Dec. 9, 2010

Kristen Leigh Porter,

As the nation’s lone unbeaten team, top-seeded Louisville is the headliner of its NCAA College Cup semifinal in Santa Barbara, Calif., at Harder Stadium. Just don’t ignore its opponent, fourth-seeded North Carolina.

The Cardinals (19-0-3) and Tar Heels play in the 8:30 p.m. ET semifinal Friday at Meredith Field. Third-seeded Akron (20-1-2) faces No. 10 seed Michigan (17-4-3) at approximately 11 p.m. ET in the other semifinal.

Louisville hopes to extend the best season in school history into Sunday’s championship. The Tar Heels made the tournament as an at-large team and are the only former national champion (2001) in the field.

“I don’t think you focus on coming into it like they’re the big scary No. 1,” Tar Heels goalkeeper Scott Goodwin said. “Everyone’s looking at them as more of an opportunity to further the program, and get us through to the next round, and if happens to be by beating a big opponent, then that’s just what we’ll have to do.”

Not that North Carolina is a stranger to success. The Tar Heels are making their third consecutive appearance in the College Cup.

The Cardinals are making their first appearance after failing to advance past the first round of the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons. Louisville notched just five wins in 2006, Ken Lolla’s first as head coach.

“I give these guys credit because they are the first ones, they’re the pioneers, they’re the ones who brought the University of Louisville to national recognition,” Lolla said.

Louisville is the only team in the field to advance without playing a tournament game decided in overtime or penalty kicks.

In contrast, North Carolina became the first team in NCAA history to win three consecutive shootouts, outlasting SMU, Michigan State and Georgetown in tournament play to advance to the College Cup for the third consecutive year. The Tar Heels were a perfect 14-of-14 in penalty shootout attempts.

“If it does end up going into PK’s….. I think having won the last three games that way — it’s obviously helpful,” said Goodwin, who has posted 11 shutouts and allowed just 15 goals. “You’ve been in the situation before. Even if we hadn’t had those three games…. we practiced it over and over.”

Said Louisville goalkeeper Andre Boudreaux, the school’s career leader in shutouts and goals-against average: “If it goes to penalty kicks, we just have to take it one shot at a time.”

Led by junior forward Colin Rolfe’s nine goals and seven assists, the Cardinals can also rely on junior midfielder Nick DeLeon and freshman midfielder Dylan Mares, who each have eight goals and three assists.

Senior defenders Eddie Ababio and Jalil Anibaba lead a North Carolina defense that ranks fifth in the country in goals against average at 0.63.

North Carolina sophomore midfielder Enzo Martinez (10 goals, five assists) and junior midfielder Kirk Urso and senior midfielder Michael Farfan (five goals apiece) will try to penetrate a Louisville defense that has allowed the fewest shots on goal by any Division I team and has seven shutouts on the season.

“We pride ourselves on defending… we do defend well and we make it so that we don’t have to score a lot of goals,” Rolfe said.

It will be the first meeting between the two programs.

Longtime coach Elmar Bolowich, who has led the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament 10 of 11 years, said his team has achieved a goal set out at the beginning of the season.

“But we can’t sit here and say we want to win a national championship because we still have to win a semifinal first,” Martinez said.