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A Shining Season. These Men’s College Soccer Teams Took Their Programs To A Higher Level.

It was a season to remember For These schools who accomplished something special in 2020-2021.

Marshall – No program in the country enhanced their standing more than Marshall. The Thundering Herd was coming off a breakthrough 2019 season during which they won the CUSA title and secured the programs first ever berth in the NCAA Tournament. Expectations were raised and all believed that even better days were ahead. However, it is unlikely that anyone thought that the Herd would follow up the 2019 season with a history making national championship 2020 season.

To say that Marshall had a banner season is an understatement. The Herd forever raised the standard of excellence at Marshall by settling into a style of play and team-oriented mindset that maximized their ability to come up with the big play needed to prevail. This was not a Marshall team that dominated their opponents. The Herd was talented for sure with several productive finishers but they were not a high scoring team. Thirteen of their eighteen matches were one goal contests. Marshall concluded the month of March with a 1-1 tie with Old Dominion and a 6-2-2 record. They followed that up with 1-0 wins in CUSA contests over FAU and UAB and concluded regular season play with an impressive 2-0 win over Charlotte to claim back-to-back CUSA titles.

This was a team that was comfortable with what they did well, played to their strengths, and took it one game at a time. Marshall improved as the season progressed developing a level of confidence and team identity along the way that maximized their effectiveness, created a winning culture, and enabled the Herd to play their best soccer of the year at the right time.  

The Herd seemed to thrive in the survive and advance environment of the NCAA Tournament. They opened the tournament by topping Fordham 2-1 in overtime. When Marshall head coach Chris Grassie indicated his team was right where they needed to be and was on track to win it all it seemed like wishful thinking. But those who counted the most, his players, believed. They advanced past number one seed Clemson in penalty kicks after the contest was tied 1-1, slipped past Georgetown 1-0 and North Carolina 1-0 to advance to the national final where they topped yet another traditional powerhouse Indiana 1-0 in overtime.  

There were times along the road to the national championship that it seemed like the clock was about to strike twelve on Marshall’s magical and remarkable season but it never happened.  This Marshall team made what previously seemed an unattainable goal at Marshall attainable.

Pittsburgh – The number of program firsts still to be attained at Pittsburgh continued to shrink in 2020. The Panthers were easy prey in the highly competitive ACC when Jay Vidovich became the ringmaster at Pitt in 2016. The Panthers lacked the talent, depth, consistency and the mental toughness needed to prevail.

Things began to change in 2017 when Pitt secured the program’s first win in ACC play since joining the conference in 2013. In 2018 they earned their first ever win in the ACC Tournament. In 2019 the Panthers took a huge step forward when they returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 1965 and claimed the program’s first ever win in NCAA Tourney play.

In 2020 they took the biggest step to date raising the standard of excellence yet again with a 16-4-0 overall record and 9-1-0 mark in conference play. The Panthers advanced to the ACC Tournament final for the first time, secured back-to-back berths in the NCAA Tournament for the first time, earned a number one ranking for the first time, and advanced to the College Cup for the first time in program history.

It didn’t occur overnight but Vidovich turned things around much faster than anyone thought possible. The Panthers are no longer easy prey. They are now the hunter instead of the hunted.

Seton Hall – When Andreas Lindberg was named the Seton Hall head coach in December 2017 it was hoped that he would be able to replicate the success that he had as the head coach at Division II LIU-Post at Seton Hall.

LIndberg faced an uphill battle at a program that had become a fixture in the basement of the Big East Standings. Seton Hall had not earned a spot in the Big East Tournament since 2012 and their last double digit win season and invite to the NCAA Tourney was back in 2005.

There were indications that progress was being made during the 2018 and 2019 seasons but the jury remained out on whether or not Lindberg could turn things around. That question was answered in the affirmative during the spring of 2021 during Lindberg’s third season at the helm of the program when everything came together on both sides of the ball for the Pirates.

Seton Hall emerged as a force in the Big East and on the national scene with a 10-2-4 overall record and 5-1-2 mark in regular season conference play. The Pirates topped Marquette 4-1 and upset Georgetown 2-1 to claim the Big East Tournament Championship for the first time since 1991. They returned to the NCAA Tournament field with a number six seed and advanced past Air Force and Virginia Tech to reach the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tourney for the first time since 1988 where their historic season came to an end.

It was an impressive breakthrough season that bodes well for the continued success and stability of the program.

Bowling Green – The Falcons entered the season determined and hungry to build on a very productive 2019 season during which they they advanced to the MAC Championship contest but were denied a berth in the NCAA Tournament when they were edged 1-0 by West Virginia.

Mission accomplished. The Falcons took things a step further in the spring when they topped Northern Illinois 2-1 in overtime to clinch the MAC title outright for the first time since 1996 and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time and the first time since 1997.

The Falcons finished the year as the number 30 team in the country in the final College Soccer News National Poll and were ranked third in the United Soccer Coaches North Region poll behind Indiana and Penn State.

Head coach Eric Nichols, associate head coach Sean Teepen, assistant coach Nate Kopunek and volunteer assistant coach Tom Wrobel were honored as the United Soccer Coaches North Region Staff of the Year. Six Bowling Green players were named to the All-MAC team including first team members center back Achille Robin, midfielder Chris Sullivan who led the Falcons in goals and assists and defender Jacob Erlandson. Robin and Sullivan were also named to the the All-North Region Second Team.

It was a special season for a BGSU team that stayed the course, showed a ton of resilience, and earned all that they accomplished.

St. Francis College Brooklyn – Head coach Tom Giovatto pretty much summed up why this was a special season for the Terriers when he stated, “Their effort all year was incredible, and their fight to win was just unbelievable.” He added, “They never give up and play till the last second.”

This was a team that allowed a total of only seven goals while recording a 6-1-3 overall record and 5-1-1 mark in Northeast Conference play. St. Francis’ only loss during the spring season was a 2-1 loss in double overtime to Merrimack in their season opener.

The Terriers won the NEC regular season and tournament titles for the first time since 2017. In the tournament championship match they advanced past long-time rival LIU 6-5 in penalty kicks after the contest was scoreless at the conclusion of 110 minutes of play. During the shootout St. Francis netminder Callum James came up big when he converted his pk and made three consecutive stops.

The Terriers punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the 10th time and the first time since 2017. They topped Milwaukee 2-1 in overtime in the first round to secure the programs first NCAA Tournament win since 1978. It was also the first time since 2012 that a men’s soccer team from the NEC advanced to the second round. St. Francis then gave Indiana all they could handle in the second round before coming out on the short end of a penalty kick shootout after the contest was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation and extra time.

Giovatto and his staff of assistant coaches Andy Cormack and Jason Orban where named the the United Soccer Coaches Northeast Region Staff of the Year. Senior forward Nicholas Molina was named the NEC Player of the Year, junior defender Harald Sollund was named the NEC Defensive Player of the Year and sophomore Callum James was honored as the NEC Goalkeeper of the Year.

This is a program that has won the NEC title five times in the last eight years and three times out of the last five but this group took things a step further.

Loyola Marymount University – The Lions topped St. Mary’s 3-1 on the road scoring twice in the final two minutes of the match to clinch their third West Coast Conference title and their first since 2013. It was a big win over a St. Mary’s team that won the WCC title in 2018 and 2019 and had not lost at home since November 2015. It was also a milestone 200th career victory for LMU head coach Paul Krumpe.

The Lions secured a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. LMU entered the NCAA Tournament hoping to secure their first win in NCAA Tournament play since 2004 but that didn’t happen when they came out on the short end of a penalty kick shootout with Marquette after the contest was scoreless at the end of 110 minutes of play.

Krumpe and his staff were named the West Region Staff of the Year by the United Soccer Coaches. Sophomore midfielder Noel Caliskan was named the WCC Offensive Player of the Year, senior defender Gerardo Lopez was named the WCC Defender of the Year and redshirt sophomore Jacob Jackson who anchored a tenacious Lion defense that allowed a total of only two goals was honored as the WCC Goalkeeper of the Year.

The Lions were ranked as the number 15 team in the nation in College Soccer News’ Season Ending Poll and as the number 17 team in the country in the final United Soccer Coaches Poll. The early exit from the NCAA Tournament didn’t diminish the fact that LMU had a banner 6-0-3 season that provides a solid building block for continued success.

Marquette – This was a Golden Eagle team that under the guidance of Louis Bennett found a way to win the close contests that had eluded them at times in the past. The grit of this team was reflected in the fact they won a program best six contests in overtime. Eight of their eleven contests required overtime.

Marquette won the Big East Midwest Division with a 5-1-1 record in conference play. They were awarded an at-large berth and returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 2013. Marquette subsequently advanced past LMU in a contest that was decided by a penalty kick shootout to earn a spot in the Sweet Sixteen for the second time in program history. Their season season came to an end in the Sweet Sixteen when they were topped by number three seed Indiana 2-1.

Junior forward Lukas Sunesson who powered Marquette’s attack with six goals and two assists was named an All-American by the United Soccer Coaches and by College Soccer News. Sunesson became the first ever player from Marquette to receive All-America honors. Forward Beto Soto was named the Big East Freshman of the Year and was a First Team All-Freshman selection by College Soccer News.

The Golden Eagles completed what by all measures was a highly successful season with an 8-3-2 overall record. It was a step forward and huge momentum building season for the Golden Eagles.

UNCG – The Spartans won the regular season Southern Conference title in 2019 under first year head coach Chris Rich. UNCG entered the spring season with three goals: win the Southern Conference season title, win the conference tournament and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Two out of three is not bad. The Spartans were 3-1-2 in conference play during the spring season to finish regular season play in the number two spot behind Furman. They subsequently topped ETSU 2-1 and Belmont 1-0 to win the conference tournament to secure goal two and a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 to accomplish goal three.

The Spartans entered the NCAA Tournament with a ton of momentum but dug themselves into a hole when they allowed Omaha to take a two goal lead. UNCG looked like they might pull out another come from behind win when they scored twice to knot the score at 2-2 but Omaha decided otherwise when they netted what proved to be the game-winning goal in the 87th minute of the match.

It was a heartbreaking end for the Spartans but nonetheless a banner building block season for a young UNCG team that remains a work in progress with a lot of underclassmen in key roles.

Sophomore forward Mani Austmann, freshman forward Theo Collomb and freshman defender Emmanuel Hagen were named to the All-South Region Third Team by the United Soccer Coaches. Collomb and Hagen along with , junior midfielder Fernando Garcia were All-Southern Conference First Team selections. Collomb also earned a spot on the College Soccer News All-Freshman Team.

The Spartans finished the season ranked in the Top 30 in the College Soccer News season ending poll with a 9-3-2 record.

Omaha – The Mavericks season looked to be over when they finished in the number two spot behind Denver in Summit League play. However the Mavericks were given new life when Denver was unable to participate in the NCAA Tournament due to Covid-19 protocols.

Bob Warming’s Omaha team didn’t squander the opportunity. They topped UNCG 3-2 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to claim the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament win. Their season then came to an end in the second round when they where topped 1-0 in overtime by number four seed Stanford.

The Mavericks finished the season with a 7-3-1 record and number 29 ranking in College Soccer News season ending poll. Warming summed up the significance and the benefit of the experience for Omaha when he stated, “We are excited to take this momentum and positive attitude into the fall.”

American – This Eagle team made a statement when they topped Loyola Maryland 3-2 and previously undefeated Lafayette 2-1 on the road to win the Patriot League Tournament for the first time since 2004 and punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 2004.

American then advanced past Jacksonville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in a contest that was decided by penalty kicks after the score was tied 3-3 at the conclusion of regulation and overtime. The Eagles then put a scare into number one seed Clemson in the second round when they took a 1-0 lead into halftime before falling 2-1 to the Tigers.

Junior forward David Coly was named to the All-Atlantic Region Second Team after ending the season on a six-game goal scoring streak. American under second year head coach Zach Samol took a step forward with a 4-2-3 record and impressive season ending run that created a solid foundation upon which to build.

Picture from Seton Hall Athletics

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