Special to The Herald-Sun
SAN DIEGO — Crystal Dunn delivered a perfect pass to Kealia Ohai, who drove home a game-winning goal.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
It sealed a 1-0 double-overtime victory over Stanford in the College Cup semifinals Friday night and secured an opportunity to win North Carolina to win its 21st national championship.
The same statement can be applied to the Under-20 World Cup final, when Dunn shredded the German defense and sent a brilliant cross to Ohai for the finishing touch. Goal scored. America wins.
Same connection as Friday, same result.
The inverse took place in the NCAA quarterfinals, when Ohai served up Dunn to beat Brigham Young 2-1 in overtime.
The Tar Heels’ road to today’s College Cup final against Penn State (4 p.m., ESPNU) was paved by these extraordinary juniors, who know each other so well.
They’ve played together three seasons at UNC and never parted during this year’s U-20 World Cup run.
They have 12 goals and eight assists between them and, while they’re capable of individual brilliance, they’re an excellent tandem. They’ve worked together more since Dunn was moved into more of an attacking role. That decision is paying major dividends this postseason.
Both players say faith and experience has built a working relationship that ranks among the best in the country.
“I think playing together on the (U-20 national team) really cemented the bond,” Ohai said. “After playing together for so long at UNC, we know each other’s tendencies and we always know where the other person is going to be.
“If I’m dribbling down the sideline, I have faith that Crystal will win the ball crossed to her and finish strong. If I she her in the middle, I have to get her the ball. I know she feels the same. That feeling is definitely something that’s developed through playing with each other.”
The pair is playing inspired soccer when it matters most. They poured pressure on against Stanford in the second half and secured victory in the second overtime period.
Dunn escaped a double team, maintained balance and slotted a through ball to Ohai with the outside of her food. Ohai took possession in stride and delivered a powerful finish at a difficult angle to win the game.
Dunn was so confident in Ohai’s finishing that she thought the game was won before the shot was delivered.
“Kealia is great at creating space, so it was easy finding her feet with that through ball,” said Dunn, who has scored all five of her goals in the NCAA Tournament. “She’s such a good finisher. If I get her the ball, it won’t be a wasted chance.”
Neither player wants to waste this opportunity. Despite the frequency of these College Cup appearances, Ohai and Dunn don’t take them for granted. They seem particularly excited about this one, especially after an excellent U-20 World Cup run that kept them away during the nonconference season.
“Playing soccer at the international level sparked something inside of us. and it made us realize how cool this game can be,” Ohai said. “There’s something about winning a World Cup you can’t describe. It’s so special.
“But having the chance to win two tournaments in one year with such an incredible squad is a golden opportunity. It’s given us more passion and fire to really go after it and win a national championship.”
A motivated UNC squad is a scary one. Despite being the College Cup’s lowest-ranked team, they’re more than capable of beating Penn State and winning another national title.
“It’s going to take focus and energy and precision to win this game,” Tar Heels coach Anson Dorrance said. “Penn State is an excellent team. It’s going to take our best to beat them. Despite such an emotion victory last night, I know our players will be ready when the time comes.”