The 2017 college soccer season gets underway this weekend at venues across the country with a lot of interesting non-conference matchups on tap.
#1 – Stanford travels to face San Jose State on Friday. The Cardinal took a while to gel as a team last year due to the key gaps they had to fill. That should not be the case this year with almost everyone back. Look for Stanford led by seniors Foster Langsdorf, Corey Baird, Drew Skundrich and Tomas Hillard-Acre to hit the ground running.
#2 – Wake Forest has a big opening weekend of play on tap. The Demon Deacons host Rutgers out of the Big Ten on Friday and Providence out of the Big East Sunday. Wake Forest returns a solid group of talented players but they also have several big shoes to fill due to graduation. As a result it make take the 2017 Demon Deacons a little while to establish their own identity. That means the potential exist for the Deacons to stumble in the early going.
#3 – Maryland will open the season on Friday night when they travel west to face Santa Clara and then return home to host Hofstra on Monday.. Cross country trips early in the season are challenging so the Terps may have a difficult time in Santa Clara and they will have little time to adjust to the trip back to the east coast before taking the pitch to face Hofstra. However chances are pretty good that a tenacious Maryland attack led by Gordon Wild, Sebastian Elney, D.J. Reeves, Jake Rozhansky, Amar Sejdic and Eryk Williamson should rule in both contests.
#4 – Denver hosts FGCU on Friday and Akron on Monday. The Pioneers have been among the winningest programs in the nation the past two seasons. However, they could get off on the wrong foot in 2017 since they will tangle with with two opponents that have have very high powered and often explosive attacks.
#5 – North Carolina hosts Providence in a contest that will take place in Elon, North Carolina on Friday. The Tar Heels host Rutgers on Sunday in Cary, North Carolina since Fetzer Field is undergoing renovations this year. The Tar Heels look to have one of the most multi-dimensional and balanced attacks in the country in 2017 which should give UNC the edge they need to pick up two season opening wins. However, Providence has a little offensive firepower of their own so the potential for an upset exists in that contest.
#6 – Clemson will welcome Cal State Fullerton out of the Big West Conference to Historic Riggs Field on Friday and Radford out of the Big South Conference under the direction of first year head coach Bryheem Hancock on Sunday. The Tigers will be without three of their top four goal scorers from last year but they remain extremely solid down the spine and their attack should be just fine with senior forward Diego Campos leading the way. Look for the Tiger sophomores who now have a year of playing experiece under their belts to make an impact.
#7 – Louisville hosts UC Irvine at Dr. Mark and Cindy Lynn Stadium on Friday and Butler out of the Big East Conference on Monday. Senior forward Mohamed Thiaw and junior forward Tate Schmitt will be hard to contain. The Cardinals should top UC Irvine but Butler is capable of pulling off the upset.
#8 – Virginia Tech travels to Omaha to tangle with Creighton on Friday and Omaha on Sunday in what should be two very challenging season opening on the road games. The Hokies are coming off a breakthrough season with nine starters returning and an attack that will feature senior forward Marcelo Acuna. The Hokies will have to be on top of their game to avoid opening the season with two losses.
#9 – Providence travels south to tangle with North Carolina on Friday and Wake Forest on Sunday. Redshirt senior Mac Steeves returns to the pitch to provide additional muscle to the Friar offense after missing the 2016 season due to injury. Providence should win a lot of games this year but with two extremely difficult season opening opponents they may have to wait until September 1 to get into the win column.
#10 – Virginia will welcome Villanova to Charlottesville on Friday. The Cavaliers will no doubt be very talented in 2017 on both sides of the ball but the unaswered question is how well they will be able to merge their individual talent into a unified team. Junior transfers back Prosper Figbee and forward Cameron Harr are prime timers with the potential to add a lot of value.
#11 – Indiana travels to South Bend to take on Cal Poly on Friday and San Diego on Sunday in the annual Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament. The Hoosiers enter the season without three of their top four goal scorers and a degree of uncertainty regarding who will power the attack in 2017. The void could be filled by one or two of IU's highly regarded recruits. The Indiana backline looks to be very solid but there will be a new face between the pipes. If they play to their potential the Hoosiers should secure two wins this weekend.
#12 – Syracuse travels to face Saint Louis on Friday and SIUE on Sunday. Two potentially very difficult season opening contests for a Syracuse team that is in reloading mode and will likely experience a learning curve before they hit their stride. Back Kamal Miller and goalkeeper Hendrik Hilpert will need to add stability and organiazation to the defense in the early going.
#13 – Washington will host New Mexico on Friday and Loyola Marymount on Sunday. New Mexico is doing some reloading on the offensive side of the ball but should match up well with the Huskies in what looks to be an exciting no prisioners taken season opening contest. Washington will likely lean heavily on sophomore midfielder Handwalla Bwana and redshirt junior Kyle Coffee for offense productivity in a contest that could go either way. Redshirt senior Connor Johnson will anchor the defense for an experienced Loyola Marymount side that should be very competitive. .
#14 – Creighton will welcome Virginia Tech to Morrison Stadium on Friday and Grand Canyon on Sunday. The Bluejays success in these opening contests may hinge on their ability to contain Virginia Tech forward Marcelo Acuna and Grand Canyon forward Niki Jackson. Both are very capable of scoring in multiples. On the other hand, Virginia Tech and Grand Canyon may have a difficult time halting Creighton senior forward Ricky Lopez-Espin.
#15 – FCCU travels to face highly regarded Denver on Friday and a gutsy Air Force team on Sunday. A season opening win over Denver would be a big resume builder for FGCU and a great opening win for new head coach Jesse Cormier. FGCU will again have a high powered attack but they will also need to avoid letdowns on the defensive side of the ball in order to top Denver. Air Force looked very good at times last year so FGCU can't afford to take their fooot off the gas in that one on both sides of the ball.
#16 – Charlotte hosts Winthrop on Saturday night. The 49ers will be without several key players due to graduation so it will be interesting to see how well they adjust. Winthrop should be competitive with eight starters returning including redshirt senior forward Max Hasenstab from thier 2016 squad that was 5-10-1.
#17 – Notre Dame hosts San Diego on Friday and Cal Poly on Sunday in the Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament. Look for All-American forward Jon Gallagher (14g, 7a) and teammate Jeffrey Farina to power the Irish attack and for the experience sophomore midfielders Tommy McCabe and Jack Casey gained last year to serve them and the Irish well.
#18 – Akron travels to tangle with Utah Valley in Orem, Utah on Friday and then takes on Denver on Monday. The Zips begin the 2017 season with contests against two very difficult opponents. Seniors Stuart Holthusen and Sam Gainford will likely have a say in the outcome of both games.
#19 – Albany takes to the road to square off with Marist in Poughkeepsie on Friday and hosts Rhode Island on Monday. The Great Danes return eight players from the historic 2016 team that won the America East Tournament and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tourney. Senior Afonso Pinheiro, Albany's all-time leader in points, and junior NIco Solabarrieta combine to give the Great Danes a formidable scoring duo up-top. Carlos Clark adds punch to the attack in the midfield.
#20 – Butler will seek to get the 2017 season off on the right foot when they host UIC on Friday followed by a trip to Louisville on Monday and a contest with the Louisville Cardinals. The Bulldogs led by sophomores Lewis Suddick and Isaac Galliford and junior Jared Timmer should prevail over UIC but they will have to bring their "A" game to have a shot at topping Louisville.
#21 – SIUE begins the season with two very competitive contests when they host Michigan State out of the Big Ten on Friday and Syracuse out of the Atlantic Coast Conference on Sunday. Senior goalkeeper Kyle Dal Santo will likely have a busy evening in both contests. Wins in these matches would be huge momentum and resume builders for SIUE.
#22 – Loyola Chicago travels to Cincinnati to tangle with Xavier on Friday. The Ramblers are coming off a banner season but Xavier is hungry to get back on track after being AWOL from the NCAA Tourney last year so this one should be a dandy.
#23 – Michigan State travels to Saint Louis to face SIUE on Friday and Saint Louis on Sunday. The Spartans return nine starters including what looks to be a potent offense led by junior forward Ryan Sierakowski. Redshirt junior Jimmy Hague and senior defender Brad Centala anchor what should be a very good Spartan defense.
#24 – Portland entertains UNLV on Friday and hosts Fairfield on Sunday. The Pilots will seek to build on a very productive 2016 season but they will have to do so without the services of midfielder Eddie Sanchez who has graduated. Sophomore forward Benji Michel will power the Pilot attack. UNLV led by forward Danny Musovski could pose problems for Portland.
#25 – Wisconsin heads west to tangle with Tulsa on Friday and Oral Roberts on Sunday. Wisconsin opens the season on the road with the opportunity to pick up a couple of nice wins but to do so will take a total team effort. The Badger attack features senior forwards Chris Mueller and Tom Barlow. Senior midfielders Mike Catalano and Mark Segbers are competitors who will have an impact on the outcome of both contests.
#26 New Mexico travels to face old foe Washington on Friday and then will tangle with a determined Seattle team on Sunday. The Lobos will be competitive but some new faces will have to step forward to replace the offensive punch that departed the building with Niko Hansen and Chris Wehan.
#27 – Coastal Carolina travels to square off with George Mason on Friday and a Georgetown team on Monday that seeks to rebound and get back on track after not being in the NCAA Tourney field last year. Coastal Carolina hopes to add more punch to its offense with the additional of junior transfer Yazeed Matthews who was the 2016 NJCAA National Player of the Year at Tyler Junior College.
#28 – UMass Lowell will open the 2017 season in New Britain, Connecticut on Friday where they will rumble with Central Connecticut. The River Hawks have some key gaps to plug but a solid core returns so look for them to continue to improve as the season progresses. Ivan Abramovic should power the attack and goalkeeper Austin Kroll will anchor the UMass Lowell defense.
#29 – Connecticut will welcome Iona to Joseph J. Marrone Stadium on Friday followed by Quinnipiac on Monday. Junior forward Abdou Mbacke Thiam returns to power the UConn attack. Connecticut should prevail but it would be a mistake to take either Iona or Quinnipiac lightly.
#30 – Pacific travels to face Sacramento State on Friday and hosts CSU Bakersfield on Sunday. The Tigers face the challenge of replacing the offensive firepower that Julio Cervantes provided as they seek to build on a breakout and banner 2016 season. Wins in these opeing round contests would be a momemtum builder. Nine starters including senior forward Tristan Blackmon are slated to return which bodes well for continued success for the Tigers.