain the momentum. Remain organized on the defensive side of the ball.
What Syracuse must do to win: Apply pressure, maintain possession and take advantage of the scoring opportunities that will come their way. Avoid lapses on the defensive side of the ball.
Additional thoughts: Both teams have exceeded expectations. Both have very capable playmakers. This one could go either way with a lot riding on who gets on the board first but I thnk Syracuse will be ready for the Eagles this time and will prevail.
Keys to the game – These teams will know each other well, having played in the final regular season contest a few weeks ago. Both teams have gotten hot since – Syracuse winning three in a row on the road to claim the ACC championship and Boston College winning one at home and twice away from home in the NCAA Tournament. It looks like it will shape up to be Syracuse's possession against BC's counter attacks. The team that gets the most out of its strength should have an advantage.
What Boston College must do to win: BC has explosive players going forward. Freshman forward Simon Engstrom and junior midfielder Zeiko Lewis are capable of exploiting any defense. If they are able to get the ball in space with the opportunity to run at the Syracuse defenders they'll get their chances to score.
What Syracuse must do to win: Syracuse does a great job of suffocating an opponent, first with their possession and second with their pressure. They'll need to capitalize on the chances they'll generate through services in the box. If they can get the combinations right and convert their wide play into goals they'll be in good shape to advance.
Additional thoughts: Any time two teams meet for a second time there will be subtle adjustments. Expect Syracuse to learn from their experience in Chestnut Hill and be prepared for the BC threat. Boston College will have to find a way to slow down the potent Syracuse attack.
Keys to the game: Win the midfield battle. Both teams dominated the center of the park in the previous round games and it proved to be the difference.
What Boston College must do to win: Boston College needs to play with the same confidence they did against Georgetown. They came out flying in the Sweet Sixteen and the Hoyas midfield couldn't contain the potent attack led by Simon Enstrom (9g, 4a) and Zeiko Lewis (5g, 8a). Lewis is the catalyst to this midfield and if he's able to create against this sturdy Syracuse back line then they'll get their chances to finish off this game.
What Syracuse must do to win: Syracuse needs to kill off the Eagle's confidence early. Create chances like they did in the early stages against Seattle and try to knock one in within the first couple of minutes again. Also, get the ball to Julian Buescher (8g, 11a) and allow him to operate. If given room the German playmaker is one of the most special players in college soccer.
Additional thoughts: The two met a month ago in Massachusetts with Boston College outlasting Syracuse 2-1, but I'm taking the Orange in this one. They have only one loss at home this year (90th minute game-winner vs. Clemson) and their attack will be too much to handle.
What Boston College must do to win: Boston College has been the team no one wants to play in the NCAA Tournament. A team that is athletic, organized, and good on the break and set pieces. The defense has been the key for BC led by goalkeeper Alex Kapp. Kapp has come up with big saves throughout and helped organize a Boston College back line that is tough to break down. Freshman forward Simon Enstrom will be the main man going forward for BC. If he gets in a groove and can get on the scoreboard it might be a long day for Syracuse.
What Syracuse must do to win: If you hadn't noticed Syracuse is good. A team that grinds out games, wears down their opponent, and has enough going forward to score goals at any moment. Led by Ben Polk (11g, 4a) and Julian Buescher (8g,11a) , Syracuse has been scoring goals at will. That will have to continue verses a Boston College defense that has unraveled in a couple of games this year but has been solid of late. The key for Syracuse might be the play of freshman Hendricks Hilpert in goal. Boston College has scored timely goals in the tournament. If Hilpert can deny them, then Syracuse could be in the Final Four.
Additional thoughts: Syracuse scores one early and grinds out a 3-1 decision.
What Boston College must do to win: BC may have to change up some looks and tactics since the teams know each other well. It is likely that Boston College may have to play direct and may have to deal with sloppy conditions depending on the weather. BC has positive PK experience in their prior match should the contest require a penalty kick shootout.
What Syracuse must do to win: Capitalize on set pieces. Syracuse's size on set pieces could be a problem for BC.
Maryland (12-5-5) at Clemson (17-2-2) – Friday, December 4, 7 p.m. – Clemson, South Carolina
Keys to the game: This promises to be an exciting match-up. Maryland hit their stride late in the season and they are beginning to look like the kind of team we're accustomed to seeing from them in December. Clemson has been consistently good all season long. Both squads will look to seize control of the match in the first half and impose themselves on the game. I'd expect a physical game, and both teams might view the ability to take advantage of set pieces as crucial. Whichever team can develop a rhythm in attack and win the battle of the midfield will have the upper hand.
What Maryland must do to win: Maryland is going to have to overcome a very good Clemson team, and the fan support they've had all season at Riggs Field. They will need to take the crowd out of the game and disrupt Clemson's attacking flow. Look for an aggressive Maryland team to really try to squeeze the game in the Clemson end and use their athleticism and pressing to create chances.
What Clemson must do to win: Clemson will have to control the emotions of the moment, and stick to what's made them successful all season long. They will have to be composed enough to make smart decisions against Maryland's pressure, and work to keep the ball in the final third. If they can get the ball to their playmakers early and often they'll enjoy success.
Keys to the game – Ride the backs of your seniors. Clemson's dynamic duo of T.J. Casner (19g, 4a) and Kyle Murphy (8g, 4a) are going to be testing the Terps defense all game while Maryland's senior midfield trio of Mael Corboz (2g, 12a), Tsubasa Endoh (5g, 6a) and Cody Albrecht will be tough to contain. Whichever group has more of an impact, will play a key role in determining which team prevails.
What Maryland must do to win: Win set pieces and score first. The Terps have the most deadly free kick taker in college soccer in senior midfielder Mael Corboz, and if they can earn fouls in dangerous positions, Maryland is bound to get goal scoring opportunities. Clemson isn't used to being down so if the freshmen forward pair of Sebastain Elney (7g, 2a) and Eryk Williamson (6g, 5a) can get on the board first, then they could sneak out a win.
What Clemson must do to win: The Tigers need to test the Terps back line and look to get in behind. Clemson has pace up top and will need to take on Maryland's two hulking center backs who at times can be vulnerable against quick, agile attackers. Clemson is second in the nation in goals per game (2.43) and will face a Maryland side that has given up two goals or more, five times this season. That's not a bad rate, but it proves they can be exploited.
Additional thoughts: Although Clemson has arguably been the best college soccer team all year, I'm taking the Terps coming off wins against the past two national champions. Maryland coach Sasho Cirvoski has a knack for motivating his teams to elevate their performance in postseason play and I think they will pull off an upset in overtime down in South Carolina.
What Maryland must do to win: Maryland has caught fire of late as a team. Since losing 1-0 to Ohio State, Maryland inserted Cody Albrecht into the holding mid role and they haven't looked back. Forward Erik Williamson is one of the best freshmen in the country and shutting him down will be the challenge for Clemson. Maryland also has the ability to space the field with Tsubasa Endoh coming in from the right flank. Terp goalie Cody Niedermeier keeps getting better and gaining confidence with every game. The Maryland back line will need Niedermeier to bring his A game after losing a center back to a ghostly red card verses Notre Dame that still remains a head scratcher.
What Clemson must do to win: Clemson is as good front to back as any team in the nation. With seniors TJ Casner and Kyle Murphy carrying the offense this team is built to do one thing…win. Andrew Tarbell will need to be special against Maryland both in goal and organizing the defense in from of him.
Additional thoughts: Maryland is young but extremely talented and Sasho Cirovski has his team peaking at the right time. Clemson under the direction of Mike Noonan is experienced, extremely talented, and determined. The red card verses Notre Dame will likely haunt Maryland and help Clemson. Prediction – Clemson prevails 3-1.
What Maryland must do to win: Continue to create and finish opportunities on the offensive side of the ball. Mael Corboz is the catalyst. The freshmen up-top must produce. Maryland's youth might make them numb to the pressure that they are going to be under yet they could also have deer in the headlights.
What Clemson must do to win: The Tigers must contain Williamson as he is hot. Williamson reminds me of AJ Wood who played for Virginia back in the 1990's.
Stanford (16-2-2) at Wake Forest (17-2-2) – Saturday, December 5, 4 p.m. – Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Keys to the game: This game might be the pick of the quarterfinal round. Both teams play quick, attractive, soccer and have individuals capable of changing a game in any moment. While each team has scored a lot of goals, they've also been equally difficult to break down, so I expect a game where both teams are very defensively sound and looking for their special players to win them the game. Which team is able to capitalize on a half-chance, or a turnover, might determine who advances to the College Cup.
What Stanford must do to win: The Cardinal will need to decide where they want to start the pressure and attempt to take Wake Forest out of rhythm. Ultimately they will be trying to take away Wake's space on the flanks, and to limit Jack Harrison's impact. In attack they'll lookto quickly turn defense into offense through junior forward Jordan Morris. If they can get Morris the ball in the right areas they'll feel good about their chances.
What Wake Forest must do to win: Wake will certainly be focused on shutting down Morris and making sure he doesn't beat them. They will also want to take command of the midfield to find opportunitiesto get the ball to their attacking players. If they can remain as defensively sound as they've been throughout this season the home field advantage at Spry Stadium might be enough to pull them through.
Keys to the game: Traveling cross country can be difficult. The Cardinal performed well during regular season trips to Louisville and Dallas. I doubt it will have a big impact but even a little edge might make a difference in this one. Both teams have big play guys who can take over a contest. It is going to come down to which team is able to do well what has worked for them all year. This one is interesting because it is one of those games that could be 1-0 or it could easily turn into a high scoring multi-goal, track meet type of contest. If someone does score early the other team will have to maintain their composure or it could get out of hand quickly.
What Stanford must do to win: The Cardinal attack will produce opportunities to score. They need to finish them and force Wake Forest to play catch-up.
What Wake Forest must do to win: Well, not letting Jordan Morris and company get their rhythm going on the attack is the first thing that comes to mind. The Deacons have big play guys of their own in Jack Harrison and Jon Bakero and again it comes down to whether or not they are able to finish the opportunities that come their way, contain the Stanford attack, and then dictate the pace of the game.
Additional thoughts: Spry Stadium is a great venue in which to play with a surface that goal scorers like. The crowd will be electric and that will add to the evening. Morris, Langsdorf and Baird for Stanford and Harrison and Bakero for Wake Forest will attract a lot of attention but I think the outcome of this one will have a lot to do with the play of guys like Cardinal midfielders redshirt senior Eric Verso (1g, 12a) and senior Ty Thompson (0g, 3a) and Demon Deacon midfielders Ian Harkes and Jacori Hayes. Also which goalkeeper, Stanford's Andrew Epstein or Wake Forest's Alec Ferrell makes the big saves in goal. Stanford erupted for three second half goals in their wins over Santa Clara and Ohio State. The Demon Deacons have shown that they are very capable of scoring goals but I think a one goal contest favors Wake Forest and a multi-goal contest favors Stanford. If I could pick just one Elite Eight game to watch it would be this one.
Keys to the game: Know that one goal may put this game away and defend for your life. Both teams play attacking attractive soccer, but the more impressive feat is that both teams rank in the top eleven in the nation in goals against per game. The teams combined for twenty shutouts this season and both know how to grind out victories, so whoever scores that decisive first goal, should win this game.
What Stanford must do to win: Dirsrupt the Wake Forest midfield and find outlets. If the Cardinals can win the ball in the middle third of the field and find Jordan Morris (10g, 3a), Corey Baird (3g, 9a), or Eric Verson (1g, 12a), they should be able to crack the Wake Forest back line with their creativity and pace.
What Wake Foret must do to win: Stay compact defensively and have more possessions. The Demon Deacons have left it to late in the contest to win their previous round match-ups, and will need to gut out another solid defensive performance to pull one out over the Cardinal. Wake Forest has one of the most technical midfields in the country, between Ian Harkes, Jocori Hayes, Jon Bakero, and Jack Harrison and will need to keep Stanford on their back foot for a majority of the game to advance to the Final Four.
Additional thoughts: I think a moment of brilliance from either team's best players will be the difference in this one.
What Stanford must do to win: Stanford's Jordan Morris showed just how good he can be last round against Ohio State scoring two second half goals to lead Stanford to the Elite Eight. He will be a main factor going forward for Stanford and could be what helps Stanford advance BUT the key to Stanford might be Ty Thompson the tough holding mid from Stanford is Mr. Everything for Stanford. He controls the midfield on both sides of the ball and might be the guy that can shut down Ian Harkes and a very gifted Wake Forest midfield.
What Wake Forest must do to win: Wake Forest is loaded with stars but struggled with Indiana's size and pace in the last round. At times being out possessed for large portions of the game. They also struggled going forward and yet with all that said they still won with Ricky Greensfelder netting the game-winning goal in the 88th minute of the contest. Jack Harrison is good enough to be considered for the Hermann as a freshman and could unlock the game for Wake. Don't be surprised to see Michael Gamble return from injury in the game which could be exactly what they need to get past a very good Stanford team.
Additional thoughts: The long travel gets to Stanford and Jordan Morris. Wake Forest wins it 3-2 to the delight of a standing room only crowd at Spry Stadium.
What Stanford must do to win: Stanford has a high octane attack and is one of only a few teams in the country who can win a track meet with Wake Forest. If they execute well they will prevail. Cardinal head coach Jeremy Gunn has been on this stage before and his ability to move chess pieces as the game progresses could be a factor.
What Wake Forest must do to win: Play smart but take advantage of the opportunities to score that come their way. Knock the ball around and move well off the ball, Keep the pressure on the Stanford backline but don't loose their shape on the defensive side of the ball. Be prepared for Stanford to pick up the pace in the second stanza. Play through that and maintain their composure.
Additional thoughts: Expect this to be a great game as a fan. You have to be impressed with what Bobby Muuss has accomplished in his first season at the helm of the Wake Forest program but when it is all said and done I think Stanford under the direction of Jeremy Gunn will survive and advance and represent the west coast in the Final Four.