One of the most buzzed-about storylines at the 2011 College Cup was the potential meeting between Creighton and North Carolina in the NCAA championship match. Had it happened, the game would’ve pitted Elmar Bolowich, in his first year coaching the Bluejays, against a Tar Heels program he built into a national power over the previous two decades.
The matchup never materialized after Charlotte upended Creighton on penalty kicks in the first semifinal game. North Carolina did win its semifinal match against UCLA, then beat Charlotte in the final.
Bolowich narrowly missed out on facing his old team again this season. Indiana, Creighton’s opponent in Friday’s semifinal, stunned the Tar Heels in the round of eight.
“There’s always going to be that interest there, especially from the media standpoint,” Bolowich said Thursday. “Quite frankly, and this is all hypothetical, I really think we would’ve given North Carolina a run for their money last year had we advanced. But, you know, Charlotte stood in the way, and they figured out how to get the result, so they moved on.
“And here we are now in a very similar situation this year, where — had North Carolina won against Indiana — we would’ve played them (on Friday).”
Playing field not as glowing as last season
At last year’s final four, the grounds crew at Regions Park earned rave reviews for the outstanding condition of the ballpark’s playing surface. It was almost impossible to tell last December that the field had been set up for minor league baseball just a few months prior to the College Cup.
How’s the pitch this year? The verdict isn’t so glowing. On Thursday, as Creighton and the other teams staged their walkthroughs, the consensus seemed to be that the Regions Park field had a spongier, slicker feel — especially where the baseball diamond normally sits. While the field still looks nice from a distance, up close the playing surface appeared less than ideal.
“It’s all right,” Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said. “I think it’s got some areas that are much better than others. But the field seems pretty dry right now, and I think it should be fine. I think the weather will be outstanding (Friday), so that should offer some real good soccer. The ball will have a little ping to it.”
Rivalry starting to take shape
It’s typically about a 30-minute drive between the Maryland and Georgetown campuses. But as far as men’s college soccer is concerned, the schools might as well exist on different planets.
At least until this year, that is.
Maryland has 12 College Cup appearances and has won three NCAA titles, most recently in 2008. Georgetown, meanwhile, has only made the NCAA tournament four times and had not advanced beyond the sweet 16 until this year. Nonetheless, Cirovski, Maryland’s coach, said history won’t mean anything on Friday.
“They’re a team with very little weakness,” Cirovski said about the Hoyas. “They’re the real deal, and this is going to be a fantastic match.”
The Terps boast a 28-0-0 all-time record against the Hoyas, and there’s also a new dynamic in the relationship between the schools. According to the Washington Post, Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson now is refusing to schedule Georgetown in any sport until the Hoyas agree to play the Terrapins in men’s basketball.
Fan interest down south not stellar
In case you haven’t heard, folks in the South really love them some college football. That’s especially true in Alabama, where the Crimson Tide will try to capture the state’s fourth consecutive BCS championship in January (Alabama won it all in 2009 and 2011, and Auburn took the 2010 title).
As for men’s college futbol? Not so much.
For one thing, the majority of SEC schools do not field men’s soccer teams, including Alabama and Auburn. The University of Alabama at Birmingham does have a strong Division I men’s soccer program, and the Blazers have been the host institution for the past two College Cups in Hoover. UAB was hoping to make it to the College Cup in its home city the past two years, but fell short in the earlier rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Still, UAB averaged less than 600 fans at its home matches this year, so it’s unclear whether the Blazers would’ve boosted attendance significantly had they made it to the final four.
During last year’s College Cup, the all-session paid attendance was announced as 9,623 for the two semifinal matches at Regions Park, which has a listed capacity of 13,000 for its soccer configuration. The weather was unseasonably frigid, however, and it’s doubtful there were ever that many fans actually at the ballpark — especially during the early semifinal between Creighton and Charlotte. Last year’s championship match two days later, featuring North Carolina and Charlotte, had an announced attendance of 8,777.
Organizers expect much warmer temperatures in the Birmingham metro area during the College Cup, so perhaps this year’s turnout will improve. But at last report, about 5,000 advance tickets had been sold for this year’s event, according to an NCAA representative. That’s down from the 7,000 advance tickets reported prior to the start of the 2011 College Cup.
The NCAA awarded Hoover the 2012 men’s soccer championship right before the start of the 2011 College Cup, which was the first to be held in the Birmingham suburb. The 2013 final four will be played in Philadelphia, and future sites are yet to be determined.