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A Look At A Few Of The Challenging Men’s College Soccer Contests Coming Up This Weekend.

Keep An Eye On These Matchups. Several Have Upset Potential.

Pittsburgh (8-1-0) vs. North Carolina (3-3-2) – Friday – These two ACC teams didn’t face each other during the fall 2020 season.  North Carolina has prevailed in the seven times to date that these two have faced each other. This contest could change that trend. This is a much stronger and confident team than Pitt has fielded in the past.

Both teams showed a little rust on the offensive side of the ball in their spring season openers.  Pitt topped Duquesne 1-0 at home with defender Bryce Washington netting the lone goal via a penalty kick. North Carolina was shutout and upset by Liberty 1-0 at home.  

North Carolina’s strength of late has been on the defensive side of the ball. The question in this one is whether or not the Tar Heel defense anchored by a very solid backline and in goal by junior Alec Smir can contain what is normally a very explosive Panther attack powered by midfielders Noel Valentin and Veljiko Petkovic among others.  

If Pitt gets their attack in gear and UNC has to chase the game then the Tar Heels could be in trouble.

California (0-2-0) State at Oregon (5-0-0) – Saturday – On paper this one looks like a multi-goal win for Oregon State.

California opened the spring season with a 3-1 loss at home to Stanford and a 2-0 loss to Washington. Both the Cardinal and the Huskies put a lot of pressure on California and it eventually paid off. However, despite coming out on the short end of the stick there have also been some positives for California. The Golden Bears have responded well when under pressure on the defensive side of the ball and shown improvement in terms of maintaining possession on the offensive side of the ball.  

Oregon State is off to a 5-0-0 start for only the second time in program history. The Beavers have rocketed upward in terms of national standing with a multi-dimensional attack powered so far by forward Gloire Amanda who has scored six goals in five games. Junior goalkeeper Adrian Fernandez has anchored a very stout Beaver defense that has only allowed two goals to date.   

Oregon State, like Stanford and Washington, will likely come out on the front foot and place California under a lot of pressure from the get-go. If the Beavers can break through early in the contest then chances are pretty good that they will begin the season with six wins for the first time in program history. Oregon State is clearly a team that can score in multiples.

On the other hand, the margin for error in any Pac-12 contest including this one is small.  The longer California is able to contain the Beavers their chances of pulling off an upset increase.

Put this one on the upset watch list.

Liberty (5-0-1) vs. Bellarmine (1-2-0) – Saturday – Liberty under the direction of second year head coach Kelly Findley travels to Louisville to open ASUN Conference play against a Bellarmine team that is playing it first season at the Division 1 level.

Liberty comes into the contest off an impressive 1-0 win in Chapel Hill over North Carolina in a contest that would normally be considered an early season tune-up for UNC. The Flames followed that victory with a 1-0 win at home over a very competitive High Point team.

Bellarmine opened the spring season with a 2-1 loss to Xavier in their D1 debut.  Welcome to Division 1 play.  That loss halted the 23-game regular-season unbeaten streak that the Knights had while in Division II play. They were then thumped 3-0 by Belmont but rebounded to top Lipscomb 1-0 to secure their first ever win in Division 1 play and their first win in ASUN Conference play.

Liberty led by goalkeeper Danny Cordero has not allowed a goal in six contests against a very competitive slate of opponents.  

This is another contest in which on paper Liberty is a prohibitive favorite but it would be a mistake to count Bellarmine out in this one. The Knights played very well in their win over Lipscomb and look to be a team that is beginning to get their legs under them on both sides of the ball.  

Place this one on the upset watch list as well.

Seton Hall (3-1-1) at Connecticut (1-2-0) – Saturday – This contest will take place at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium which is always a great venue for a college soccer contest.

Seton Hall is off to a good start despite the fact that they will come into this one off a 2-1 loss in overtime to defending national champion Georgetown. Prior to that the Pirates had won three straight including a 1-0 win over Big East foe St. John’s. Seton Hall has displayed a balanced but not exactly explosive offense to date led by forward CJ Tibbling (3g, 1a), defender Johannes Pex (2g, 0a) and forward JP Marin (0g, 3a).

The Big East has welcomed Connecticut back to the conference with a 2-0 loss to Providence and a 2-0 loss to St. John’s.

Defense will likely rule in this one. It is highly likely that the game will be decided by a single goal.

Both teams will attack but more than likely they will pick and choose when they want to push numbers forward.  Possession and controlling the tempo of the match are the keys to this one.  This is a game in which neither side wants to have to play from behind.

San Diego State (0-1-1) vs. Washington (3-1-0) – Saturday – San Diego State has shown new life under first year head coach Ryan Hopkins. They tied UCLA 1-1 in their spring season opener and gave highly regarded Stanford all they could handle before falling to the Cardinal 1-0 in overtime.

The Aztecs came out on the front foot in both those contests displaying a level of confidence and organization that bodes well for the future of the uphill climb that they face in regard to movement upward in the very competitive Pac-12 Conference.  The Aztecs do not appear to be a team that is sitting back and trying to keep things close. San Diego State looks to be a team that is playing to win.

The key for the success of any program under a new head coach is to find things that they can build on. The Aztecs are doing a good job in that regard so far.  

Washington bounced back from a 2-1 loss at home in Pac-12 play to secure a 2-0 win on the road over California. The jury is still out on just how competitive Washington is going to be. Whether they have the firepower and the defensive tenacity to win against the very top teams remains to be seen.

This contest should be interesting. A win for San Diego State would be a huge momentum builder. Another home loss for Washington in Pac-12 play would be a huge setback.

Wisconsin (0-3-0) vs. Maryland (0-3-0) – Sunday – Who would have thought that Maryland would be winless after three contests.

The Terps opened the season with a 3-2 loss to Penn State in which they allowed the Nittany Lions to jump out to a 3-0 advantage before they bounced back with two goals of their own. It seemed likely that Maryland would shake off the rust and get in gear but instead they responded with a rare 1-0 loss at home to Ohio State and a 2-0 loss to Rutgers.

Wisconsin is also winless with a season opening 3-0 loss to Indiana on the road followed by an unexpected 5-2 loss to Northwestern and a 1-0 loss to Rutgers.

Both of these teams need a win and some momentum that they can build on. Maryland and Wisconsin played to a scoreless 0-0 tie when they last faced each other back in 2019. Chances are pretty good that whoever scores first will have a huge edge in this one.

Maryland has the advantage that accompanies playing at home and would normally be the favorite but this is not a normal season or normal start for the Terps. Both teams have little margin for error so this one is up for grabs with the winner likely the team that is able to set the tempo of the match and avoid costly letdowns on the defensive side of the ball.

Northwestern (2-1-0) vs. Ohio State – Sunday – It looked like it was going to be a long spring season for Northwestern after they opened the season at home with a 4-1 loss to Michigan but instead they regrouped and stabilized on both side of the ball with a 5-2 on the road win over Wisconsin followed by an unexpected 1-0 win over Big Ten powerhouse Indiana at home.

Forward Ugo Achara Jr. has added the punch to the Wildcats attack that was missing in the past by providing two goals in the win over Wisconsin and the game-winner in the win over IU.  

It also looked like Ohio State was headed for another bruising season when they opened the spring campaign with a 3-0 thumping from Indiana but the Buckeyes showed a lot of grit by responding with a 1-0 win over Maryland in College Park and a 2-0 win over Michigan State in East Lansing.

Midfielder Laurence Wootton looks to be the X-Factor on the offensive side of the ball for Ohio State.  

Both of these teams are hungry to improve their standing in Big Ten play. The winner will take a solid step forward in regard to accomplishing that. The bottom line is that this one is up for grabs. These teams match up well with each other so both will probably be a little conservative in the early going with the pace likely picking up as the contest progresses.

Notre Dame (6-4-0) vs. Virginia (4-4-1) – Sunday – The Irish travel to Charlottesville for this ACC Contest. This is a matchup that historically is often scoreless or decided by a single goal.

Notre Dame’s calling card under head coach Chad Riley has been defense. Virginia’s aggressiveness on the offensive side of the ball has varied depending upon personnel but for the most part the Cavaliers under the direction of head coach George Gelnovatch are very careful about when to press the attack.

Look for both sides to seek to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way to quickly counter. As a result, organization and communication on defense will be a key.

Junior forward Jack Lynn is the X-Factor on the offensive side of the ball for the Irish. Sophomore forward Axel Gunnarsson looks to be among the keys on the offensive side of the ball for the Cavaliers. Look for sophomore defender Andreas Ueland to add an additional dimension to the Virginia offense out of the back.   

Virginia struggled early on in the fall 2020 season due in large part to the number of significant gaps they had to fill due to departures. However, they steadily improved as the season progressed.

The Cavaliers will have the advantage that comes with playing at home and the edge that goes with having a spring season 3-0 win over George Mason under their belts. That contest gave Virginia the opportunity to shake some of the rust off.  Redshirt freshman Alex Rando was the starter in goal for Virginia in the spring season opener against George Mason.

Letdowns on the defensive side of the ball will be costly in this one.

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