I've been given an attractive and exciting (some might say unenviable) assignment to write a regular column about NCAA Division I Soccer. Let's face it, college soccer isn't always the most sought-after ticket in town. Perhaps Final Four soccer tickets won't be scalped on the streets outside the Home Depot Center for fifteen hundred dollars a piece as they are for its basketball counterpart, but there's no denying the passion that exists among the soccer fan base.
The St. Louis University Billikens led the nation in average home game attendance in 2003 with a whopping 2,779 fans per game. That's a lower attendance rate than most mid-range women's basketball teams.
That said, this is a big time of the year for college soccer. The last few weeks of November and the first two weeks of December are "Dance" time in college soccer. This past weekend eight teams vied for a berth in the Final Four of the NCAA Division I Men's College Cup, with Maryland, Indiana, UC-Santa Barbara and Duke emerging.
The headline game was the grudge match between the Maryland Terrapins and St. John's Red Storm. These two teams met in the semifinals last year where Maryland was on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline. But this year, Sasho Cirovski's men got their vengeance and dumped the St. John's Red Storm out of the Tournament.
Fans everywhere are always attracted to grudge matches: The Red Sox against the Yankees, Manchester United against Arsenal, the Lakers against the Celtics. These are great match-ups for no other reason than they hate each other.
This match clearly had an edge to it from the get-go. I'm sure Coach Cirovski wasn't talking too pleasantly in the dressing room about St. Johns before the game. The 4,404 fans in attendance at College Park, Maryland got to witness one of my favorite aspects of sports: revenge, and sweet revenge at that.
The game itself produced only one goal and was probably more notable for the déjà vu heroics performed by Red Storm goalkeeper Bill Gaudette. Gaudette almost single-handedly kept the Terps at bay but unlike last year, his amazing shotstopping wasn't enough this time round to help his team advance past Maryland.
If it's any consolation to the Red Storm, this current Maryland squad could be one of the best in school history. The Terp's head coach Sasho Cirovski told reporters after the game that, "People didn't know what to expect from this team at the beginning of this year, but we knew that we were a great team with a chance to be one of the greatest ever at Maryland."
Player of the Quarterfinals:
Maryland's A.J. Godbolt. I've always liked hard working guys. Sophomore midfielder Godbolt personifies the discipline and hard work it takes to make it at this high level of play. His freshmen year was so plagued by injures that he was redshirted last year. For him to go through two injury-plagued seasons and then enter a high-profile game like this and nab the game winner is, as Cirovski said to reporters after their victory, "a testament to his character."
Team name of the Quarterfinals:
The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. What the hell's a Gaucho?
IU versus Maryland is definitely the more intriguing of the two games. IU's defense, led by M.A.C. Herman Trophy Candidate Senior Danny O'Rourke and goalkeeper Jay Nolly will stifle the Terepin's offensive threat of Domenic Mediate and A.J. Godbolt. IU has more than enough firepower with Mike Ambersley, Jason Chirico, Greg Badger and Kevin Robson. They were clinical in dispensing Tulsa and you can look forward to a fine all around performance that will see the Hoosiers play for and eventually win back-to-back National Championships.
As for the other matchup, Duke, the 1986 champs, led by ACC Frosh of the Year Michael Vidiera have much more depth than the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. Look for the freshmen trio of Spencer Wadsworth, Zachary Pope, and Tomek Charowski to make a big difference with their skills and rare composure. The Gauchos won't go away quietly though. Keep an eye on defender Andy Iro. Hopefully he'll stay on his feet when defending and fly high when Tony Lockhead is serving in corner kicks. I think the Blue Devils will score two quick goals and hold on to win a date with IU in the final.
I'll check back next week after the College Cup final at the Home Depot Center. Enjoy the Final Four!
Mike Stoll covers college soccer for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org