COLLEGE CUP: Solid quartet in Santa Barbara

December, 10, 2010
12/10/10
8:49
AM PT

College soccer's final four comes to UC Santa Barbara this weekend (semifinals Friday, final Sunday), and it's a potent quartet: Two legitimate powers (Akron and North Carolina), the lone unbeaten Division I side in the country (Louisville) and one big suprise (No. 10 Michigan, coming off an overtime upset of mighty Maryland).


A quick look at the four teams:




LOUISVILLE (19-0-3)
Coach:
Ken Lolla (fifth year at Louisville, 59-28-16; 16th year overall, 268-112-44)
Top players: D Austin Berry (Cincinnati), M Nick DeLeon (Phoenix), F Colin Rolfe (Canton, Mich.)
Local angle: Assistant coach Mario Sanchez played for the Orange County Zodiac in 1999
Conference: Big East (won the Red Division with a 9-0-0 record, captured tournament title on PKs following 1-1 draw with Providence)
NCAA Tournament: Beat College of Charleston (3-1), Ohio State (2-1) and UCLA (5-4)
History: In the NCAA Tournament for the fourth successive season, had one NCAA win before this year
Notable alum: Toronto FC defender Adrian Cann
Outlook: Louisville is No. 1 in most of the polls, in the RPI and among the NCAA's seeds, but that has more to do with being unbeaten (and Akron's surprise loss Oct. 30 at Cleveland State) than anything else. Lolla left Akron for the Cardinals in 2006, and he's steadily built them into a contender, and the comeback victory over UCLA shows signals they can't be counted out.




NORTH CAROLINA (16-3-4)
Coach:
Elmar Bolowich (22nd year, 280-143-40)
Top players: D Jalil Anibaba (Davis, Calif.), F Enzo Martinez (Rock Hill, S.C.), M Stephen McCarthy (Colleyville, Texas), M Kirk Urso (Lombard, Ill.)
Local angle: Midfielder Michael Farfan (Wildomar) is a Cal State Fullerton transfer; Galaxy defender Gregg Berhalter played for the Tar Heels
Conference: Atlantic Coast (won regular-season title with 7-0-1 record; lost in tournament final to Maryland, 1-0)
NCAA Tournament: Won on penalties following draws with Georgetown (0-0), Michigan State (1-1) and SMU (1-1)
History: 18th NCAA appearance, with one championship (2001) and one title-game loss (in 2008 to Maryland); lost to Akron in semifinals last year
Notable alums: Dozens of pro players, including soon-to-be Hall of Famer Eddie Pope, Aston Villa's Eric Lichaj and recent D.C. United pick-up Dax McCarty
Outlook: The Tar Heels might have a richer history in women's soccer (21 national titles), but there's a considerable legacy in the men's game, too. This is their third successive College Cup appearance, they won the ACC -- college soccer's toughest conference, by far, with four of the last five championships -- and they're deeper and arguably more talented than everyone here except Akron.




AKRON (20-1-2)
Coach:
Caleb Porter (fifth year, 88-12-11)
Top players: M Anthony Ampaipitakwong (Carrollton, Texas), F Darren Mattocks (Kingston, Jamaica), F/M Darlington Nagbe (Lakewood, Ohio), D Kofi Sarkodie (Huber Heights, Ohio), D Zarek Valentin (Lancaster, Pa.)
Local angle: Chivas USA midfielders Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski played for the Zips last season; Zarek Valentin is the brother of former Galaxy defender Julian Valentin
Conference: Mid-American (won regular-season title with 6-0-0 record; beat Western Michigan, 4-0, in tournament final)
NCAA Tournament: Beat West Virginia (3-2), Indiana (2-1) and Cal (on penalties after a 3-3 draw)
History: 25th NCAA appearances, with two title-game losses, in 1986 to Duke and last year to Maryland on penalties
Notable alum: Seattle Sounders winger Steve Zakuani
Outlook: The most complete, most talented team in the field -- playing the most attractive soccer in the country -- ought to be going for its second straight title. It likely will take a perfect game plan from their foes to deny them their first championship




MICHIGAN (17-4-3)
Coach:
Steve Burns (11th year, 117-83-21)
Top players: F Justin Meram (Shelby Township, Mich.), M Hamoody Saad (Dearborn, Mich.), F Soony Saad (Dearborn, Mich.)
Local angle: Right back Jeff Quijano (Canoga Park) played at Canoga Park HS and for West Valley Samba
Conference: Big Ten (tied for second with a 4-2-0 record, one point behind Indiana; beat Penn State, 4-1, to win tournament)
NCAA Tournament: Beat Central Florida (2-1 in OT), South Carolina (3-1) and second-seeded Maryland (3-2 in OT)
History: Fourth NCAA appearance, with Elite Eight (2003) and Sweet 16 (2008) appearances
Notable alum: FC Dallas forward Peri Marosevic
Outlook: The Wolverines have won nine in a row since Akron slapped them down, 7-1, on Oct. 19, and victories over tournament longtime powers South Carolina and Maryland speak to their grit. They'll play the Zips closer this time, but the reward is getting here.

SCHEDULE
at Harder Stadium, UC Santa Barbara (Goleta)
Friday's semifinals
Louisville vs. North Carolina, 5:30 p.m. TV: ESPNU. Prediction: North Carolina, 1-1, advance on penalties
Akron vs. Michigan, 8 p.m. TV: ESPN2 and ESPNU. Prediction: Akron 3, Michigan 0

Sunday's final
Championship, 1 p.m. TV: ESPN2. Prediction: Akron 1, North Carolina 0

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