As is always the case some teams have exceeded expectations and others have not. As teams throughout the country enter the heart of conference play it is a good time to take a little closer look at the teams that have excelled in the early going and the challenges that they face going forward.
Creighton – (9-0-0) – The Bluejays are the only remaining undefeated and untied team. Champions find a way to win and that is exactly what the Bluejays have done to date. Their next three contests are at home which gives them an edge but they can't afford to take their foot off the gas in any of them. After that the going will be significantly tougher when they have to travel to face Butler, Marquette, Providence and Georgetown. Forward Fabian Herbers has done everything but sell popcorn in the concession stand but he is by no means the only player on this team that can find the back of the net. The Bluejays have outscored their opponents 23-3 to date. The defense anchored by goalkeeper Connor Sparrow has posted seven shutouts in nine contests.
North Carolina – (7-0-1) – The Tar Heels have established that they can beat you with the long ball or they can beat you by putting together combinations and beating you off the dribble. Their backline has played as well as any in the country and is very capable of pushing forward at speed to produces a numbers advantage. The Tar Heels have signature wins over Notre Dame and Duke. Upcoming contests with UNCW and Syracuse in Chapel Hill and on the road with Wake Forest and Virginia will be challenging.
Stanford – (7-1-0) – The Cardinal have star power in Jordan Morris and Corey Baird but the thing that sets this team apart from Stanford teams in the recent past is their strength from top to bottom and their depth. The Cardinal have significant wins over Louisville and SMU on the road. The talent and effectiveness as well as the mettle of Stanford will be determined when they get into Pac-12 play against the likes of UCLA, Washington, and California.
Coastal Carolina – (6-0-1) – The Chanticleers' trademark has always been their offensive productivity but they are equally as strong on the defensive side of the ball. Key wins to date include Old Dominion and Charlotte and they have a 1-1 tie on the road with Clemson. Coastal has a huge target on their chests in Big South Conference play where they are expected to run the table but in order to do that they have to take it one game at a time and they can't afford to look past anyone. Upcoming non-conference contests with Hofstra and South Carolina will be difficult.
Notre Dame – (7-2-1) – Bobby Clark's team is focused and a lot of players are contributing and seem to be growing in confidence which bodes well for their continued success. The Irish were topped by North Carolina and Xavier but they also have very impressive signature wins over Indiana, Clemson, Michigan State, and Virginia. Upcoming ACC games on the road with N.C. State and Wake Forest will be huge tests for the Irish. This group looks to have a lot of grit and seem to be gelling together as a team.
Clemson – 7-1-2 – This is a program that has gotten stronger and deeper every year since Mike Noonan has been at the helm of the program. The Tigers led by guys like senior forward T.J. Casner and back Kyle Fisher are now confident that they can play with anyone and prevail. The Clemson attack which has produced a total of twenty-four goals to date is multi-dimensional and explosive. Goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell anchors a defense that has held a very competitive slate of opponents to a total of only seven goals to date. Key wins to date include South Carolina, Duke and Brown. The Tigers have 1-1 ties with highly regarded Coastal Carolina and Wake Forest. Clemson now has a big target on their jerseys which means they can't look past anyone. Particularly challenging upcoming games include Charlotte on the road, Syracuse on the road and a season ending match on the road with N.C. State.
Virginia – 5-1-2 – The defending national champions have noteworthy 1-0 wins over Charlotte, N.C. State, and an always tough VCU team on the road. They have ties with Tulsa and Duke. This is a very talented team but if there is a question to date it is whether they have the offensive firepower needed to prevail as the season progresses. Jake Rozhansky with three goals and Riggs Lennon and Nicko Corriveau with two scores each to date lead an attack that has netted a total of eleven goals in eight matches. You only need to put one in the back of the net to secure a win but that means you have a very small margin for error on the defensive side of the ball and can lead to a not lose rather than a win mindset. George Gelnovatch will not let that happen and the Virginia players are used to winning but nonetheless it is a concern. Sophomore Jeff Caldwell has been solid in goal anchoring a Cavalier defense that has only allowed a total of seven goals. Challenging upcoming games include Louisville at home, rival Virginia Tech on the road, and North Carolina at home.
Denver – (9-0-1) – Who would have thought that the Pioneers would be undefeated nine games into the 2015 campaign. This group really plays well together as a team. They have several very capable playmakers and the defense anchored by redshirt senior goalkeeper Dan Jackson who is a transfer from UNC-Ashville has been very organized and disciplined. Denver has noteworthy wins over non-conference opponents San Diego, Saint Louis, Utah Valley, and South Florida. Upcoming contests with Omaha at home and Portland on the road are formidable.
Wake Forest – (7-1-1) – The Deacons have exceeded expectations so far this year with impressive wins over FGCU, Syracuse, and Akron and a tie with Clemson. As anticipated, senior forward Michael Gamble is leading the way on the offensive side of the ball. The major area of improvement so far from the 2014 season is the play on the defensive side of the ball. The Deacons have tough sledding in front of them with challenging games on the road against resurgent Boston College and N.C. State teams. Their upcoming dance card also includes games at home against North Carolina and Notre Dame.
Old Dominion – (5-1-1) – The Monarchs have been particularly productive on the offensive side of the ball with a very balanced attack lead by freshman midfielder Nik Klosterhalfen and senior forward Josue Henriquez. After opening the season with a 2-0 loss to Coastal Carolina ODU is unbeaten in their last six contests including a marquee 4-1 win over Akron and a 1-1 tie on the road with Charlotte. Notable upcoming games include a contest at home with CSUA foe New Mexico, a non-conference game on the road with UNC Wilmington, and CUSA games away from home with Kentucky and South Carolina.
Akron – (6-2-1) – The Zips have been impressive in resume building wins on the road over Georgetown, Maryland and UC Santa Barbara, a gutsy come from behind win at home over Saint Louis and a win at home over Penn State. However they also have a less than impressive 4-1 loss on the road to ODU, and a 2-1 loss to Wake Forest and a 3-3 tie with Ohio State at home. You might say that the Zips have been winning the ones it looks like they should lose and losing the ones it would seem that they would win. The bottom line is that Akron will be expected to prevail in all of their MAC contests but the conference is stronger this year than in past seasons so doing that is not going to be easy. Throw in up-coming non-conference matches with Penn State, Michigan State and UCLA and you have a program that has their work cut out for them with little margin for error.
Georgetown – (5-2-2) -The Hoyas appear to have gotten back on track after opening the season with a tie at FGCU followed by losses to South Florida and Akron. They didn't play poorly in those opening games but they certainly didn't play up to their potential or to expectations. Since then they are undefeated in their last six contests with the lone blemish being a 2-2 tie with VCU. Upcoming contests with Xavier on the road and Butler and Marquette at home will give an indication of whether this team is for real or perhaps overrated. A season ending contest with Creighton at home also looms down the road.
Elon – (8-2-0) – The Phoenix are good no doubt about it but just how good particularly on the defensive side of the ledger is a bit puzzling. A 4-1 loss to William and Mary in their CAA opener on Wednesday night raises questions. On the plus side they have been doing an excellent job of finishing the scoring opportunities that come their way and have for the most part been taking care of business on the defensive side of the ball. They have a signature 1-0 win over Wake Forest in Winston-Salem and their lone loss of the year in addition to the thumping at William and Mary on Wednesday night is disappointing 3-1 setback to South Carolina in Columbia in which they had a couple of lapses in play on the defensive side of the ball and were unable to exploit a 8-1 advantage in corner kicks. Crucial upcoming CAA matches look to be UNCW in Wilmington and Hofstra in Hempstead. They also have a challenging non-conference contest on the books with Duke in Durham.
Maryland – (4-2-3) – Senior Mael Corboz is the real deal but the Terps will need some other key contributors to emerge on the offensive side of the ball if they are going to play at the level the program is accustomed to. Freshmen Sebastian Elney, Eryk Williamson, and Amar Sejdic are among the likely candidates to do just that. This is a group that has not yet fully gelled a team. Look for Maryland to improve significantly as the season progresses but they may continue to experience a learning curve for a while longer. The unanswered question is whether Sasho Cirovski can make the adjustments needed to pull everything into place while not losing any more regular season contests. Chances are pretty good that he will. Maryland plays six of their remaining eight regular season contests in the friendly confines of Ludwig Field which is a big plus. Their marquee win to date is a 2-1 win in overtime against UCLA on September 4 which seemed more impressive at the time than it does now. The Terps also have a season opening tie with Notre Dame.
Xavier – (7-2-0) – The Musketeers looked to be a team that might be on the ropes when they sustained early back-to-back losses to Lipscomb and Virginia Tech but they have since rebounded with five consecutive wins including a signature 1-0 win over Notre Dame in South Bend. Andy Fleming will soon find out just how competitive his team really is when they host Georgetown and Providence in their next two contests. The Musketeers also have difficult regular season matches remaining with Butler and Creighton on the road. Senior midfielder Alex Rigsdale and sophomore forward Matt Vasquenza are among the players who must be productive in order for Xavier to secure more high profile wins. It is noteworthy that the Musketeers have not allowed a goal in their past four contests.
Seattle – (7-2-0) – The Redhawks were flying under the radar on the national scene and looked vulnerable with 1-0 losses to Gonzaga and Cal Poly in the early going. In both of those losses they were unable to take advantage of the opportunities that came their way to put the rock in the back of the net. Recent wins over highly regarded Washington and Oregon State out of the Pac-12 Conference catapulted Seattle upward in terms of national attention and standing. Seattle also has good wins over Northwestern and Dartmouth. This is a team that appears to be very capable of winning a lot of games this year but in order for that to happen forward Hamza Haddadi, who is responsible for seven of the eighteen goals that Seattle has scored to date, and his teammates are going to have to come up with the big plays needed to secure wins in the close contests. All of the Redhawks remaining regular season contests are against WAC opponents. UNLV and Utah Valley on the road are among their upcoming contests that will be particularly difficult.
Washington – (4-1-3) – The Huskies have been good but not great in non-conference play to date. Their last three contests include a 0-0 tie at home with Harvard, a 2-1 loss on the road at Seattle, and a 0-0 tie with Portland at home in which they had more than the average number of opportunities to score but were unable to finish. Washington begins Pac-12 play when they host San Diego State and UCLA this weekend. The going gets even tougher after that when they have to take to the road to tangle with Stanford and California. The good news is that the Huskies have allowed a total of only four goals in eight contests. The not so good news is that they have only scored a total of nine goals to date. Injuries have likely contributed to the lack of offensive productivity.
South Carolina – (5-2-1) – The Gamecocks entered the season with significant gaps to plug on both sides of the ball. As a result it was reasonable to assume that with so many new faces on the pitch there would be a learning curve and it would take a while before South Carolina would gel as a team. That was apparent in a 3-0 loss to rival Clemson and a 5-0 loss to UNCW in contests played away from home. The Gamecocks appear to have pulled things together particularly on the defensive side of the ball and rebounded with a 1-0 win at UAB flowed by eye catching wins over nationally ranked Elon and New Mexico at home. Newcomer midfielder Danny Deakin and veteran forwards Jeffrey Torda and Kevin Walker have been leading the attack. Mark Berson has the Gamecocks headed in the right direction. Whether or not they can sustain it is up for debate.
New Mexico – 6-2-1 – A relatively young Lobo squad began the season with a tough 1-0 loss to then number one UCLA in Los Angeles and a 2-2 tie at home against San Diego. New Mexico showed promise in both games. They followed that up with wins in six of their next seven contests including potential resume building wins over UC Santa Barbara, LMU and American. Chris Wehan has been the go-to guy for the Lobos having netted a total of eight of their thirteen goals to date. Wehan has been outstanding which is good thing but a little more diversity on the attack would probably be a good thing.
Saint Louis – 4-3-0 – The Billikens followed up a 3-2 loss to Akron in which they squandered a two goal advantage with a gutsy 3-2 win over Louisville on the road. They looked at the time like a team that was beginning to gel but missed opportunities for banner wins at home including a 1-0 loss to Denver and a 3-2 loss in overtime to Indiana will likely cause Saint Louis to tumble in terms of national standing. The Billikens will seek to get back in the win column on a consistent basis as they begin Atlantic 10 Conference play. Don't count the Billikens out of it just yet. Saint Louis is always competitive but to date their inability to win the close ones is problematic.
North Carolina State – 6-2-1 – The Pack looks to be back but are they really? N.C. State has played well in the early going at times in the past before inconsistent play caused them to fold as they got into the heart of their ACC schedule. On the plus side they have a solid conference win over Boston College under their belts and they performed well on the road in a 1-0 loss to Virginia. Opportunity knocks for the Wolfpack with upcoming games at home against Notre Dame, Wake Forest and South Carolina. They could come away with three huge W's or three disappointing losses. Those contests will likely set the pace for N.C State for the remainder of the season. This is a team with a lot of promise but they have to play a full ninety minutes on a consistent basis if they seek to continue to win their share.
California – 5-2-0 – The Golden Bears began the season with an extremely disappointing 3-0 loss to San Diego in San Diego. They then won five in a row at home before losing on the road again to Santa Clara. California begins Pac-12 play with contests at home against Stanford, Oregon State, and Washington. The outcome of those three games should be revealing.
Temple – 7-1-2 – This team is light years ahead of the 2014 team perhaps showing more improvement than any squad in the country. The Owls were undefeated in their first eight contests but a 3-2 loss on the road to Cincinnati and a 0-0 tie in Newark with Delaware may signal that reality has come to town. Temple has a tough test this weekend when they host South Florida in a crucial American Athletic Conference contest. Junior midfielder Jorge Gomez Sanchez has been a scoring machine to date for the Owls with eleven goals including five game-winners.
UNCW – 6-1-1 – The Seahawks are talented but the real story at UNCW is the ability of coach Aidan Heaney to put together a team in which the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts. UNCW is off to a great start with a season to date that includes wins over non-conference teams South Carolina and Duke. Their 2015 dance card also includes contests on the road with in-state non-conference foes North Carolina and Charlotte. UNCW's lone loss to date is a 2-1 defeat on the road to Hofstra in a CAA match. The Seahawks have outscored their opponents 23 to 6 which tells you a lot about their productivity. Senior forward Colin Bonner is the go-to guy on this team but freshman midfielder Ben Fisher is among others who add an additional dimension to the offense. The Seahawks have little margin for error as they progress in CAA play and the bottom line is that their productivity in conference play will ultimately determine the level of success they enjoy this year. It will be interesting to see if they have the strength from top to bottom and the depth to sustain the success that they have enjoyed so far as the season progresses.