Dec. 10, 2009

By Roger van der Horst
Special to

CARY, N.C. — The site of the men's College Cup, which also will host the women's Cup in 2010, has a loftier ambition — to hold a joint championship the same weekend in 2011 or 2012 and eventually to become the Omaha of college soccer. Omaha, Neb., is the permanent home of the baseball College World Series.

The Division I men's and women's soccer committees are considering a three-year pilot program, starting in 2011, for a joint College Cup weekend, and several local and university officials say Cary, a town of 137,483 near Raleigh, will bid to host it at least one year.

Cary would be joined in the effort by the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Capital Area Soccer League and Campbell University, the new host school. N.C. State, the host school this year and next, will end its role after that to focus its staff resources on strengthening its own programs.

The NCAA has already named Cary a "championship city" — along with Indianapolis, Cleveland, St. Louis, San Diego and San Antonio — as part of another pilot program that is bringing seven championships here over four years. In addition to the College Cups, the Division II Baseball Championship will be held in 2010 and '11 at the USA Baseball complex in Cary, and the Division III cross-country and tennis championships are headed here in 2011 and '12, respectively.

But for a joint College Cup, WakeMed Soccer Park would have to be renovated and expanded. The town plans tentatively to spend $5.8 million in hotel occupancy tax money to eventually increase seating from 7,000 to 12,000, build two more locker rooms, add meeting and media space, perhaps even put up a video board.

Some coaches, though, aren't embracing the dual championship idea.

"Nah, I'm not a tremendous fan of it," Wake Forest men's coach Jay Vidovich said. "I think there are women's soccer fans, and I think there are men's soccer fans. There are enough to go around for each one. It's two different entities. I don't think there would be a tremendous benefit for anybody."

Anson Dorrance, whose North Carolina women's team recently won its third national title in four years, said: "I'm just not sure. Usually, when men's and women's events are combined, the women are a poorer relation. I kind of like being separate just because I can't believe the women would be treated with the same respect."

One reason College Cup tickets are sold out — 380 teams around the country have come for the CASL Boys Showcase, during which under-15, -16, -17 and -19 players will get a chance to be seen by about 400 college coaches. Each Showcase team also is getting College Cup tickets.

TIGHT FIT: Aside from all those youth players in town, each of the four Cup semifinal schools was allotted 200 reserved-seat and 100 general admission tickets. Almost 9,000 tickets in all have been sold for the 7,000-seat stadium, meaning that a lot of fans with general admission tickets will have to find standing room. The crunch is expected to be worse Friday, when Wake Forest (17-3-3) and Virginia (17-3-3) will meet in the first semifinal at 5 p.m. North Carolina (16-2-3) will face top-ranked Akron (23-0-0) at 7:30. The final will be played at 1 p.m. Sunday.

"Half (the spectators) are going to have to breathe in and half breathe out at the same time," said Charlie Slagle, the CASL chief and College Cup co-director.

Parking is free, but William Davis, the town of Cary's athletics program manager, recommends getting there early, given the usual traffic congestion.

WAKE'S CUP STREAK: Wake Forest advanced to the semifinals for the fourth straight season despite returning just three starters from last year. Wake's coach, though, found it absurd that his team was ranked as high as fifth early in the season.

"I thought the media was full of crap," Vidovich said Thursday. "I didn't think you guys did your research. We lost nine guys to the pros; we lost another player (Danny Wenzel) to injury; so we were a decimated team."

Since then, "there's been a tremendous growth with these kids," said Vidovich, whose team is now ranked No. 2 or 3 in the major polls. Akron is No. 1

North Carolina, last year's runner-up, got back to the final four in large part by holding its defense together despite the loss of three key players — defender David Rodriguez, midfielder Stephen McCarthy and defender/forward Eddie Ababio — all out with injuries. Midfielder and outside back Zach Loyd moved to Rodriguez's center back spot; Brett King replaced Ababio; and Dustin McCarty has taken McCarthy's place.

They'll be counted on to control Akron's powerful attack. The teams tied, 1-1, in a spring exhibition game.

CARY REUNION: Imagine this: If UNC and Wake Forest win Friday, two old friends could wind up one-on-one with the national championship on the line. Wake's star forward, Zack Schilawski, and Carolina goalkeeper Brooks Haggerty came up together through youth, middle and high school soccer, and the seniors are still close.

Close enough to know what the other might do?

"Yeah, I know him really well, but he knows me really well, too," Schilawski said.

The Heels' roster includes two others from Cary — defender/midfielder Drew McKinney and midfielder Martin Murphy. Each team also has a player from Raleigh, and Wake's Ike Opara, a semifinalist for the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy, is from nearby Durham.

SHUTOUT STREAK: Virginia has not allowed a goal since Oct. 17 in a 3-1 victory over Virginia Tech. Since then, the Cavaliers have shut out 11 straight opponents, including 2008 Cup champion Maryland, 3-0, to reach the national semifinals. In all, the Cavs have posted 16 shutouts this year, two against Wake Forest. The teams tied 0-0 in the ACC Tournament, with Virginia winning the penalty-kick shootout.

"Before the season even started, we felt like we needed to give up fewer than 20 goals," said Virginia coach George Gelnovatch, whose team has allowed only seven. "To start the season — and this was not planned — we were not firing on all cylinders (offensively), so we had to grind out a lot of games to win. ... The first half of our season, we had to be a blue-collar team just to keep ourselves in a pretty good position."