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|North Carolina's Crystal Dunn has seven appearances and five starts with the US Women's National Team.|
SAN ANTONIO -- For a few hours Thursday night, Morgan Brian was a soccer player without a team. More luxuriously, she was a soccer player without a roommate.
With a rare chance to break up a road trip and actually attend Friday classes, University of Virginia players climbed aboard the bus after Thursday's 5-0 win at North Carolina State and made the roughly four-hour trek back to Charlottesville.
Come the weekend, the nation's top-ranked team will make almost the same round trip, with only a slight tweak, for a top-five showdown against the defending national champion North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where the Cavaliers are 2-16-0 all time.
|USWNT players, including Morgan Brian (second from left) listen to Crystal Dunn (with water bottle) during Friday's practice.|
But Brian wasn't on the bus Thursday night after she piled up three assists in just 32 minutes on the field. She won't be on it this weekend, either. Instead of waking up for class, she answered her alarm's insistent call at 6:30 a.m. to catch a flight from Raleigh to San Antonio. A different team awaited her there.
So, too, did North Carolina's Crystal Dunn, who made the flight a night earlier after playing 58 minutes in an afternoon win against Syracuse.
It is a quirk of scheduling that Brian and Dunn, the two best players in women's college soccer and Hermann Trophy rivals, will wear matching uniforms Sunday when the U.S. and Australia play in San Antonio, a game that begins 30 minutes after Virginia and North Carolina kick off more than 1,000 miles away.
There is a lot of present on the line in Chapel Hill. There might be quite a bit of the future taking shape in Texas.
Brian and Dunn are the only active collegians among 25 players called into training with the U.S. team this month (only 24 will be able to participate after U.S. Soccer announced Tobin Heath is still recovering from her foot injury).
Both are with the team, as they have been with some regularity this calendar year, because they are increasingly viable options for the roster Tom Sermanni will take with him to the 2015 World Cup in Canada. Whatever the odds of making that cut, the two players have significantly shortened them with their showing to this point.
"I think the confidence that other players, the senior players, show in you is indicative of the ability you have," Sermanni said. "I think that you see, just in that session today and the games they've played for the national team, every player on the team's got absolute confidence in both of those players."
It does make for a potentially awkward Sunday.
Imagine Alabama playing Oregon in football with C.J. Mosley and Marcus Mariota sharing a sideline elsewhere, or Connecticut and Stanford meeting on the basketball court with Breanna Stewart and Chiney Ogwumike not merely otherwise engaged, but operating in the same lineup. Such is the scenario for arguably the biggest college soccer game of the season.
When North Carolina beat Notre Dame in the 2008 NCAA championship game, both teams were without key players. Not long after the confetti settled on the College Cup field on one continent, Notre Dame's Lauren Fowlkes and North Carolina's Meghan Klingenberg and Nikki Washington started and helped the U.S. beat North Korea in the final of the Under-20 Women's World Cup in Chile.
A year ago, Stanford and Penn State played in State College, Pa., while key players from both schools were in Japan preparing to face Germany in the group stage of the U-20 World Cup. In that event, where the American (not to mention Canadian and Mexican) roster is almost entirely comprised of college players, it happens.
|It's easy to forget, given all she's accomplished, that Morgan Brian (6) has another year left to play at University of Virginia.|
But while U.S. Soccer doesn't track such things, good luck locating anyone who can recall a scenario in which active collegians took the field for the senior team at the same time their college teams squared off elsewhere.
The timing is not entirely a coincidence. Sermanni consulted both North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance and Virginia coach Steve Swanson as the U.S. finalized its fall schedule. He said he wouldn't have brought either one of the players to San Antonio without the other. This way, both college teams will be on equal footing without their best players, and Sermanni won't call in either one for the remainder of the college season, which spans national team games in San Francisco, Columbus, Ohio, and Orlando, Fla.
"I know both of them very well, and they're both really supportive of me and the national team program and supportive of their players," Sermanni said of Dorrance and Swanson. "Particularly in women's football, playing for country is the biggest honor you can get. So they were both very good in the chats we had about bringing [Brian and Dunn] here."
Dunn is the more established player in this setting, with seven appearance and five starts for the national team since debuting in January. It is not much of a stretch to envision her among the defenders on the roster in 2015, buoyed by a full 2014 season in National Women's Soccer League.
"I think playing with the full team is a little intro to what I'm going to be facing in a couple of months," Dunn said earlier this season. "It was good to see what life is going to be like, because everyone has this vision of what pro life is, that it's so fabulous and amazing. But it is hard work. I think it's good that I got to see what it is, so that when I step out of college, I'm not thrown off guard and I know what I'm stepping into."
This likely is the last time Dunn will put on a jersey for the national team while still an active college player. The same can't be said for Brian. It's all too easy to forget, given the degree to which she dominates games, Brian still has another year of eligibility at Virginia. She has played just 35 minutes in two appearances for the national team, scoring her first goal in a September win against Mexico in Washington, D.C., with her college teammates in the stands.
The midfield depth chart for the U.S. is as enticing as it has been in quite some time, but Sermanni didn't sound like someone thinking of her in terms of the distant future when asked if Brian's college obligations next fall could be an obstacle for her national team prospects.
"The way she's progressed would suggest she'll be heavily involved in the national team program [next fall]," Sermanni said. "I think, obviously, I need to have chats with Steve about her commitments for college and the national team at that stage. There is, obviously, at this stage, more flexibility -- I would suggest -- because we're a year and a half, a year and three-quarters away from the World Cup.
"But come this time next year, when you're really narrowing your squad and your focus down, and the program starts to ramp up even more, then that's something that we need to consider."
Would Brian consider sacrificing some or all of the college season if the tradeoff was an improved chance to compete for 2015?
"At the end of the day, it's Steve's choice what he wants to do with me and that kind of thing," Brian said. "For that, I guess I would talk with Steve, and if that chance did come for me to be able to do that, then, I mean, this is my dream. This is what I want to do, and this is where I want to take my future.
"I think Steve would be very supportive, and my teammates would also."
For now, more chances to interact with the senior team, including two training sessions Friday, one Saturday and Sunday's game, are all that are on their minds. Well, almost all. Both said they would talk to college teammates Sunday morning. But once the two of them take the field in the Alamodome, it will be radio silence until the game at hand is over.
"We'll probably want to walk away to our own corners and check our phones and hopefully be like, 'Yay,'" Dunn said.
"Or like, 'Oh, crap,'" Brian interjected.
"We definitely don't want someone to tell us what happens," Dunn concluded.