Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
The NCAA Tournament is down to four teams, and after a slew of upsets, we are left with two teams expected to be in Alabama for the College Cup semifinals, and two teams that rode impressive Cinderella runs to the Final Four.
Creighton isn’t exactly a small program. In fact, the Blue Jays are the only team making a return trip to the semifinals. They were considered a surprised to get this far because of the serious rebuilding job head coach Elmar Bolowich had to undertake after losing a plethora of top stars to Major League Soccer. Nobody is doubting their credentials now though. Not after upset wins against Akron and UConn.
Indiana is one of the most historically successful programs in the nation, but the Hoosiers weren’t expected to be here. Not after a terrible finish to the regular season. Things changed in the NCAA Tournament though, thanks to a rejuvenated attack and the heroics of sophomore standout Eriq Zavaleta.
Georgetown wasn’t a big surprise as a semifinalist, but this is still uncharted territory for the Hoyas. Led by freshman forward Brandon Allen, and a strong midfield, Georgetown stands as the lone remaining survivor from the Big East.
One team left in the Final Four that most would have expected to be here is Maryland. The high-flying Terrapins have spent much of the season considered the favorite to lift the national championship and their form in the tournament suggests they are still the team to beat. Led by junior forward Patrick Mullins and senior midfielder John Stertzer, Maryland has the attacking weapons to overwhelm anybody.
Here is a breakdown of today’s NCAA Tournament semifinals:
GEORGETOWN vs. MARYLAND
PLAYERS TO WATCH: GEORGETOWN- Brandon Allen, Steve Neumann, Ian Christiansen, Jimmy Nealis, Tommy Muller. MARYLAND- Patrick Mullins, John Stertzer, Schillo Tshuma, London Woodberry, Taylor Kemp
MATCH-UP TO WATCH: Brandon Allen vs. London Woodberry. The Hoya attack is spearheaded by the freshman sensation Allen, a strong forward who doesn’t need much room to find a shot and put chances on net. Woodberry is an athletic centerback who won’t be beaten for pace. Sacho Cirovski could turn to his own freshman standout, Dakota Edwards, to deal with Allen.
On the other side of the field, senior centerback Tommy Muller will have his hands full with Maryland junior forward Patrick Mullins. Muller must contain Mullins if the Hoyas are going to have any chance of slowing down Maryland’s dynamic attack. A strong showing could also help boost Muller’s draft stock, potentially moving him into the first round.
There are plenty of good match-ups to keep an eye on. Jimmy Nealis vs. Sunny Jane, Stertzer vs. Christiansen, and Taylor Kemp vs. Andy Reimer are some others that pro scouts will be keeping an eye on, and will be key to determining a victor.
OUTLOOK: The Hoyas have a strong defense, and their 4-5-1 system makes it tough for opponents to build through the midfield. Maryland has the speed on the flanks to pressure Georgetown’s fullbacks while Stertzer is good enough to create chances even in a crowded midfield. If Sunny Jane and Milkas Eticha can provide good pressure on the wings, that could allow the Terps to control the flanks and provide good service for the trio of Mullins, Tschuma and Stertzer.
The Hoyas rely on organized defense and the attacking trio of Allen, Neumann and Reimer. That may not be enough to create the necessary chances to really challenge Maryland’s defense. They won’t be overrun by the Terps, but they will struggle to match Maryland chance-for-chance. With Allen likely to get plenty of attention, Georgetown needs Neumann to step up with his best game of the year. Without that, the Hoyas will struggle. Look for the Terps to win this match-up yet again (they are 28-0 against the Hoyas). MARYLAND 2, GEORGETOWN 0.
INDIANA vs. CREIGHTON
PLAYERS TO WATCH: INDIANA- Eriq Zavaleta, Nikita Kotlov, Harrison Petts, A.J. Corrado, Luis Soffner. CREIGHTON- Jose Gomez, Eric Miller, Jeff Gal, Timo Pitter, Andrew Ribeiro
MATCH-UP TO WATCH: Nikita Kotlov vs. Eric Miller. As important as Zavaleta is to Indiana’s attack, the biggest spark to the Hoosier attack in the tournament has been Kotlov on the left flank. The dynamic junior does a good job of disrupting opposing defenses, but he will face a tough challenge from Miller, a U.S. Under-20 defender who missed Creighton’s win against UConn in the quarterfinals. Miller is expected to be back for this one.
Stopping Zavaleta is obviously key for the Creighton defense and converted midfielder Andrew Ribeiro must do his best to try and shadow the dangerous Indiana sophomore. MLS scouts will be on hand and Ribeiro could seriously boost his draft chances as a centerback prospect if he can contain the dangerous Zavaleta.
OUTLOOK: Both teams rely heavily on their midfields to lead the way and Creighton has the slight edge. Indiana might have the biggest difference-maker in the middle in Kotlov, but Jose Gomez is a smooth playmaker who the Hoosiers must keep tabs on. If both teams play five-man midfields, then this one will be a chess match and the difference maker could be Creighton freshman Timo Pitter, a dangerous attacking player who does a good job floating and finding the weak spots in the defense. If Ribeiro can contain Zavaleta, and the Creighton midfield can win the battle in the middle, the Blue Jays should be able to book their place in the final. CREIGHTON 2, INDIANA 1