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Previewing the 2015 College Cup

This weekend four teams enter, one team leaves (with a trophy, then the other teams also leave). Maybe that trophy will be in the hands of Seattle's Jordan Morris.

This weekend, the 2015 college soccer season comes to a close. In Kansas City, four teams will compete in three matches in two rounds to determine the one team that will lift a trophy and be crowned champions. On Friday, both semifinals will kick off and on Sunday the final will be played at Sporting KC's Children's Mercy Park.

This is a particularly intriguing edition of the tournament for Sounders fans, thanks to the presence of Academy graduate Jordan Morris. He leads the Stanford Cardinal to their first appearance in the Cup since the 2002 season, when future Sounder Roger Levesque led them to a Final appearance, where the Cardinal lost to UCLA — who were just four years removed from being coached by Sigi Schmid.

Stanford - #8 (14-2-2)

The Cardinal are the lowest remaining seed in the competition at #8 but to get here they beat #1 seed and nationally top ranked Wake Forest in the Quarterfinals. Morris scored the first of their two goals in that overtime win, giving him three goals and an assist in Stanford's three playoff matches thus far.

The Mercer Island native isn't the only threat on the team, though. After a few years of developing a reputation as a ponderous and overly physical team, the Cardinal broke out this year with 39 goals, second in the conference only to UCLA's 47. All while maintaining their defensive discipline with only 15 goals allowed in 21 games. The midfield is run by Ty Thompson (younger brother of the Earthquakes' Tommy Thompson), who along with Morris and Senior defender Brandon Vincent were named to the NCAA All-Region first team.

Akron - #4 (15-3-2)

Stanford's opponent in the Semifinal is the Akron Zips, the mid-major darlings who under head coach Caleb Porter churned out wins and pro-ready players at a steady pace. This is their first appearance in the College Cup since 2010, when Porter took them all the way to a Championship.

This edition of the Zips doesn't have any individual talents the likes of Steve Zakuani, DeAndre Yedlin, or Darlington Nagbe, all of whom played at Akron for Porter. But it has a plethora of midfield talent, led by Junior Adam Najem and Sophomore Richie Laryea, who combined for 21 goals and 18 assists this season.

The Zips had the second highest scoring rate in the nation this season, but much of it was feasting on MAC competition. Their seed meant they've played the entire playoffs thus far at home, and after a 6-1 pasting of Rutgers they picked up one goal victories in front of huge home crowds over unseeded SMU and #12 Creighton. It remains to be seen whether they can play at the same level away from the friendly confines of Akron.

Clemson - #2 (15-2-2)

The Tigers come into their first Final Four since 2005 on the strength of the third highest scoring rate in the country — just behind Akron, but against the incredibly stiff competition of the ACC, which had 5 of the top 7 seeds in the tournament. Still, most of their accolades go to players behind the attack. Holding midfielder Paul Clowes and defender Kyle Fisher were both named Hermann Trophy semifinalists, and Clowes was the ACC's Midfielder of the Year. They anchor a lineup that gave up only 6 goals in 8 conference games while leading the ACC in fouls committed by a mile. So expect a physical game.

The offense is led by T.J. Casner, who scored 10 goals this season. But the most dangerous threat might be the Costa Rican Diego Campos, who's been a postseason terror for the Tigers for two years in a row.

Syracuse - #6 (13-5-3)

Clemson's semifinal opponent is the ACC's second representative in the semis, and the reason that we don't have two Sounder Academy graduates remaining in the tournament — thanks to Syracuse's 3-1 third round victory over Pete Fewing's Seattle University, featuring the nation's top scorer (and Sounder) David Olsen.

But back to Syracuse, who will be appearing in their first ever College Cup. Despite not being the highest ACC seed in the NCAA tournament, they actually won their conference tournament thanks to a dominant stretch that saw them earn consecutive upset wins over North Carolina, Notre Dame, and tomorrow's opponent Clemson in a single week. That run was largely built on the defense, as they only allowed a single goal total in those three wins.

But their standout players are in the offense. Julian Buescher is a German youth national team player who's already a Hermann trophy semifinalist in his sophomore year. The attacking midfielder has 8 goals and leads the team and is tied for 7th in the country with 11 assists this season. But the offensive leader in the tournament has been forward Ben Polk, who scored the only goal in Syracuse's quarterfinal win over Boston College.

Despite the talent, the Orange have a young team — two of their starters on the backline are true Freshmen. Like every team in the final four except Stanford, they have yet to play a tournament game away from home, and their wins have been narrow — including two one-goal wins over unseeded Dartmouth and Boston College. But their performance in the ACC tournament proved that when they're on their game they can beat anyone, and given their youth we might be seeing the beginnings of a new college soccer powerhouse.

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