There is no true frontrunner. This year the ACC has proven to be one of the most competitive leagues in collegiate men’s soccer with several teams dropping or tying games in conference play. From top to bottom, on any given day any team can walk away with a win. This has served true all season as no team was undefeated in conference play and the two top squads posted three ties apiece on the year.
With the addition of three teams in to the ACC this season, the format for the conference tournament has changed as only eight teams would qualify for the tournament. On the last night of ACC Play, eleven teams were still in the race for a conference tournament berth, but only eight extended their season and will begin tournament play on Tuesday night. The quarterfinals will be played at campus sites with the higher seeded team hosting.
The quarterfinals should prove to be just as competitive as league play. Here is an in depth look at the matchups.
No. 1 Maryland vs No. 8 Boston College
After Maryland finished ACC play in a tie for first place with Notre Dame, a tie-breaker would see the Terrapins prevail when it came to seeding purposes. Boston College got into the tournament by the skin of their teeth as several results went their way. Don’t let this fool you though, when BC and Maryland met earlier this year, the Terps snuck away with a 2-1 win.
The Terrapins boast one of, if not the best offensive threats in senior Patrick Mullins. The 2012 MAC Hermann Trophy winner has done nothing but produce for Maryland all season. The senior has scored 14 goals and has tallied six assists to date. Mullins is poised to continue his form in post season play. Not only does Maryland have Mullins, but they also have plenty of other viable options in their attack. Without his supporting staff, Mullins would not be able to produce as much as he does. Schillo Tshuma, Tsubasa Endoh, Jake Pace and Sunny Jane have all proved their attacking prowess on the field. Expect Tshuma and Endoh to start with Pace and Jane coming in off the bench to give valuable minutes. Tshuma, an athletic forward with tremendous speed, has six goals and one assist this season. Endoh, a shifty outside midfielder, sets up most of the plays from the outside and has two goals and four assists this season. Pace, who comes off the bench for the Terrapins, has five goals and one assist on the year. Jane, who has scored two goals and collected six assists, also comes off the bench and will most like play outside mid.
While Maryland is strong in their attack, their back line is susceptible to counter attacks as their back line is relatively young. This is where Boston College can try and take advantage as they have a very special player in their attack. Boston College has arguably one of the best freshmen in the nation in Zeiko Lewis. The freshman leads the team with 17 points on the strength of three goals and 11 assists. Lewis is an attacking mid who is able to float freely on the field. Look to him to give the Maryland back line fits throughout the game. The Eagles have a balanced offense as 11 players have tallied two or more goals this season.
While Boston College is potent in the attack as well, they are also susceptible in the back. With Maryland being as strong as they are up front, Boston College will find it hard to keep up with the Maryland front line.
Prediction: Maryland 3 – Boston College 1
No. 2 Notre Dame vs No. 7 Duke
Notre Dame got the short end of the tie-breaker being forced into a match with a tough Duke squad. Although Notre Dame walked away with a 3-1 win earlier this season, look for this one to be a tighter contest as Duke has improved immensely since the two squads’ first meeting back in September.
Harrison Shipp has proved to be a balanced attacker that can score goals as well as set them up. Shipp has eight goals on the year as well as seven assists. The senior has free reign in the attack, so look for him to find the best possible matchup for himself and abuse it.
Notre Dame has several other players who can add to the attack. Vince Cicciarelli has scored five goals this year and has added one assist, while Patrick Hodan and Leon Brown come off the bench and produce several scoring opportunities. Hodan has four goals and four assists on the year while Brown has four goals and three assists.
Notre Dame’s defense is a stingy one that has only allowed 11 goals on the season. Center backs Andrew O’Malley and Grant Van de Casteele are both good in the air and rarely lose a challenge.
Duke comes into the match as a team that has shown a lot of resolve throughout the season. The squad has earned five ties in the ACC including ones with Virginia, North Carolina and Wake Forest. They are also coming fresh off of a 1-0 victory over Clemson, a match that solidified their spot in the tournament. Look for them to bring that fight and energy into the match.
Duke’s Brody Huitema and Sean Davis have six goals apiece this season. Huitema adds four assists while Davis has three of his own. Look for these two to lead the Duke attack. Huitema is a player that will take a shot from anywhere on the field, and if he connects with it, these can be very dangerous.
Sebastien Ibeagha anchors Duke’s back line. The All-American center back has a strong presence on the field and rarely loses a ball in the air. He is the target on most of Duke’s set pieces, making them even more dangerous.
This will be a quality matchup with Duke looking to improve their chances at an at-large bid.
Prediction: Notre Dame 2 – Duke 1
No. 3 Wake Forest vs No. 6 Virginia
Wake Forest and Virginia will meet in what has the possibility to be the best match of the quarterfinal round. When the two teams met earlier this season, Wake Forest went ahead by three goals before Virginia started their comeback attempt, ultimately falling 3-2.
Luca Gimenez and Sean Okoli lead a Demon Deacon attack that has scored 35 goals this season with eight goals apiece. Gimenez has also added four assists while Okoli has added three of his own. Ian Harkes, son of former U.S. National Team star John Harkes, has proved to be an offensive threat in his own right with one goal and seven assists in his rookie season.
Wake’s defense is also a quality one, but their outside backs tend to venture forward into the attack and are slow to get back. Look for Virginia to take advantage of this.
Virginia’s attack is a dynamic one with many players who can produce on the offensive side of the ball. Eric Bird leads the team with six goals while Darious Madison and Riggs Lennon have five goals apiece. Freshman Jordan Allen is a dynamic player that is a proven force with two goals and five assists.
Virginia has only allowed 17 goals this season and has a quality back line, but is susceptible to lose out if it comes down to a foot race, as their defenders lack pace.
Although Wake Forest took the regular season match, Virginia is poised to make a run and surprise some teams in this tournament. Look for this one to be a high scoring game.
Prediction: Virginia 3 – Wake Forest 2
No. 4 Clemson vs No. 5 North Carolina
This match is sure to be a nail biter. Both Clemson and North Carolina fell in their final regular season matches 1-0. With both teams struggling as of late, this match will come down to who can find the will power to push ahead. Earlier this year, Clemson beat North Carolina on the road 2-1 in overtime.
Clemson started off the season hot and boasted quality wins early in the season but slowed up towards the tail end of the year. Thomas McNamara is the catalyst behind the Tigers’ success. McNamara rarely loses the ball when it is at his feet and has impeccable vision. With seven goals and seven assists this season, McNamara has proved that he can do it all.
While McNamara has proven to be Clemson’s go-to guy, the Tigers have other options that can change a game if they show up to play. Ara Amirkhanian has six goals and two assist this season and Manolo Sanchez has added five goals and two assists of his own. Sanchez is the type of player who can change a game if things go well for him. If he is turned on, look for him to utilize his speed and skill to beat defenders. If Sanchez does not bring everything he has, Clemson may have a rough day.
North Carolina does not give up many goals. Their back line is a quality one that limits chances, but they have had trouble finding the net all season. UNC did not win in the ACC until their seventh league match and most of that had to do with a lack of offensive production. Tyler Engel has scored six goals and two assists this season, just over one-third of the team’s 17 goals. If he is marked out of the game, this could prove to be a problem for North Carolina. The Tar Heel defense has only allowed 10 goals all year. Look for this to be a low scoring affair.
Prediction: Clemson 1, North Carolina 0
Bryson Jones is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.