BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The 2014 Division I Women’s College Cup isn’t the only soccer being played on the FAU campus this weekend.
High-level girls club teams are competing on various FAU fields, and the nation’s top collegiate players have peered through charter bus windows at some of those matches during their comings and goings to College Cup events at FAU Stadium.
Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET national title game between Florida State and Virginia is the pinnacle of all area -- and women’s collegiate -- soccer. But those brief sightings of younger selves aren’t lost on Virginia standout Morgan Brian.
“I’ve seen some of the girls that play for the same club I played for and I told them, I really miss playing club soccer and to cherish those moments,” said Brian, a senior midfielder and Virginia’s first three-time All-American. “That’s when you go out there and have fun and you don’t even care about the result. That’s what really makes soccer fun.”
Sunday’s stakes are significantly higher. Neither Virginia nor FSU has won a national title. The Cavaliers are playing in their third College Cup and their first championship game. FSU is in the College Cup for the fourth consecutive year and eighth time in program history. The Seminoles are the reigning runner-ups, after losing to UCLA in last year’s title game.Then there is the familiarity factor. Virginia and FSU both hail from the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Seminoles won this season’s previous two meetings by 1-0 scores and have won five of the past seven games between the two teams. Virginia and FSU have played only once before in NCAA tournament competition, a 3-0 FSU victory in the 2011 quarterfinals.
“When you do play those teams, they’re going to help you get better no matter the score,” Brian said. “That’s the biggest thing in playing teams like that.”
Sunday’s game marks the fourth time in tournament history that conference opponents have played for a national title and the first since 2002, when Portland defeated Santa Clara in a battle of West Coast Conference foes.
“I think it prepares you,” Virginia head coach Steve Swanson said. “And certainly over the years and especially as our conference has grown -- and women’s soccer -- it’s the best conference in the country and we know that because we’re in it every day.”
Each team knows the challenges offered by the other. For Virginia, it may be stopping junior forward Cheyna Williams, who has scored two goals in each of her last two games, including Friday’s 2-0 national-semifinal shutout of Stanford. A transfer from Vanderbilt, Williams has made herself indispensable to her Seminole teammates.
“I think my team has prepared me and we have been training together all year,” Williams said. “We give each other confidence. I feel pretty much the same as everyone else. It helps having the experienced girls and having had them come to the College Cup and played in a final helps to take the edge off. I will follow the crowd and go off their momentum.”
For FSU, it’s the Morgan Brian factor, along with Colaprico’s complimentary versatility and leadership. Both had an assist in Friday’s 3-1 semifinal win over Texas A&M. Colaprico leads the ACC with 19 assists. Brian is a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team and the reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner.
“Anyone who’s paying attention to women’s soccer in this country is familiar with Morgan,” FSU head coach Mark Krikorian said. “She is an exceptional talent. Her ideas about the game are at an elite level. Her quality with the ball is exceptional. I don’t know many more adjectives I can come up with. I need to get somebody smarter than I am to help me with this.”
Junior midfielder-defender Isabella Schmid didn’t volunteer adjectives, but discussed how the Seminoles must account for the fact the Cavaliers are the nation’s top scorers. Virginia arrived at the College Cup with a 3.54 goals-per-game average. The Cavaliers also lead the nation in goals (a total of 291) since the 2011 season.
“I think we all just have to be really disciplined,” Schmid said. “I think they’re very organized and they’re very talented, especially at midfield. And we can’t give them enough space or time because we know they’re going to make something great out of it. So we need to keep our concentration high. We need to be disciplined, We need to be physical with them.”
Even the head coaches are familiar with each other beyond their ACC tenures. Swanson is in his 14 year at Virginia. Krikorian is in his 10th year at FSU.
“We go way back before that,” Krikorian said, joking about Swanson. “He’s old.”
Per Krikorian, he and Swanson met in the mid-1990s, when the latter was the head coach at Dartmouth and Krikorian was at Franklin Pierce, a Division II school in New Hampshire. Their squads scrimmaged against each other.
“It sure seems to me like he’s got a great soccer mind and it’s always a challenge to compete against him,” Krikorian said of Swanson. “I have a great deal of respect for him. He and his program are certainly leaders in the country and we’re just happy that we’re sometimes mentioned in the same breath that they are.”