Cary, NC was not kind to the Orange, the first go around. The boys took the field against the Louisville Cardinals, one of only two teams in the country to best them this year. They couldn't avenge the loss and fell 2-1 in regulation to exit in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament. Alas, this isn't the end of the road for the squad, as they've earned themselves the number 9 seed in the NCAA College Cup (Full bracket in the link).
It's mildly odd seeing the #1 team in the nation get set on the 9 line for the tournament, but it seems the NCAA takes more from the RPI than the coaches poll when producing the seeds. The Orange were sitting at number 12 in the RPI, inexplicably dropping the last few weeks while still winning.
Even worse, the way the NCAA breaks down, to make it to Cary, they're sitting on the side of the bracket with Notre Dame, Michigan State and Stanford. They also have the 9 seed, which while it means they can host a second round game at home (first round bye), they're hitting the road after that. Even a spot on the 8 line would have been much more beneficial to making a run.
They start off with a home match against the winner of Hartwick and Penn State. Hartwick, they beat at home 4-1 in an exhibition earlier in the season. They got to the tourney through winning the Sun Belt this year. Thursday they take on a 12-5-1 Penn State team that lost in the first round of the B1G Tourney last week. If they make it past that match, they will most likely end up traveling to our old friends Georgetown. The next step will probably be away at #1 overall seed Notre Dame, then the winner of MSU and Stanford, assuming all chalk to that point.
Its a tough row to hoe, but I think they have a decent shot of getting there. In a one off cup competition, defense can win championships. I'll bring another adage as a Chelsea fan to the table. In 2012, a Chelsea team that had no reason to make a run in the Champions League ended up running on a form of extremely strong defense and set pieces to win the top slot in Europe. While this Syracuse team definitely deserves to be in the conversation to win the tournament, they will definitely need to be riding the back of their best in the country defense and strong set piece service to find their way to lifting the Cup.
Strong hold up play, drawing fouls in opportune areas and taking advantage of space are all three tenets of the game that are oft stated to be key points in any match. In this case, Ekblom needs to be able to provide hold up for Buescher, Halis and Perea to come on from the midfield. They need the midfield to pick out the pass. They need to play smartly out wide and take advantage of speed on the wings in the form of Nanco, as well as adapt when his speed isn't present on the field.
This team isn't a counterattacking team and builds up well, but they need to be more clinical in the box and take advantage of the possession they have. They have the speed, they have the defense, but they don't always make the smart run in the final third. If some of these can come together with the extremely sound defense, I can see one heck of a run being made by this team in the tournament.
The next match is 2pm, Sunday up at the SU Soccer Stadium. Head on up and support the Orange.