Syracuse matches up with Clemson tonight in the NCAA College Cup (aka Final Four) at 6pm on ESPNU in Kansas City. The winner of this ACC Clash moves on to College Cup final. The winner plays in the final Sunday at 2PM on ESPNU versus the winner of Stanford versus Akron. So yeah, stakes are pretty high.
1. We lose at home. You lose at home. How's this one looking to play out on a neutral site?
Both of these teams are physical and want to control the midfield. I expect to see a low-scoring game that looks like a knock-out, drag-out fight. There will most likely be a few cards. Both teams are capable of scoring in bunches but I expect the game to by low scoring because of the physicality and defensive prowess on both sides.
2. The midfield is definitely one of the keys to this game. What do we have to look for from the Clemson playmakers?
Clemson, like many teams these days, comes out with a fluid 5 man midfield that includes 2 holding players and 3 attacking players. One of the holding midfielders, senior captain Paul Clowes, is the true holding midfielder, connecting the backline to the midfield with short passes. Throughout the midfield Clemson likes to do little combination passes to work around and through defenders. Also, the fullbacks like to push forward to get involved with the wingers via some combination passing and provide service into the box. Clemson has a lot of players who are good in 1v1 take on situations particularly down the wing. Clemson's gameplan offensively is based around possessing the ball and that starts in the midfield. They also have a tendency to make games very physical, with lots of fouls on both sides the result.
3. Alex Tarbell is a really solid keeper. How is he at commanding his box and marshaling that defense?
Tarbell is not afraid to come off his line to either win a ball in the box or making a sliding save on a breakaway. Since Clemson values possession so much, the team isn't afraid to work the ball back to Tarbell so he can restart the attack. As far as marshaling the defense goes, that is shared by Tarbell and defender/senior captain Kyle Fisher. Fisher is a rock at the back and his absence was felt when he missed the ACC Tournament because of injury.
4. Any keys to the game you're looking to see to have Clemson walk away victorious?
Clemson will have to do a better job controlling possession than they did last time they played Syracuse. 'Cuse was able to make Clemson play antsy and nervous throughout the midfield which I chalk up mainly to frustration; it was a snowball effect. Once the Tigers fell down by two goals they let their offense get away from them and rushed to get it all back at once. This time, the Tigers will have to come out on the front foot and take charge of possession, particularly in the midfield. An important part of that will be creating chances and taking shots on goal, not just working the ball around.
5. What are some points that worry you from this Syracuse squad? We seem to be seeing a lot of each other lately.
Syracuse is a team that can match Clemson's physicality. As shown in the previous game, they have a forward in Ben Polk who can take advantage of crosses from free kicks, so fouling, as Clemson does often, is particularly dangerous. Since 'Cuse can match Clemson with physicality, they can win the midfield battles, which leads to frustration and mistakes. That's what happened in the last match. Syracuse showed they were content to drop deep and contest the midfield, making any Clemson attack a hard fought slog (think 3 yards and a cloud of dust). Ben Polk and Julian Buescher worry me since they score and assist so much, Polk especially, since he is a physical target man type of forward.
6. For those who don't follow college soccer players not named Jordan Morris or wearing Orange (our shade), who are some of the notable names on the Clemson team sheet?
Two of Clemson's seniors, Paul Clowes and TJ Casner, are up for the Hermann Award (the soccer Heisman) this year. Casner is Clemson's leading scorer and plays that central attacking midfield position right behind the striker. Clowes's impact doesn't really show up on the stat sheet; he pulls the strings in possession and is more than capable of being physical to win the ball back. Iman Mafi is another guy to watch. He plays fullback on the left hand side and really likes to get forward offensively (he played attacking mid until this season.) In fact, Mafi leads the team with assists (8.)
So what do you think Orange Nation? Who wins this one?