August 21, 2012 – With the official start of college soccer now just days away, there are a number of exciting matches that can be named match of the week. An opening day win can help determine/predict how a season will shape up, especially when coaches look to create true tests for their teams' first time out in 2012 by scheduling matches against some of the country's most elite programs.
Here is a look at three of the most highly anticipated season openers.
The match: #18 Louisville at #5 Maryland
In finding the most intriguing match-up of week one, we need not search any further than last year's NCAA tournament third round game in which the Louisville Cardinals topped the favored Maryland Terrapins. Expect Maryland to play with a huge chip on their shoulder at home in College Park, where Louisville ended the Terp's season short just last year. To say the least, it is an absolute treat for all college soccer fans to witness such an exciting match-up in week one.
Louisville: Dylan Mares- Coming off a medical redshirt last season after suffering a knee injury, Dylan will look to get back to his fine form from his rookie season in 2010, where he was named Big East Rookie of the year.
Maryland: Taylor Kemp- Entering his senior season, Taylor will look to lead the Terps to victory with his experience, and as the anchor of a defense that only allowed 1.06 goals/game last season. He has started every game for the Terp's since his freshman season.
The match is missing some stars from last year's NCAA third round, but expect these two teams to be playing late into November and early December. The departures of Colin Rolfe, Nick DeLeon, and Kenney Walker to the MLS will force the team to look to Louisville's new attacking players. Combine that with Kemp leading the Terp's defense, which rarely ever allows any goals at home, to prove to be the difference in this season's match-up.
With Maryland seeking revenge, expect the team to set the tone early with a few hard tackles, a fast paced tempo, and a rumpus crowd, leading to a very difficult night for the Cardinals.
Prediction: Maryland 3 – Louisville 1
The match: #2 New Mexico at #7 UCLA
The second most enticing game of week one will be played on the west coast, where UCLA will play host to last year's only undefeated squad, New Mexico. UCLA is looking to make it back to the NCAA college cup, while New Mexico is looking to pick up where they left off in 2011 after falling to South Florida in the sweet sixteen of the NCAA tournament on penalty's.
UCLA: Ryan Hollingshead- Last season, Ryan recorded 3 goals and 7 assists for the Bruins. He will have to fill the void of last year's leading scorer in Chandler Hoffman. Ryan and classmate Fernando Monge will have to do contribute greatly if the Bruins want to get their season off on the right foot at home against a very strong New Mexico team.
New Mexico: Devon Sandoval, and Kyle Venter- Preseason Second Team All- American Devon Sandoval takes care of the attacking duties, while Preseason First Team All- American Kyle Venter controls the defense for the Lobos.
Two teams that could very well contend for the national championship this season will ask early questions of one another. UCLA's Monge addresses the keys to being successful in the first game of the season, stating, "The first games of the season are always a little bit tricky, because everyone is trying to understand each other. I feel like our organization and our work rate will be vital."
The Bruins are always one of the most disciplined teams in the country, and UCLA will have to try and capitalize on their limited amount of chances against the Lobo's. I'm not sure whether they will create enough scoring opportunities to take to down New Mexico, a team that has no trouble getting results on the road, as they have proven plenty of times last season.
Prediction: UCLA 1 – New Mexico 1
The match: #28 Virginia vs. Georgetown (game played at a neutral site)
The final game to really look out for is the cross-town like battle between Georgetown and Virginia. Georgetown is looking to rebound from last years absence from the NCAA tournament, while Virginia is hoping to relive 2009's national championship.
Virginia: Will Bates- Preseason Second Team All- American Will Bates, will hope to return to fine form after suffering a season ending knee injury at the end of last season. Bates, who was greatly missed by Virginia during last year's post season, still managed to score 14 and goals and rack up 32 points.
Georgetown: Steve Neumann- The Preseason Third Team All- American is entering his 3rd season with the Hoyas and will look to reprise his role from last season as the team's determined goal scorer with 11 goals and 7 assists to lead the Hoya's attack.
The element of having home field advantage is removed, placing a larger emphasis on focus and preparation. Two teams hopeful of rebounding from early ends to the 2011 season are determined to make a strong opening statement to the rest of the country.
Neumann and Bates will provide a huge threat to the opposing defenses and will make this an exciting game to watch. In this match, it is tough to find any kind of discrepancies that will help pick a winner. Ultimately, the better defense will determine which team prevails.
Without having any true seniors, Virginia's squad lacks experience. This shortfall is especially important to note when a team is trying to rely on its defense to win a game, and it leaves room for Georgetown's offense to take advantage of a young Cavalier defense.
Neumann and the Hoya's believe that with a good start to the season, they can reach higher goals, as he noted, "We have a lot of confidence in the group we currently have. Our main goal is to make it to the Red Bull Arena Big-East semi-finals. This is a united goal amongst my teammates and coaching staff and we have the belief that we can meet this goal and use it as a stepping stone for even higher achievements."
With a week one win against Virginia, Georgetown will be one step closer to achieving their goals in the 2012 season.
Prediction: Georgetown 3 – Virginia 2
Anthony Baumann is a member of the Providence Soccer Team and a contributing writer to College Soccer News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.