the 2021 season just got underway so the jury is still out on how competitive teams will be. early wins are a good sign and can set the pace for the entire season but there are always teams that start fast then stuggle and teams that struggle early on then turn things around.
VCU (1-0-1) at FIU (2-0-0) – Saturday 7 p.m. – Both teams had an eye opening first week of play. VCU upset Wake Forest 2-0 in Winston-Salem and tied North Carolina 1-1 in Chapel Hill. FIU upset UCF 4-0 in Orlando and topped FGCU 1-0 in Fort Myers. Senior back Zeron Sewell and senior goalkeeper Mario Sequeira anchored a stout VCU defense. Five different players found the back of the net last week for FIU while junior back Philip Hildebrandt and Graduate Student netminder Grant Makela anchored the defense. This battle could go either way.
San Francisco (1-1-0) at UC Santa Barbara (1-0-1) – Friday 7 p.m. – UCSB rolled past San Diego 7-1 in their season opener with six different players finding the back of the net. They followed that up with a 1-1 tie with California during which they had a 19 to 8 advantage in shots.
San Francisco opened the season under the guidance of first year head coach Chris Brown with a 2-1 win over Sacramento State behind two goals from forward Nonso Adimabua, the 2020 WCC Freshman of the Year, and then fell to UCLA 2-1 in Los Angeles.
The vintage UC Santa Barbara teams have been the ones that are able to put pressure on their opponents without making themselves vulnerable on the defensive side of the ball. Time will tell.
Coastal Carolina (0-0-1) vs. Marshall (1-1-0) – Saturday 1 p.m. – Marshall opened the season with an impressive 6-1 win over a good James Madison team and looked to be on their way to a win over Virginia Tech when they jumped out to a 2-0 lead at halftime. However the wheels uncharacteristically came off the bus during the second stanza and Virginia Tech scored three goals to upset the Herd. The contest was an early season wake up call for Marshall in terms of the need to put in a full 90 minute shift.
Coastal Carolina began their first season as a member of CUSA with a 0-0 tie with Kentucky before losing to nonconference foe High Point 1-0 on the road.
Chances are pretty good that Coastal Carolina will have a difficult time containing a multi-dimensional Marshall attack powered by Vitor Dias who had three goals and two assists last week. However, the loss to Virginia Tech established that the Herd is vulnerable. Coastal Carolina under Shaun Docking has a winning tradition but in the early going a usually productive Chanticleer attack has lacked punch.
Penn State (1-0-1) vs. West Virginia (2-0-0) – Friday 7 p.m. Penn State tied George Mason 1-1 in their season opener in a game that was halted at the end of 85 minutes due to lightning. Junior forward Liam Butts scored the Nitanny Lions lone goal in that contest. Penn State then topped Syracuse 3-0 behind goals from Peter Mangione, Pierre Reedy and Andrew Privett and a defense anchored in goal by junior Kris Shakes.
West Virginia under second year head coach Dan Stratford opened their season with a 2-0 win on the road over Robert Morris and then pulled off the biggest upset in the first week of play when they topped Pitt 2-1 on Monday at home. The Mountaineers did a great job of containing an explosive Pitt attack to secure the win. Junior midfielder Luke McCormick and senior forward Adam Burchell contributed the goals for West Virginia. The win over Pitt was the highest ranked opponent West Virginia had beaten since 2011.
Another electric crowd will be on hand at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium in Morgantown for what looks to be one of the more intriguing matches of the second week of play.
Virginia Tech (1-0-1) vs UCF (1-1-0) – Friday 7 p.m. – Virginia Tech opened the season with a rain-shortened 2-2 tie with Kansas City. The Hokies had a 20 to 6 advantage in shots for the evening but looked to be a team that had not yet fully settled into a rhythm of play. Virginia Tech followed that contest up with a 3-2 win over Marshall in which they showed a lot of grit by rallying from two goals down to secure a confidence and early season resume building win.
UCF appeared to be following their script from last year when they were unexpectedly thumped 4-0 by FIU in their season opener. They then rebounded to defeat North Florida 5-0 with four different players contributing a goal. The Virginia Tech and UCF match is a little hard to get a handle on.
Both teams have very capable finishers but much will hinge on which team is able to settle in and dictate the flow of the match. This one will be interesting.
Duke (2-0-0) vs. Michigan (1-1-0) – Thursday 7 p.m. – The Blue Devils opened the season with a 3-0 win over Liberty with goals from senior midfielder Conor Kelly, sophomore forward Miguel Ramirez and sophomore walk-on midfielder Luke Thomas. Duke also defeated Merrimack 4-0 with sophomore midfielder Nick Pariano contributing a goal, freshman forward Felix Barajas scoring twice, and an own goal. This is a young Duke team with a lot of sophomores in key roles. It remains to be seen just how competitive the Duke sophomores will be as a result of having a year of experience under their belts.
Michigan will enter the contest with a 1-1 tie against Detroit Mercy and a 2-1 win in overtime against Oakland. Fifth year senior midfielder Marc Ybarra is the guy who sets the pace for Michigan.
Duke has momentum. Michigan looks to have an advantage in terms of overall experience. This one could go either way.
Memphis (0-1-1) vs. Lipscomb (2-0-0) – Friday 7 p.m. – Lipscomb opened the season with an impressive showing on the west coast securing a 2-1 win over UCLA in Los Angeles and a 4-0 win over San Diego in San Diego in which four different players scored and junior Michael Sibley anchored a solid Lipscomb defense. A win over the UCLA is still noteworthy but for now at least not as much as it once was. San Diego was woodshedded 7-1 by UC Santa Barbara before facing Lipscomb. Both wins are a positive sign for Lipscomb but it is a little premature at this point to reach any conclusions just yet on how competitive Lipscomb is going to be. Nonetheless there is a lot to like about this Lipscomb team.
Memphis opened the season with a 3-2 loss to Ohio State and a 1-1 tie with Dayton. This is the third of five straight matches on the road for Memphis.
Look for Lipscomb to come out on the front foot and apply pressure from the get-go.
Xavier (2-0-0) vs. Ohio State (1-1-0) – Friday 5 p.m. – This one will take place in Bloomington at the IU Classic. Sophomore midfielder Jerome Jolly came off the bench to contribute two game-winning goals and Graduate Student Matthew Rosenberg anchored a solid Musketeer defense as Xavier opened the season at home with a 1-0 win over Eastern Illinois out of the Summit League and a 3-1 win over IUPUI out of the Horizon League.
Ohio State topped Memphis 3-2 with sophomore Laurence Wootton contributing two goals. The Buckeyes subsequently lost to UAB 2-1 in overtime with Luke Kiley contributing the lone score early in the match out of a free kick put in play by Wootton.
Both of these programs have had banner seasons at times in the the past and seek to secure wins that they can build on. The winner of this non-conference encounter will gain momentum.
Grand Canyon (2-0–0) vs. Washington (2-0-0) – Friday 7 p.m. – Washington opened the season with a 2-1 come from behind win over UC Davis with junior midfielder Dylan Teves netting the game-winning goal in overtime. The Huskies then rolled past Cal State Fullerton 4-0. Junior midfielder Lucas Meek had a one goal and three assist week.
Grand Canyon under new head coach Leonard Griffin opened the 2021 season with a 3-1 win over Illinois-Chicago. Junior transfer forward Shaun-Chris Joash, fifth-year senior midfielder Justin Rasmussen and sophomore midfielder Edgar Soto contributed the goals. The Lopes also topped CSU Bakersfield 2-1 behind two goals from fifth-year midfielder Marco Afonso.
Grand Canyon lost to Washington 2-0 in the NCAA Tournament last year. In that match both of Washington’s goals came out of set pieces and the Lopes were never really able to get their offense in gear. Both teams will likely attack which should make this an interesting contest.
Providence (2-0-0) vs. New Hampshire (2-0-0) – Friday 7 p.m. – Both teams looked good during the first week of the season. Providence scored three times in the second half to upset Fordham 3-0 with junior midfielder Luis Garcia contributing two goals. The Friars followed that up with a 6-2 win over Saint Peters during which they had a commanding 22-5 advantage in shots and six different players scored. That match marked the first time since 2011 that Providence scored six goals.
New Hampshire topped Boston University 2-0 with both of their goals coming in the final 15 minutes of regulation. The Wildcats also slipped past Colgate 1-0. Senior forward Tola Showunmi scored the game-winning goal for New Hampshire in both contests.
This one will probably be close which means that much will depend on the ability of both teams to put together two solid halves of play without costly letdowns on the defensive side of the ball.
High Point (1-1-0) vs. Virginia (1-0-0) – Thursday 7 p.m. – High Point entered the season with high expectations but was upset by Davidson 3-1 in a contest during which lapses in play on the defensive side of the ball and the inability to finish their scoring opportunities spoiled their season opener. The contest may have served as an early wake up call for the Panthers who responded with a 1-0 win over Coastal Carolina in which they upped the intensity of their play. Junior forward MD Myers contributed the game-winning goal.
Virginia slipped past Western Michigan 2-1 in a contest in which Western Michigan played a man down for most of the match due to the receipt of a red card and with nine for the majority of the second half due to a double yellow. Sophomore forward Leo Afonso converted a header for the Cavaliers and freshman forward Ank Nibogora netted the game-winning goal with three minutes remaining in regulation.
Both teams look to be a work in progress at this point. A lot will depend on which team benefited the most from the lessons learned during the first week of play.
Seton Hall (1-0-1) vs. N.C. State (2-0-0) – Friday 7 p.m. – Seton Hall opened the season with a 0-0 tie with Temple during which they were unable to finish several very good opportunities including a missed penalty kick in overtime. The Pirates rebounded to defeat Delaware 4-2 on Monday night doing a much better job of settling into a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball with four different players contributing the goals.
N.C. State is coming off a disappointing 2020 season in which they lost their first five contests and never fully recovered. The Wolfpack began the 2021 season with a 2-0 win over USC Upstate and UNC Ashville 4-0. This is a good N.C. State team but they are going to face a difficult challenge in Seton Hall. This contest will give N.C. State head coach George Kiefer a more accurate picture on just how competitive his team is.
A lot hinges on which team is able to do a better job of settling into their attack and controlling the pace of the contest. This one is likely to be a multi-goal contest.
Missouri State (2-0-0) vs. Tulsa (2-0-0) – Friday 7 p.m. – A veteran Missouri State squad opened the season with a 3-1 come from behind win over Belmont. The contest remained in doubt until Jon Koka scored in the 72nd and 73rd minutes of play to give the Bears the edge they needed to win. Missouri State followed that contest up with a 4-0 win over Rockhurst with four players contributing a goal.
Tulsa opened the season with on the road wins over Creighton 2-1 and Omaha 1-0. Sophomore forward Alex Meinhard powered the Tulsa attack netting the game winning goal in both contests. Look for the play of Missouri State forward Jon Koka and Tulsa forward Alex Meinhard to have an impact on the outcome. Both are capable of scoring in multiples.
Missouri State is the ranked team but this is a determined Tulsa side. This one belongs on the upset watch list.
George Mason (1-0-1) vs. Maryland (2-0-0) – Friday 7 p.m. – George Mason held their own to secure a 1-1 tie with highly regarded Penn State in a match that was called with five minutes remaining in regulation due to lighting. All things considered this was a good result for George Mason on the road against a ranked Penn State team. George Mason then broke into the win column with a 1-0 win at home in overtime against a good Furman team with senior defender Jakob Rylander contributing the game-winning goal.
Maryland topped Charlotte 1-0 in their season opener and got past UMBC 4-3 in their second match. The Terps were rock solid on the defensive side of the ball against Charlotte but not so much in the contest with UMBC in which they squandered a 4-1 lead but held on to win. Maryland allowed the Retrievers to score two goals in the last ten minutes of the match.
Elmar Bolowich is entering his second season as the head coach at George Mason. Bolowich engineered very successful programs as the head coach at North Carolina and Creighton. George Mason does not have the soccer profile that those programs have but there is nothing to say that Bolowich can’t create a winning program at George Mason.
A lot will depend on the ability of both sides to put together two solid halves of play on the defensive side of the ball. Maryland should prevail but this one belongs on the potential upset watch list.
James Madison (1-1-0) vs. NJIT (1-0-1) – Saturday 4 p.m. – JMU took it on the chin in a season opening 6-1 loss to Marshall during which they were unable to contain the Thundering Herd. Redshirt freshman Axel Ahlander’s blast into the back of the frame out of a free kick was the lone sign of life during the evening for James Madison. To their credit, the Dukes responded with a 2-0 win over Kansas City behind goals from redshirt sophomore midfielder Clay Obara and redshirt junior forward Luca Erhardt and a much more organized effort on the defensive side of the ball.
NJIT opened their season with a promising 4-1 win over Fairleigh Dickinson during which senior forward Rene White, the NCAA Division I active leader in goals and points, powered the offense with a two-goal and single assist evening. The Highlanders tied Rider 2-2 in their second match with Regan Watkins and White producing the goals.
The James Madison vs. NJIT contest will give both JMU head coach Paul Zazenski and NJIT head coach Fernando Barboto a good early season idea of how strong their teams are on both sides of the ball. This one could go either way with much depending on James Madison’s ability to contain NJIT fifth-year senior forwards White and Watkins.
Picture from West Virginia Athletics