After Saturday’s dominant 5-0 win over Belmont in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the North Carolina women’s soccer team (20-1-1, 9-0-1 ACC) will play host to Colorado (12-7-2, 3-6-9 Pac-12) in the next stop of its College Cup revenge tour.
Friday’s game on Dorrance Field marks the next step for a Tar Heel squad that reached the precipice of its 22nd national championship in 2018, only to fall to Florida State in the NCAA title game. Here's what to expect against the Buffaloes.
Two pioneering programs
The Tar Heels have faced Colorado five times and never lost, with two of those victories also coming in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and 2017.
However, the two programs have a history that extends beyond the occasional postseason matchup. In fact, the inception of the tournament itself can be traced back to an alliance between the Tar Heels and the Buffalos.
When Dorrance took over the UNC women’s soccer program in 1979, the NCAA didn’t offer a women’s soccer championship, so the Tar Heels' coach and then-Colorado head coach Chris Lidstone approached the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women and proposed the idea of a tournament-style championship.
There is no doubt the current state of the tournament would not be where it is today without the help of the two pioneering programs. This additional historic wrinkle makes Friday’s second round matchup all the more interesting.
Against Wake Forest last season, star forward Alessia Russo suffered a broken leg and had to watch the Tar Heels' run to the title game from the bench. As the 2019 campaign nears its end, Russo’s recent performance has proved that there are no remnants of that injury in her play on the field.
After scoring only six goals in the first 16 games of the season, the striker from Kent, England caught fire in postseason play. Since the start of the ACC Tournament, Russo has notched five goals in three games, scoring at a clip that should frighten opposing defenses.
Colorado’s defense ranks just 156th in goals-against average, so a talent like Russo, paired with sophomore midfielder Brianna Pinto and senior forward Bridgette Andrzejewski, could have her way with the Colorado backline.
The Buffaloes' play may not leap off of the stat sheet, but players like senior Taylor Kornieck (12 goals, six assists) and first-year Tessa Barton (five goals, three assists) provide enough offensive potency to keep games interesting for Colorado.
The Buffaloes have upset wins over No. 24 Texas and No. 21 Washington under their belt this season, along with a pair of close losses to powerhouses such as No. 6 Florida State and No. 4 Southern California.
If senior goalkeeper Jalen Tompkins can stay in front of the flurry of UNC offense, then Colorado has the chance to keep this game uncomfortably close for the Tar Heels.
Assuming that the Tar Heels can move past Colorado, the level of competition will predictably ramp up in later rounds.
UNC’s portion of the bracket contains No. 15 Texas Tech and No. 9 Southern California, two teams that the Tar Heels have yet to face this season. If they are to overcome these unfamiliar foes, the College Cup may be comprised of ACC teams such as No. 3 Virginia and No. 6 Florida State, who are both No. 1 seeds in their respective regions.
The second round of the tournament kicks off at 6 p.m. at Dorrance Field this Friday.
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