After two semifinals in the NCAA College Cup, not a single goal was scored. Still, Stanford and Clemson battled their way through penalty shootout wins to advance to the national championship, which will kick off at 2 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kans.
Although Stanford is looking for its first national championship in school history, it’s nothing new for coach Jeremy Gunn. Gunn coached the University of Charlotte to the College Cup in 2011 before being hired by Stanford following his time with the 49ers. Clemson goes into its fourth national title game in school history, with the last one in 1987.
Gunn said his experience in the tournament gives him insight into how to handle the preparation.
“You realize how to manage it for the players,” Gunn said. “Our job for the staff is just making sure we have the right rest and making sure we can focus on the job at hand. Come game time, it’s the players’ time.”
Last time out, Gunn’s Stanford team defeated Akron in a 10-round penalty shootout that ended 8-7. On the other side of the bracket, Clemson survived in a 4-1 penalty shootout win despite being outshot by Syracuse 15 to five.
Clemson goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell, who led the way for the Tigers with eight saves on that night, said he doesn’t take anything from the performance into the national title game.
“Just another game now,” Tarbell said. “It’s just like any other game in the regular season. You have to have a short memory when things go well and when things go badly.”
Clemson coach Mike Noonan echoed Tarbell’s words, but referred to Clemson’s inability to control the game as the Tigers have come to expect to do this season. After the game finished and on Saturday, Noonan did not call Clemson’s performance in the semifinal a win.
“We didn’t win, we advanced,” Noonan said. “I think it’s what Andrew said, you have to have short memories. You take the good with the bad and you try to be as consistent as you possibly can. We’ve done that over the course of the year.”
Noonan and defender Kyle Fisher each said that Clemson’s first priority is to take control of the game from the beginning, as the Tigers were unable to against Syracuse.
“We’re going to focus on not staying on the back foot and getting more on the front foot,” Fisher said. “[Stanford does] have good forwards, and were going to have to clean up some things defensively and stay mistake-free.”
Stanford’s Jordan Morris is the Cardinal’s key player. Morris, who already has United States men's national team caps, had the highest goals per game mark among teams in the College Cup with .69.
In Stanford's win over Akron in the semifinal, the Cardinal had 15 shots to Akron's 12. While neither team could find a goal in that game, Gunn was satisfied with his team's performance throughout 110 minutes.
"I think in both games you really needed a goal to open up the game," Gunn said. "I thought the first half was just about perfect aside from not getting a goal from the few chances we had."
Although Clemson did not play its best game of the year, Gunn said his team was still more focused on itself.
“You can control how you play but you have to be able to be proactive and respond to opponents and we’ve got great balance, you saw how collectively we can defend as a group.
“We can play, we can pass, [and] we can be direct. The way we play and the way we set up, we make very little adjustments for other teams.”