The first phase of the 2016 season has come to an end.
The Atlantic Coast Conference is off to a great start with Syracuse, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Clemson, Wake Forest, Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Virginia all looking very strong. However as we enter conference play, they will begin to knock each other off. This Friday Clemson (4-1-1) travels to face Virginia Tech (7-1-0), Boston College (5-2-0) visits Chapel Hill to tangle with North Carolina (6-1-0), and Syracuse (8-0-0) takes to the road to square off with Notre Dame (6-1-0). On Saturday Virginia (3-1-2) travels to face Louisville (6-1-1). All have big ACC and national implications.
Home Field Advantage – In conference play it is crucial to hold serve when playing at home particularly in a conference like the Pac-12 where teams play each other home and away.
Offensive Productivity – This is the time of the year when teams begin to gel as reflected in an increase in productivity on the offensive side of the ball. Factor in fresher legs due to the greater length of time between contests now that the first few weeks of play are in the books which increases movement off the ball, intensity, focus, and the accuracy of passes. Look no further than the significant increase in the number of hat tricks and high scoring games across the county last week for evidence of that.
Defense still rules. West Virginia topped American 3-0 Tuesday night to improve to 5-1-1. Junior goalkeeper Jose Santos had seven saves in goal for WMU in that contest. Santos and his Mountaineer teammates have now recorded six consecutive clean sheets. WVU will seek to keep that streak alive when they travel to face UNCG on Saturday night.
Transfer Power – Junior forward Marcelo Acuna (5g, 0a) at Virginia Tech, sophomore forward Gordon Wild (8g, 1a) at Maryland, graduate student goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland and junior forward Mohamed Thiaw (4g, 0a) at Louisville, graduate student goalkeeper Alex Kapp (0.48 gaa) and senior forward Riggs Lennon (4g, 0a) at Creighton are among the transfers who have made a huge impact so far this year.
Below Expectations – SMU (3-5-0), Georgetown (2-5-0), Rutgers (0-6-0) , Ohio State (2-5-0), and Coastal Carolina (1-3-1) are among the teams that entered the season with high expectations that have not had the season to date that they anticipated. Perhaps SMU is the most puzzling to date since they returned a very solid contingent of players from the 2015 team that was 15-3-4 overall. However, SMU's 4-3 win in overtime against Akron on Monday night might signal that the Ponies are getting back on track. Look for one or more of these teams to regroup and rebound.
Road trips can be brutal early in the season but they serve to prepare teams for what they may have to face later down the road. Akron's three losses to date are to San Diego State, UCLA, and SMU on the road. Two of UC Santa Barbara's three losses to date were difficult on the road contests with Butler and Akron.
Vermont is 7-1-0 and off to their best start since the 1975 campaign. The Catamount attack which hs produced a total of twenty times so far this year features the one-two punch of senior forwards Bernard Yeboah (8g, 1a) and Brian Wright (5g, 9a). The duo has been very effective at putting together combinations that have been difficult for opponents to contain.
UMass Lowell (6-0-1) also out of the America East Conference is among the mid major conference teams off to an impressive start. Coach Christian Figueroa's team has been paced to date on the offensive side of the ball by senior midfielder Wuilito Fernandes (6g, 0a) and redshirt freshman forward Ivan Abramovic (4g, 5a). Junior goalkeeper goalkeeper Austin Kroll has anchored a Riverhawk defense that has allowed a total of only five goals to date.
Loyola Chicago (6-0-0) under the guidance of fourth year head coach Neil Jones has featured a balanced attack lead by playmakers forward Brody Kraussel (1g, 5a) and midfielder Kirill Likhovid (0g, 5a) and a rock solid defense that has allowed a total of only two goals in six games. Redshirt sophomore back Grant Stoneman (3g, 0a) has been named the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Week three times so far this year. The Ramblers have a signature early season win over Utah Valley. Their upcoming dance card includes tough contests with SIUE at home and highly regarded Creighton in Omaha.
Keep an eye on Villanova out of the Big East. The Wildcats began the year with losses to Rider and Harvard but have bounced back to improve to 3-3-0 with impressive signature wins on the road over Boston College 2-1 and Delaware 2-1. In addition, Villanova gave Butler all they could handle before losing 3-2 in overtime. Effectiveness on the defensive side of the ball may be the key to the level of success the Wildcats enjoy in 2016.
Charlotte began the season with impressive wins over Hofstra, Rutgers, Coastal Carolina and Old Dominion during which time they netted a total of fourteen goals while allowing none. The 49ers entered their contest with UNC Wilmington on Tuesday night as the only Division I team in the country to not have allowed a goal. That streak ended when the 49ers were upset 2-0 by the Seahawks that halted a ten UNCW game winless streak against Charlotte that went back to the 1983 season. The Seahawks improve to 5-1-0 rebounding from a 5-0 thumping from Florida Gulf Coast last Saturday.
UCLA and UC Santa Barbara – Just when you thought it could not get any more intense, the battle for west coast supremacy and the rivalry between UCLA and UC Santa Barbara clicked up another notch as a result of a controversial last second goal out of a free kick in regulation by the Bruins that knotted the score at 1-1 and sent the contest into overtime where Jackson Yueill netted the game-winner to give UCLA a 2-1 victory over UCSB in Harder Stadium.
Left Coast Supremacy – UCLA, Stanford, Utah Valley, UCSB, and San Diego State are the current frontrunners for west coast supremacy. Washington, Seattle, and California may figure in the equation also. It will be interesting to see how San Diego State fares once they get into Pac-12 play. Gonzaga out of the West Coast Conference began the season with four consecutive wins but two subsequent losses took the glimmer off their start.
Butler is looking very good in the early going with a 6-0-1 record and a 1-0-0 mark in Big East play. The question is can they sustain it with a big target on their chests and difficult contests with Providence, Indiana, Georgetown, Creighton, and Denver on their upcoming dance card. Forward David Goldsmith (7g, 3a) and midfielders Lewis Suddick (5g, 2a) and Marco Charalambous (3g, 0a) have powered the Butler offense while goalkeeper Eric Dick and backs Joe Moulden, Alex Lehtinen, Mitch Ostrowski, and Kieran Geldenhuys have anchored the defense.
After beginning the season with a 0-2-1 record, Florida Gulf Coast University has bounced back to win five straight. The red hot Eagles topped Florida Atlantic 5-1 Tuesday night and UNCW last Saturday 5-0 to improve to 5-2-1. Forward Arion Sobers-Assue lead the Eagle offense in the win over FAU recording the second ever hat trick in the history of the program. Forward Albert Ruiz netted the first hat trick in the win over UNCW. FGCU will begin ASUN play when they travel to New Jersey on Saturday to face NJIT.
The Lobos are Back. After opening the season with tough 1-0 losses to Indiana and Notre Dame, New Mexico (5-2-0) has won five straight defeating CSU Northridge, Cal Poly, CSU Bakersfield, Grand Canyon, and UC Irvine. They have a telling CUSA match coming up this Saturday when they hit the road to tangle with Kentucky (3-2-1).
Buffalo reeled off seven consecutive wins to begin the 2016 season before losing to South Florida 3-0 in Tampa. The Bulls have been powered on the offensive side of the ball by ten goals and six assists to date from senior Russell Cicerone (10g, 6a) and solid team defense lead by backs Alec Fisher, Fox Slotemaker, David Enstrom, and Austin Place and junior netminder Joseph Kuta.
The America East Conference race is up for grabs with Vermont (7-1-0), UMass Lowell (6-0-1) and New Hampshire (6-1-0) all off to great starts.
Michigan State is 5-1-0 with a 2-0-0 mark in Big Ten play that includes wins over Rutgers 4-0 and Michigan 1-0. The Spartans travel to College Park on Friday to face Maryland (5-0-2) in what shapes up to be an interesting Big Ten matchup. Maryland is 2-0-1 in Big Ten play with a tie with Indiana and wins over Rutgers and Penn State.