It's plenty cold as men's college soccer heats up

It's plenty cold as men's college soccer heats up

Published Dec. 12, 2013 5:35 p.m. ET

Bundled in coats, gloves and winter hats, the Virginia soccer team gathered in a circle.

The players were rubbing their hands to stay warm Thursday when freshman Riggs Lennon walked to the middle of the huddle. It was time for some oratory.

He recited the entire speech from the movie ''Miracle on Ice'' in which Kurt Russell, playing the role of coach Herb Brooks, addresses the U.S. hockey team before it beats the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

No doubt, this weekend's College Cup - the Final Four of the NCAA Division I men's soccer tournament - won't pack quite the same punch. Still, many of the players might feel as if they're playing on ice when the games begin Friday with temperatures expected in the 20s.


Notre Dame meets New Mexico in the first semifinal before ACC rivals Maryland and Virginia play in the nightcap. The winners advance to Sunday's national championship game at PPL Park, home of Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union..

''What weather conditions?'' longtime Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said Thursday. ''We've played for about three weeks in this kind of weather. When you're at the College Cup, it's a special moment. And I'm sure Friday night everyone will be pretty warm inside.''

This year marks the first time the College Cup will come to PPL Park, the third MLS stadium to host the event. The 18,500-seat stadium along the Delaware River has become an attractive East Coast venue, having hosted college football, lacrosse and rugby in addition to selling out most Union home games.

On Friday, stadium workers and Philadelphia Union staffers shoveled snow off the field after a couple of snowstorms hit the region the last week.

''This is one of the great MLS facilities,'' Virginia coach George Gelnovatch said. ''I've been here before to see games. They've done a great job given the weather conditions. I saw the before and after picture of the snow yesterday. Given all of those things, the field looks great.''

Friday's game marks the third time Maryland and Virginia will meet this season, with the Terrapins beating the Cavaliers 1-0 in the ACC tournament championship last month.

Led by Patrick Mullins, who is first in the nation with 16 goals, the Terps followed their league title with NCAA tournament wins over Providence, UC Irvine and California. This is their eighth trip to the College Cup in the last 15 years.

Under Cirovski, Maryland (16-3-5) has now advanced to at least the round of 16 in each of the past 12 seasons.

''I still remember the first time we got to the College Cup, it was a massive celebration,'' Cirovski said. ''Now everyone expects us to get to the College Cup.''

Virginia (13-5-5) has long been a powerhouse in men's soccer. It has won six national championships, with its most recent one coming in 2009, the Cavaliers' last trip to the College Cup.

Coming into the season, Gelnovatch said he expected his team to compete for a national crown in 2014 or 2015. His underclassmen helped the Cavaliers get past St. John's, Marquette and Connecticut en route to the College Cup. One of those players is sophomore striker Darius Madison, who is from Philadelphia and has played at PPL Park as part of the Philadelphia Union's youth academy program.

''My dream is definitely to play at PPL Park and represent the Union in Philly,'' Madison said.

Notre Dame is making its first trip to the national semifinals. The Irish have played at PPL Park, having won the Big East championship there last year. They also know of cold weather.

''I've got the sun tan oil on,'' Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark said. ''It's minus 2, my wife told me this morning, in South Bend. This is very pleasant.''

Notre Dame (15-1-6) scored a combined 10 goals in previous NCAA tournament wins over Wisconsin, Wake Forest and Michigan State. The Irish face a New Mexico team that is 14-5-2 and coming off three straight NCAA tournament shutouts of George Mason, Penn State and Washington.

The Lobos are undaunted by the weather.

''We're a mile high, so I'm always looking around to see where the mountains are wherever I am,'' New Mexico coach Jeremy Fishbein said. ''The difference is it's sunny most of the time. . It's always an interesting season. You start out in August and you get some days in the mid-90s, and by the time December rolls around you get some days in the 20s. But our guys are prepared for anything.''