Denver coach Jamie Franks joins the CollegeSoccerNews.com podcast this week to talk about his team's second-straight unbeaten regular season and this weekend's Elite Eight matchup against Clemson.
This week's guest is Denver head coach Jamie Franks, who joins the show to talk about the lessons that he and his team learned after last year's unbeaten regular season but disappointing loss to SMU in the NCAA Tournament. Coach Franks also touches on his recruiting philsophy and a few key players from this year before previewing his team's matchup against Clemson in the NCAA Quarterfinals.
|>> Craig Stewart (Providence)|
|>> Alex Crognale (Maryland)|
|>> Neil Jones (Loyola Chicago)|
Only eight teams are left standing now on the road to the College Cup as the dreams of a trip to the Final Four ended for eight more teams over the weekend in the Sweet Sixteen. The field now consists of Wake Forest, Clemson, Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia Tech from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Stanford from the Pac-12, Providence from the Big East,and Denver out of the Summit League. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the third round of play was Virginia Tech's 2-1 win over number seven seed Indiana in overtime. The number two, three, four, five, six, and nine seeds are still standing along with unseeded Virginia Tech and Providence.
Providence 2 - Creighton 1 - The unseeded Friars continue to roll winning their third contest in the NCAA Tournament to improve to 15-6-0 to earn a trip to the Elite Eight where they will face number nine seed North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The "it's not over until it is over" Friars once again showed a lot of grit when they came from a goal down on the road to top fellow Big East Conference foe Creighton 2-1.
Sophomore midfielder Joel Rydstrand gave Creighton a 1-0 advantage in the ninth minute of the contest when he skillfully sent a rebound back into the net from inside the box. It felt like Creighton might take control of the match at that point but Providence evidently thought otherwise.
The Friars evened the score at 1-1 when forward Julian Gressel sent a shot into the frame from about six yards out after receiving a pass from midfielder Brendan Constantine. Freshman midfielder Danny Griffin netted what proved to be the game-winner when he sent a bullet into the top right corner of the goal from eighteen yards out in the eighty-third minute of the match after receiving a pass from Gressel.
Providence's redshirt sophomore netminder Colin Miller had a solid evening in goal recording nine saves to help his team secure the win. Senior Alex Kapp had three saves in goal for the Bluejays who end the 2016 campaign with a 13-7-3 overall record.
#9 seed North Carolina 1 - #8 seed Syracuse 0 - As expected this one was a very competitive contests between two of the top teams in the country. Freshman Jeremy Kelly scored the lone goal of the match when he utilized his speed and touch on the ball to create the space he needed to slot a shot into the left corner of the goal from the top of the box in the 32nd minute of the contest after receiving a pass from freshman midfielder Cam Lindley. The UNC defense anchored by backs Alex Comsia, Colton Storm, and Walker Hume and goalkeeper James Pyle did an excellent job of containing the Syracuse offense to record the shutout. Syracuse sophomore Hendrik Hilpert had a career-high eight saves in goal for the Orange.
The Tar Heels improve to 13-3-3 overall and advance to the Elite Eight where they will host a red hot Providence team out of the Big East Conference. North Carolina is one of five teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference who have advanced to the Elite Eight.
Syracuse ends another very successful season with a 12-4-4 overall record. Syracuse head coach Ian McIntyre stated after the contest, "This senior class has left the Syracuse program in a better place than they found it. He then added, "It's been a privilege to work with this senior class."
#5 seed Stanford 1 - #12 seed Virginia - 0 (ot) - This one was a nail-biter that was scoreless at the end of regulation and one overtime period and looked to be heading toward a penalty kick shootout before junior forward Foster Langsdorf headed in the game-winning goal for Stanford in the second overtime period. The score was Langsdorf's fourteenth goal of the year and seventh game-winner of the season. It came about when redshirt sophomore back Adam Mosharrafa served in a ball out of a restart from forty-five yards out to the right post which back Tomas HIlliard-Arce headed back toward the front of the goal that Langsdorf then headed into the net.
The Cardinal ended the evening with a seventeen to nine advantage in shots but both teams had four shots on goal. Andrew Epstein had four saves in goal to help Stanford record the shutout. Jeff Caldwell had three saves between the pipes for Virginia.
Defending national champion Stanford dodges a bullet to improve to 13-3-4 and earn the right to continue on the road to the College Cup with a trip to Kentucky their next destination where they will face the number four seed Louisville Cardinals in the Elite Eight with a ticket to the College Cup on the line.
#4 seed Louisville 3 - #13 seed Notre Dame 1 - Louisville continues their recent record of success against Notre Dame with a solid win in the Sweet Sixteen in this match between two Atlantic Coast Conference teams. Junior forward Mohamed Thiaw converted the rebound of his own shot after receiving a pass from back Tim Kubel in the sixteenth minute of the match to give Louisville the early advantage. The score remained 1-0 at halftime.
Notre Dame forward Jon Gallagher scored the lone goal of the evening (his fourteenth of the year) for the Irish in the fifty-fourth minute of play after a nice move to place himself in position to slot a shot into the back of the frame to tie it at 1-1 and give Notre Dame new life. Forward Jeffrey Farina contributed the helper on the goal.
However Louisville responded with a Tate Schmitt header just inside the left post to go up 2-1 in the seventy-first minute of the game with Danny Reynolds contributing the helper. Cherif Dieye then scored for Louisville in the closing minute of the match to make it 3-1 with a double assist from Thiaw and Daniel Johnson.
Chris Hubbard had one save in goal for the Irish and netminder Stefan Cleveland had a three save evening between the pipes for Louisville.
Louisville improves to 14-5-2 overall and advances to the Elite Eight where they will host number five seed Stanford. Notre Dames ends the 2016 season with a 12-7-2 overall record and concludes their season for the third consecutive year in the Sweet Sixteen.
#3 seed Clemson 3 - #14 seed Albany 1 - As expected Clemson applied pressure early on but Albany came to play and held their own for a large portion of the contest until Clemson pulled away in the later minutes of the match to secure a solid 3-1 win and advance to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season.
Senior Austin Burnikel scored in the forty-fifth minute of the match from six yards after receiving a pass from Oliver Shannon to break the ice and give Clemson a 1-0 advantage which they maintained when the two sides went into intermission at Historic Riggs Field.
Albany scored the equalizer two minutes into the second half when midfielder Carlos Clark controlled the rebound of teammate Afonso Pinheiro's shot in the box and deposited it into the back of the net to knot the score at 1-1 and create a little excitement for the visiting Great Danes.
Burnikel then scored his second goal of the evening when he decisively drove a header into the back of the frame in the eighty-first minute out of a corner kick served in by Diego Campos to give Clemson a 2-1 lead. Alex Happi added the insurance goal for the Tigers in the eighty-fourth minute when he scored out of a corner kick with a double assist from Burnikel and back Aaron Jones.
Clemson improves to 14-3-5 overall while Albany concludes a banner season with a 13-6-2 overall record that they will likely build upon in the future.
The Tigers will host number six seed Denver on Friday in what shapes up to be an intriguing and exciting Elite Eight contest between two excellent teams.
#6 seed Denver 2 - #11 seed Washington 1 - The Pioneers did a good job of taking advantage of the scoring opportunities that came their way to improve to 19-3-0 and punch their ticket to Elite Eight for the first time since 1970.
Denver got on the board in the twenty-fifth minute when centerback Kortne Ford's header out of a corner kick served in by midfielder Karsten Hanlin bounced off the post and was alertly sent back into the net from six yards out by midfielder Chandler Crosswait .
Denver netted what proved to be the insurance goal to up their lead to 2-0 when Hanlin sent a ball into the box out of a set pierce from thirty yards out that forward Andre Shinyashiki decisively headed into the back of the frame from five yards out. The goal was Shinyashiki's team leading eighth of the season to date.
Washington then began pushing numbers forward and successfully narrowed the gap to 2-1 when midfielder Steven Wright converted a penalty kick in the seventy-eighth minute of the contest. However, that concluded the scoring for the evening.
NIck Gardner had four saves between the pipes for Denver while Auden Schilder had two saves in goal for Washington. The Huskies conclude a successful season with a 14-7-0 overall record.
Number six seed Denver earns the right to travel cross country to face number three seed Clemson in what shapes up to be an excellent Elite Eight contest between two teams that have their sights set on advancing to the College Cup.
Virginia Tech 2 - #7 seed Indiana 1 (ot) - Unseeded Virginia Tech upsets number seven seed Indiana in a hard fought thriller in Bloomington to continue their magical ride in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hokies got a big boost in the nineteenth minute of the contest when midfielder Brendan Moyers placed a shot in the back of the net from eight yards out after receiving a cross from back Elias Tamburini. Virginia Tech went into intermission with a 1-0 advantage.
Indiana pressed the attack in the second half and tied it at 1-1 in the seventy-seventh minute of the match when back Grant Lillard sent a header into the back of the frame out of a corner kick with a double assist from sophomores Andrew Gutman and Rees Wedderburn. The contest remained tied 1-1 at the end of regulation.
Junior midfielder Forrest White came off the pine to net the game-winner for the Hokies in the ninety-eighth minute of play when he sent a bending ball into the back of the net from eighteen yards out that hit the post and found its way into the back of the frame . The goal was White's first of the 2016 season and it could not have come at a more opportune time for Virginia Tech.
Junior Ben Lundgaard had nine saves in goal for Virginia Tech. Freshman Christian Lomeli had two saves between the pipes for Indiana.
Virginia Tech improves to 13-4-4 overall and advances to the Elite Eight. Indiana sustains just their second loss of the season and first at home in a heartbreaker to conclude the 2016 campaign with a 12-2-7 overall record.
#2 seed Wake Forest 2 - SIUE 1 - SIUE came to Winston-Salem prepared to play but came out on the short end of the contest when Wake Forest's junior forward Jon Bakero scored in the third minute after receiving a cross from midfielder Jacori Hayes and again in the seventy-second minute when he skillfully placed the deflection of teammate Ema Twumasi's shot into the back of the net out of a corner kick put in play by midfielder Luis Argudo.
SIUE back Austin Ledbetter alertly placed the rebound of teammate Mathias Ebbesen's attempted shot into the back of the frame in the forty-first minute of play to tie the score at 1-1 to get a very determined SIUE team back into the contest before Bakero produced the game-winner in the seventy-second minute to send the Deacons back to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season under the leadership of head coach Bobby Muuss where they will host fellow ACC member Virginia Tech.
Wake Forest improves to 17-2-3. SIUE under the direction of Mario Sanchez closes out the 2016 season with a 10-5-7 overall record after advancing past Michigan State and Butler in the NCAA Tournament in contests that were decided by penalty kick shootouts.
Only sixteen teams left standing on the road to the College Cup in Houston. Only eight will remain at the conclusion of play this weekend. A look at the Sweet Sixteen matchups and what looks to be the critical success factors in each contest. It should be a great weekend of play.
Providence (14-6-0) at Creighton (13-6-3) - Saturday 6 p.m.
The Friars looked to be a team on the ropes when they sustained three consecutive losses in the later part of September but rebounded to win eight straight including a 1-0 win over Creighton in Omaha to capture the Big East regular season title. However, they were defeated by Creighton 2-1 when the two teams squared off in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. Providence was subsequently awarded an at-large berth in the NCAA Tourney and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen by topping Delaware 2-0 and by pulling off the biggest upset to date in the 2016 NCAA Tournament when they topped number one seed Maryland 5-4 in a contest in which Providence scored four unanswered goals.
Creighton on the other hand rolled out to a 7-1-3 overall record before uncharacteristically stumbling down the home stretch of the regular season losing four out of their final regular season contests but then got back on track by topping Xavier and Providence 2-1 before losing to Butler 2-1 in the championship match of the Big East Conference. The Bluejays were awarded an at-large berth and topped a Tulsa team that they had previously lost to and then number sixteen seed Kentucky to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
What to Expect
This rubber match between two teams that are very familiar with each other looks to be a dandy which could go either way based on who is able to settle into their rhythm, control the run of play, and the pace.
Senior midfielder Julian Gressel has been the go-to guy for Providence all year netting a total of fourteen of the twenty-nine goals the Friars have placed in the back of the net to date. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Colin Miller and back redshirt junior Mark Jecewiz are key elements in a Providence defense that has held opponents to a total of only fifteen goals.
The Creighton attack is powered by forwards junior Ricky Lopez-Espin (10g, 2a) and senior Riggs Lennon (10g, 0a) and senior midfielder Ricardo Perez (4g, 5a). Senior goalkeeper Alex Kapp anchors a Bluejay defense that has allowed a total of eighteen goals to date.
Gressel for Providence and Lopez-Espin and Lennon for Creighton will clearly figure in the outcome but look for someone else like midfielders senior NIck Sailor or freshman Danny Griffin for Providence or perhaps midfielders Myles English or Joel Rydstrand for Creighton to come up big for either team and play a key role in who ultimately prevails.
A low scoring, close contest (despite the five goals Providence scored against Maryland) will likely favor Providence and a two or more goal game will likely favor Creighton.
#9 seed North Carolina (12-3-3) at #8 seed Syracuse (12-3-4 ) - Sunday 2 p.m. (Murphy Field on the campus of Onondaga Community College)
This is a classic Sweet Sixteen matchup where something has to give. Both of these teams are very capable of winning it all this year but only one is going to advance to have the chance to do so. They played to a scoreless tie when the two faced each other in Syracuse back on September 30 under wet and slippery conditions. The weather will also likely be less than ideal for this one with the venue changed to Murphy Field due to heavy snowfall having occurred recently in Syracuse.
Syracuse earned the number eight seed and advanced past Dartmouth 3-0 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. North Carolina earned the number nine seed and advanced past FGCU 3-2 in overtime to advance. Seeding is crucial since it determined who got to host the contest.
What to Expect
Both of these schools are familiar with each other. Both are very well organized, have top notch finishers, and have extremely capable backlines and are solid and experienced in goal.
Syracuse is powered on the offensive side of the ball by senior forward Chris Nanco (7g, 1a) but others like senior midfielder Sergio Camargo (4g, 3a) who contributed two goals in the win over Dartmouth and sophomore midfielder Jonathan Hagman (5g, 1a) are very capable finishers.
North Carolina has a very balanced attack with redshirt senior Tucker Hume (7g, 4a), sophomore Nils Bruening (8g, 1a) and junior Zach Wright (5g, 7a) all big time playmakers.
Syracuse is 9-0-2 at home this year which bodes well for the Orange.
North Carolina has allowed a total of only ten goals behind a backline of sophomore Alex Comsia, senior Colton Storm, redshirt senior Walker Hume and netminder redshirt sophomore James Pyle. Syracuse is equally as effective on the defensive side of the ball having allowed a total of only eleven goals to date with a solid and experienced backline lead by sophomore Miles Robinson, sophomore Kamal Miller, senior Louis Cross and redshirt senior Liam Callahan and sophomore goalkeeper Hendrik Hilpert.
Defense will play a big part in this one but when it is all said and done the outcome is simply going to come down to which team does a better job of taking advantage of the scoring opportunities that come their way. Look for this contest to be decided by a single goal if both teams play to their potential.
#12 seed Virginia (11-3-5) at #5 Stanford (12-3-4) - Sunday 8 p.m.
These teams have not faced each other since 1998 when Stanford topped Virginia 3-0 in Charlottesville in an NCAA quarterfinal contest. Virginia earned an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament after finishing regular season play in second place in the ACC's Coastal Division. The Cavaliers topped N.C. State 1-0 in the first round of the ACC Tournament before losing to Louisville 1-0 in the Quarterfinals. Virginia was then presented an at-large berth in the NCAA Tourney and advanced past Vermont 2-1 to earn the right to travel to the west coast to face Stanford in the Sweet Sixteen.
Defending national champion Stanford won the Pac-12 title for the third consecutive season with a 11-3-4 overall record and advanced past Pacific 2-0 behind goals from Foster Langsdorf and Tomas Hilliard-Acre to earn the right to play in the Sweet Sixteen.
What to Expect
Both of these programs know what it is like to win and win big. Virginia won the national championship in 2014 and Stanford in 2015. But unlike many of the other matchups in the Sweet Sixteen they have not faced each other in recent history which makes this an interesting contest. However they are both similar in that they attract top notch talent with great touch on the ball and speed.
The talent is there at both programs, the X-Factor is always physical and mental toughness particularly when it comes to adapting to different styles of play. Look for Stanford to attack from the get-go and put pressure on Virginia right on of the gate. Virginia on the other hand will likely be a little more conservative and counter attack possibly deploying the style of play that they so effectively utilized when winning the national championship in 2014. In that regard, Stanford may very well face the challenges that they had in their season opener when they tied visiting Penn State 0-0.
The first fifteen minutes of the match will be crucial during which time the team that is able to take advantage of the scoring opportunities that come their way without a breakdown on the defensive side of the ball will have the opportunity to set the pace. It is noteworthy that Stanford is 8-1-2 when playing at home while Virginia is 2-3-1 while on the road.
Junior forward Foster Langsdorf (13g, 2a) is the go-to guy in the Stanford attack along with junior playmaker Corey Baird (3g, 6a). That duo plays exceptionally well together. Stanford will seek to dominate the run of play but their effectiveness out of set pieces is a key element to their attack. Cardinal midfielders junior Drew Skundrich (4g, 3a) and sophomore Amir Bashti (2g, 3a) are also big play guys who could very well impact the outcome. Redshirt junior goalkeeper Andrew Epstein who is a prime timer has been the starter in goal for four seasons. He and junior back Tomas Hilliard-Acre (4g, 1a) are among those who anchor a Stanford defense that has only allowed a total of fourteen goals.
Redshirt junior midfielder Pablo Aguilar (7g, 2a) and sophomore forward Edward Opoku (6g, 2a) spearhead a Virginia attack that has netted a total of twenty-nine goals to date. Junior goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell is rock solid and backs sophomore Sergi Nus and freshman Robin Afamefuna are solid members of a Virginia defense that has allowed a total of only seventeen goals.
Both teams will be well prepared by their coaches. Organization on the defensive side of the ball and patience on the offensive side of the ball are likely key factors in this Sweet Sixteen matchup.
#13 seed Notre Dame (12-6-2) at #4 seed Louisville (13-5-2) - Sunday 5 p.m.
The Irish were off to a 10-1-1 overall record but faltered down the home stretch when they lost four consecutive contests to Virginia, Northwestern, Duke, and Michigan State before getting back on track somewhat with a scoreless tie at home with North Carolina. Notre Dame completed regular season play in the number three spot in the ACC's Coastal Division behind North Carolina and Virginia. They then topped Duke 3-2 with forward Jon Gallagher scoring the winning goal in overtime before being edged by Wake Forest 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tourney. The Irish were then awarded an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament along with eight other teams in the ACC. Notre Dame then topped Loyola Chicago 1-0 with Jon Gallagher scoring the goal that gave the Irish the edge they needed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Louisville finished regular season play in the number two spot in the ACC's Atlantic Division behind Wake Forest. The Cardinals topped Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament before losing to Wake Forest 2-0 in the semifinals. Louisville advanced to the Sweet Sixteen by defeating UCLA 2-1 in overtime with sophomore midfielder Tate Smith converting a header to net the game-winner.
What to Expect
Louisville has been very successful in contests with Notre Dame having won the last four straight including a 1-0 victory when they hosted the Irish earlier this year.
Both teams feature a dynamic goal scorer who has come up with multiple game winners this year. Junior forward Jon Gallagher, who has found the back of the net a total of thirteen times for the Irish including five game-winning goals, is the real deal and among the best finishers in the country. Ditto that for Louisville's junior forward Mohamed Thiaw who has placed the pumpkin into the back of the frame a total of eleven times including seven game-winners. Both are prime timers with the ability to take over a contest. Their effectiveness or perhaps the effectiveness of opposing defensives to contain them will no doubt come into play in determining who prevails since both sides have depended heavily on their big play ability all year.
Senior goalkeeper Chris Hubbard and senior center back Brandon Aubrey (9g, 1a), who also adds a different dimension to the attack, anchor a Notre Dame defense that has held opponents to a total of fifteen goals. Goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland and junior back Tim Kubel (3g, 10a) are part of a solid Louisville defense that has allowed a total of only thirteen goals to date.
When the Irish are on their game they are as good as anyone in the country as reflected in signature wins this year over New Mexico, Stanford, California, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Indiana. It is noteworthy that all of those wins occurred in September or early October. Louisville also has impressive wins over Notre Dame, Saint Louis, Virginia, and Syracuse.
It is trite but true that big time players like Gallagher and Thiaw come up with big time plays in key contests but as is often the case at this point in the season, someone else may prove to be difference maker in this one. Likely suspects to do that include senior midfielder Mark Gormley (5g, 1a), fifth year graduate student midfielder Evan Panken (2g, 6a), and junior midfielder Blake Townes (1g, 5a) for Notre Dame and sophomore midfielder Tate Schmitt (4g, 2a), junior midfielder Geoffrey Dee (2g, 4a) and senior midfielder Daniel Johnson (2g, 4a) for Louisville.
This is another contest that could go either way with the side that scores first, establishes momentum, and settles into their rhythm likely the one that will prevail. The team that is able to get the best of it in the middle third will have a huge upper hand in this one because that will provide the opportunity for their key finishers to get the ball at their feet in the attacking third and do what they do best.
#14 seed Albany (13-5-2) at #3 seed Clemson (13-3-5) - Sunday - 6 p.m.
Albany finished regular season play with a 10-5-2 overall record and a 4-2-1 mark in America East Conference action. They topped Vermont 2-0 and Hartford in the AE Conference Tournament to win the league's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The Great Danes then defeated Boston College 3-0 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen avenging a 5-3 loss to Boston College back on September 20 in a game that ironically was the turning point of their season. In that contest Albany jumped out to a 2-0 lead before allowing the Eagles to come back to win the contest convincingly. Since that time the Great Danes have gone 10-2-1 including a win over top ranked Syracuse 2-1 and two wins over a very competitive Vermont side. Albany has shown significant and sustained improvement over the past two seasons under the guidance of head coach Trevor Gorman who is in his sixth year at the helm of the program. Under Gorman the Great Danes have developed a winning mindset and have come together as a team with an identity. The 2016 season has been a year of firsts for Albany. The Great Danes secured their first ever America East Tournament Championship, their first ever berth in the NCAA Tourney, earned the program's first ever seed in the NCAA Tourney, and secured their first ever win in the NCAA Tourney.
Clemson finished regular season play with a 10-2-4 overall record and a 4-1-3 mark in ACC play which placed the Tigers in the number three spot in the highly competitive Atlantic Division of the ACC. The Tigers then advanced past Syracuse and Boston College in the ACC Tournament before losing 3-1 to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament Championship contest. Clemson has had numerous signature wins this year over the likes of Providence, Creighton, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and Boston College. They subsequently received an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament and topped in-state rival South Carolina 2-1 in overtime to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
What to Expect
Junior forward Afonso Pinheiro is the big play guy in the Grant Dane attack with thirteen goals to date including five game winners. Sophomore forward Nico Solabarrieta (7g, 7a) also provides offensive firepower along with sophomore midfielder Carlos Clark (4g, 7a). Nine different Great Danes have scored two are more goals this year. If Pinheiro and Solabarrieta are able to get the space they need in the attacking third the Albany offense can be very explosive.
Junior forward Diego Campos (6g, 3a) has been the go-to guy in a Clemson attack that has been very balanced. Midfielders Alex Happi, Oliver Shannon and Thales Moreno and forward Austen Burnikel are among several capable and experienced playmakers for the Tigers who add punch to the attack. Happi netted the game-winner in Clemson's 1-0 win over Boston College in the ACC Tourney and scored twice in the win over South Carolina in the NCAA Tourney. The bottom line is that you can count on Clemson creating scoring opportunities. It is no surprise that when the Tigers have been able to convert the opportunities that come their way they create momentum and have prevailed. When they do not finish the scoring opportunities that come their way they have had difficulties.
When it is all said and done this one will likely be decided by the play on the defensive side of the ball. It will require a solid team effort on the defensive side of the ball for the Great Danes to contain Clemson. Having said that, redshirt sophomore netminder Danny Vitello and senior backs Keith Traut and Bernardo Mattos are key elements in Albany's defensive efforts. Traut has been a starter for three seasons and Mattos has been in the starting lineup for four seasons.
Clemson has allowed a total of only twelve goals to date against an extremely competitive slate of opponents. Backs sophomore Patrick Bunk-Andersen, senior Aaron Jones, freshman Tanner Dieterich, freshman Malick Mbaye, and junior Michael Melvin and sophomore goalkeeper Ximo Miralles are all part of what has been a very solid Clemson defense.
Albany will take to the pitch at Historic Riggs Field believing they can win it but nonetheless a huge underdog in large part due to the fact that Clemson has a long tradition of success, advanced to the College Cup last year, and has been a top ranked program all year. Add in the fact that the Great Danes are 9-1-1 this year when playing at home but only 4-4-1 when on the road. In addition this one will take place in a venue that is always a difficult place to play for visiting teams.
An upset is not out of the picture but clearly Albany will have to play their best soccer of the year for a full ninety minutes or more on both sides of the ball to make that happen. The fact that the Great Danes have wins over Syracuse and Boston College out of the ACC shows that they are capable of taking this one.
Look for Clemson to apply pressure early seeking to take the Great Danes out of it from the get-go. The first fifteen minutes of each half are crucial. The longer the contest remains tied the greater Albany's chances become. The key for Clemson is to stay focused and to continue to do well the things that have worked for them all year.
#11 seed Washington (14-6-0) at #6 seed Denver (18-0-3)- Saturday 5 p.m.
Washington finished the Pac-12 season with a 6-4-0 mark which was good for a second place finish behind Stanford. The Huskies have regular season signature wins over Dartmouth, Seattle, UCLA and Stanford. Washington uncharacteristically closed out regular season play with Pac-12 losses at home to San Diego State and Oregon State. The Huskies entered the season determined to return to the NCAA Tournament in 2016 after being absent in 2015. They accomplished that with a solid season that resulted in an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament. They topped a good New Mexico team 4-1 to earn the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Denver won its fourth straight summit League Championship in 2016 to up their record to 17-0-3. The Pioneers have signature wins over Butler, New Mexico, and Portland. They advanced past Western Illinois 1-0 and Omaha 2-1 to secure the Summit League Tournament title and the conference's automatic berth into the NCAA Tourney. They then defeated UNLV 3-0 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
What to Expect
The head coaches of both programs, Jamie Clark at Washington and Jamie Franks at Denver, have done an excellent job at their respective programs and will have their teams motivated and prepared to play.
A total of thirteen different players have found the back of the net so far this year for a Washington team that has scored a total of thirty goals. The Huskies don't have one go-to goal scorer but instead have a balanced offense by committee. Freshman midfielder Handwalla Bwana (4g, 7a) and forwards redshirt sophomore Kyle Coffee (3g, 2a) and sophomore David Coly (4g, 2a) are Washington's top point producers. Junior midfielder Henry Wingo (1g, 1a) is the guy who sets the pace for the Huskies in the middle of the park.
Andre Shinyashiki (7g, 5a), Karsten Hanlin (5g, 7a), Blake Elder (7g, 2a), Alex Underwood (5g, 4a), Sam Hamilton (0g, 9a) and Chandler Crosswait (0g, 6a) are among the players who have contributed to a very balanced Pioneer attack that has produced a total of thirty-six goals.
The Huskies have a bend but don't break defense anchored by backs redshirt senior Justin Schmidt, sophomore Quentin Pearson, junior Justin Fiddes, redshirt sophomore Luke Hauswirth and junior Garret Jackson and redshirt goalkeeper Auden Schilder that has allowed a total of seventeen goals to date.
Denver has held opponents to a total of only ten goals to date which speaks for itself. The Pioneer defense is anchored by backs All-American Reagan Dunk (0g, 5a), Scott Devoss, AJ Fuller, and centerback Kortne Ford (4g, 1a) who also adds punch to the offense out of set pieces and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Nick Gardner.
Washington is a solid team with a good mixture of upper classmen and underclassmen in key roles. Look for the younger players like Bwana to have an impact but at the end of the day it will be guys like senior back Schmidt and juniors like goalkeeper Schilder and midfielders Wingo and Beau Blanchard who will have to provide the leadership if the Huskies hope to continue to survive and advance.
You don't go undefeated with a total of eighteen wins as Denver has without being very competitive. The Pioneers have performed well in Summit League play as well as in contests out of the conference against some very competitive competition.
This one could go either way and will likely be decided by a one goal margin. These two teams have not faced each other since 2009 so expect both to be a little cautious in the opening minutes. Denver has the advantage of playing at home which gives them the edge. Composure and the ability to avoid lapses in play on the defensive side of the ball will be a key factor in this one. Neither team can afford miscues on the defensive side of the ball. Whoever is able to establish their rhythm will have a huge advantage in terms of setting the pace of the contest. Denver will likely be the more aggressive of the two teams.
Virginia Tech (12-4-4) at #4 seed Indiana - Sunday Noon
The Hokies have had a breakthrough season during which they improved from a 5-9-3 overall record in 2015 to secure one of the programs best seasons in the past decade. Along the way they have reeled off several very impressive wins. Virginia Tech finished regular season play with a 3-4-1 mark in ACC play which was good for a fourth place finish behind North Carolina, Virginia and Notre Dame.They tied Boston College 2-2 in the first round of ACC Tournament but were topped 4-3 in penalty kicks and did not advance. The Hokies were awarded an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament returning to the tournament field for the first time since 2007. They subsequently defeated a good ETSU team 1-0 at home and then upset number ten seed Charlotte 3-2 on the road behind two goals from junior forward Marcelo Acuna and the game-winning tally from freshman forward Nico Quashie to earn the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Indiana finished play in the Big Ten Conference with a 3-0-5 overall record which was good for a second place finish behind Maryland. The Hoosiers advanced past Northwestern 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament and tied Wisconsin 1-1 in the semifinals but the Badgers prevailed 4-3 in a penalty kick shootout and advanced. The Hoosiers were awarded an at-large berth in the NCAA Tourney earning their 30th consecutive appearance in the Tourney. They then advanced past a very competitive Akron team 1-0 with senior back Billy McConnell netting the game-winner to earn the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
What to Expect
Marcelo Acuna (11g, 2a) who has five game-winning goals is a difference maker and impact player who is at the heart of the Virginia Tech offense. Acuna was an All-ACC Second Team selection. However a total of sixteen players have scored at least a goal in a Hokie multi-dimensional offense that has produced a total of thirty-six goals to date.
All-American senior midfielder Tanner Thompson (8g, 3a), redshirt sophomore midfielder Trevor Swartz (5g, 3a), and senior midfielder Richard Ballard (4g, 2a) have been the top point producers in a Hoosier offense that has produced a total of twenty-nine goals to date.
Billy McConnell, Grant Lillard, Andrew Gutman, Derek Creviston, and Timmy Mehl have played a key role in a very solid Hoosier backline while seniors Colin Webb and Christian Lomeli (who has been the starter for the last seven contests) have been solid in goal for a defense that has allowed a total of only fourteen goals to date.
Virginia Tech has allowed a total of eighteen goals while recording a total of nine shutouts. Junior Ben Lundgaard anchors the defense in goal. Will Mejia, Alessandro Mion, Elias Tamburini and Juan Pablo Saavedra are part of a backline that has gelled and improved as the season has progressed.
Look for this one to be a low scoring contest. This one will come down to which defense does the best job of containment. Virginia Tech was not supposed to be here so they have nothing to lose which makes them a dangerous opponent if they remain hungry. If Acuna is able to get a lot of opportunities in the attacking third the Hokies have a shot of pulling this one out. If not the Hoosiers should prevail. Likewise if Thompson is not contained and the Hoosiers get the best of the run of play then it could be a long evening for the Hokies.
Look for set pieces to figure in the outcome of this one. Give I.U. the edge but should the Hoosiers look past Virginia Tech and let the Hokies gain confidence and settle in then an upset is not out of the question.
SIUE (10-4-7) at #2 two seed Wake Forest (16-2-3) -Sunday 5 p.m.
SIUE concluded regular season play with an 8-4-5 overall record and a 4-1-3 mark in Missouri Valley Conference play which was good for second place. The Cougars then topped Evansville 2-1 and Missouri State 1-0 to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and secure the league's automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. They then advanced past Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when they prevailed 9-8 in a penalty kick shootout after the contest was tied 1-1. SIUE then advanced past Butler 5-4 in a penalty kick shootout after the contest was scoreless at the end of regulation and overtime to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Wake Forest finished regular season play with a 12-2-3 overall record and a 5-1-2 mark in ACC capturing the Atlantic Division title for the second season in a row. The Deacons then topped Notre Dame 1-0, Louisville 2-1 in overtime and Clemson 3-1 to win the ACC Tournament and earn the conference's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Wake Forest then defeated Coastal Carolina 2-0 with midfielders Jacori Hayes and Luis Argudo contributing the goals and freshman Andreu Cases Mundet replacing Alec Ferrell in goal due to an injury Ferrell sustained during pregame warmups.
What to Expect
SIUE has netted a total of twenty-three goals to date while allowing fifteen. Junior forward Devyn Jambga (6g, 3a) and senior back Austin Ledbetter (5g, 1a) have been the top two goals scorers for SIUE to date.
The Cougar defense which has been outstanding down the home stretch of the season is anchored by senior backs Ledbetter, Jason Hackett, and Andrew Kendall-Moullin and junior goalkeeper Kyle Dal Santo.
Senior midfielders Jacori Hayes (8g, 2a) with five game-winners and Ian Harkes (4g, 3a) have been at the heart of a Wake Forest offense that has produced a total of thirty goals. Midfielder Ema Twumasi (4g, 3a) and forward Jon Bakero (4g, 3a) are among other very capable Deacon finishers.
The Demon Deacon defense has been anchored by defenders junior Kevin Politz, sophomore Logan Gdula, freshman Alex Knox and sophomore Sam Raben and redshirt senior Alec Ferrell who has been the starter in goal for three seasons. The Wake Forest defense has been among the best in the country all year having allowed a total of only ten goals to date. Whether Ferrell is able to return to the lineup in goal or is replaced by Cases Mundet remains to be seen.
On paper this should be all Wake Forest with Hayes and Harkes controlling the middle of the park but then again no one thought SIUE would advance past Michigan State or Butler and anything can happen this time of the year in the survive and advance environment of the NCAA Tournament.
Make no mistake SIUE deserves to be in this one and they are a dangerous opponent. Look for the Demon Deacons to push the attack, knock the ball around and try to find weaknesses they can exploit. SIUE on the other hand will likely pick and choose when they attack and seek to utilize the counter attack, opportunities out of set pieces, and a solid defensive effort to secure the win.
Wake Forest needs to look no further than their season opening 1-0 loss to Saint Louis to get an idea of what they may face in this one. The ability of SIUE to stay true to their game plan and not make any costly mistakes or have any lapses in play will determine whether or not they have a chance to survive and advance once again. Wake Forest must be patient, yet aggressive on offense not allowing SIUE to control the pace, while remaining organized on defense. Whoever scores first will no doubt dictate the pace of this one.