NCAA Tournament quarterfinal preview

Maryland vs. Michigan set to thrill; can California stop Akron?

Only eight teams remain to contest the NCAA Tournament, and
some of the nation’s best are left to wrestle for four spots in the College
Cup. With the copious amount of talent on display, there is a real potential
for some entertaining soccer in this weekend’s quarterfinals.

All eight teams that are alive have consistently proven to
be amongst the best in the nation, and will tussle to secure a trip to Santa
Barbara, Calif., next week.

No. 4 North Carolina
(16-3-1) vs. No. 5 SMU (16-2-0), Friday, 7 p.m. ET

In some ways, it’s surprising that UNC has made
it this far. They’ve only managed one goal in two games, winning both on
penalty kicks. During a season that has been marred with injuries, the Tar
Heels have weathered the storm, thanks to experienced players like
Michael Farfan, Steven McCarthy and Enzo Martinez. Without Martinez’s heroics
in the third round, UNC would be out of the tournament.

Southern Methodist brings a strong side to Chapel Hill, but one
with defensive concerns. While the Mustangs boast a strong attack, a 73rd-ranked defense should be ripe for the taking, even for a struggling Tar Heel
offense. Juan Castillo and Arthur Ivo will look to offset that.

No. 2 Maryland
(19-2-1) vs. No. 10 Michigan (16-4-3), Saturday, 1 p.m. ET

The pick of the weekend pits the two hottest teams in the
nation against one other in College Park, Md. Michigan is paced by the
offensive trio of Justin Meram and brothers Soony and Hamoody Saad, but they have never
faced a defense as good as Maryland’s or a goalkeeper of Zac MacMath’s caliber.

While trying to break down Maryland’s defense, the
Wolverines will also have to cope with the strike duo of Jason Herrick and
Casey Townsend. Those two found it hard going against another Big Ten team,
Penn State, and will need to be back in firing form to punch their ticket to
Santa Barbara.

Keeping up with team as talented as Maryland is will be
Michigan’s biggest test of the year, no question. And while an upset isn’t
unthinkable, winning on the road might be too much to ask for the Wolverines.

No. 3 Akron (20-1-1)
vs. No. 6 California (14-2-3),
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

The high-powered offense of Akron faces a difficult
challenge when they welcome the Golden Bears to Lee Jackson Field Saturday
afternoon. With the second best scoring offense in the nation, the Zips are
hard to stop and can hurt you with a slew of bright and talented young players
– including forwards Darlington Nagbe and Darren Mattocks, with Anthony
Ampaipitakwong at the heart of things in midfield.

They’ll have to beat a Cal defense that has conceded just
one goal in two tournament games, feature one of the best defenders in the
nation in A.J. Soares, and one of the top 'keepers in David Bingham.

Akron hasn’t looked unbeatable through two tournament games,
conceding late goals to both West Virginia and Indiana. If Cal forward Davis
Paul can find space, the Golden Bears are more than capable of upsetting the Zips.

No. 1 Louisville
(18-0-3) vs. No. 8 UCLA (16-4-1),
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET

The Cardinals' consistency and success during both the regular season and
the Big East tournament has transitioned perfectly into the NCAA Tournament. Buoyed by a blend of youth and experience, Louisville has thus
far lived up to the billing as the tournament’s top seed.

Colin Rolfe and Dylan Mares remain the focal point of the
attack, while Charlie Campbell’s industrious work in the midfield ensures that
things run smoothly. Ranked in the top 10 in both goals scored and goals-against
average, coach Ken Lolla will look to keep things consistent against the
Bruins.

A storied program visits Saturday, as UCLA grabbed a
quarterfinal spot despite being in the midst of somewhat of a rebuilding
season. They’ve managed to succeed on the back of some exceptional freshmen
talent in players like Kelyn Rowe and Victor Chavez. How they cope with their
first road trip of the tournament – and playing in front of a hostile crowd – will
dictate their success.

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