At the halfway point of the season things are really beginning to heat up as teams across the country are just begining to get into the heart of conference play.
Coastal Carolina – The Chanticleers out of the Big South Conference are 8-2-0 overall with a 3-0-0 mark in conference play. After an early season 4-0 wood shedding from North Carolina followed by a 2-1 loss at home to Charlotte questions existed reading the toughness of the Chanticleers and they looked to be a team on wobbly legs. However, the Chanticleers answered the bell with a seven game winning streak to dispel any thoughts about their toughness. It is worth noting that the score in the loss to the Tar Heels was a little misleading since the match was scoreless through the first sixty-five minutes of play and the contest with Charlotte could have gone either way.
When you think of Coastal Carolina the first thought that usually comes to mind is offensive productivity. This is a team that annually has a ton of playmakers. This year the Chants are lead on the offensive side of the ball by Pedro Ribeiro (6g, 1a), Justin Portillo (0g, 5a), Sergio Camargo (5g, 3a), Ricky Garbanzo (4g, 1a) and Jakub Stourac (1g, 4a). However, the real story to date at Coastal Carolina is the effectiveness of the rebuilt backline that is anchored by juniors Uzo Uchenna and Shawn McLaws and has been strengthened by newcomers junior Ridge Robinson who transferred in from Drexel, sophomore Simon Laugsand who is a transfer from Marist and freshman Kai Morton.
To date Coastal Carolina has allowed a total of ten goals in ten matches. When you take into consideration the fact that six of those goals came in early matches with UNC and Charlotte the performance of the backline and the play of sophomore goalkeeper Devin Cody who is a transfer from SMU looks pretty good.
Like any team that plays in a mid-major conference, the Chanticleers must fare well against top notch non-conference opponents to gain credibility on the national scene. They have done that this year with signature on the road wins against Wake Forest out of the ACC and VCU out of the Atlantic 10 in addition to good wins over South Carolina out of the CUSA and UNC Greensboro out of the Southern Conference.
The Chants are now into Big South play where they are expected to run the table. Easier said than done but nonetheless that is the expectation. Coastal Carolina is currently ranked as the number ten team in the country by College Soccer News and number thirteen by the NSCAA. If Coastal continues to win they will likely remain near that spot in the rankings. Their lone remaining non-conference matchup with a very good and ranked Elon team on October 29 looks to be their best opportunity to secure a win that could give them traction to move further upward in the polls and to strengthen their standing in the NCAA Tourney.
Marquette – Louis Bennett's team is 7-3-1 overall with a 3-0-0 mark in Big East play. Not a bad start but not the one that many predicted this team would have. The Golden Eagles had a banner 2012 season that included sixteen wins and an appearance in the NCAA Tourney for the first time since 1997. With a solid core of returning players, a healthy C Nortey (who put nine in the back of the net in 2011) back on the pitch after sitting out the 2012 season, and the addition of a recruiting class that looks to be the best in the history of the program, many felt Marquette was on the short list of teams that were legitimate contenders for the national championship in 2013.
This is clearly a program for which the trend line is headed upward but there still remains the nagging concern that despite their talent Marquette will be a good but not necessarily great team in 2013 because they still need another year or two of seasoning.
The wait and see guys appeared to be correct when the Golden Eagles began the year with a 2-1 unexpected loss to cross town rival Milwaukee and then tied Green Bay 3-3. Marquette also has came out on the short end of the stick in a 2-0 loss to Michigan State and a 1-0 loss to Wisconsin. Their best win of the year to date may be a 1-0 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor.
The good news is that Marquette is undefeated in conference play so far with wins over Xavier, Villanova, and most recently Butler. They will welcome Creighton to Valley Fields on Saturday, October 12 in what is no doubt their most important match so far this year.
There are indications that things may be falling into place for Marquette. Nortey (6g, 2a) is beginning to come up with big plays on the offensive side of the ball and freshmen forwards Coco Navarro (2g, 5a) and Louis Bennett II (3g, 2a) are contributing to the attack. Senior midfielder and co-captain Bryan Ciesiulka is also back in the lineup after missing six games due to an injury sustained in the season opener with Milwaukee.
The jury is still out on the Golden Eagles but things are looking up for a team that many still believe is as talented as any group in the country. Time will tell.
VCU – In real estate it is all about location, location, location. In sports it can often be all about schedule, schedule, schedule. Dave Giffard's VCU Rams have played a brutal schedule to date and that has been a factor in what might be best described as a roller coaster season to date for VCU. The Rams are 4-4-1 overall and will begin Atlantic 10 play this weekend. This is a team that opened the season with a 4-0 loss in the friendly confines of Sports Backers Stadium to UAB. They also have a 1-0 loss to Coastal Carolina at home, a 2-1 loss to Wake Forest on the road and a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Virginia in Charlottesville. All very solid opponents.
On the other hand VCU topped Maryland in College Park 3-2 and they beat Akron 1-0 on the road at First Energy Stadium. This is a team that looked to be down for the count after losing three straight but then had the resilience to score two goals in the final seventeen minutes of play in their last outing to come from behind to secure a much needed 2-1 win over a good Saint Louis team.
To date VCU has scored ten goals in nine contests while allowing opponents to find the back of the net a total of thirteen times. Their top point getters to date are junior forwards Jose Manel (2g, 2a) and Kharlton Belmar (3g, 0a). This is a team that clearly can't be taken lightly and are without a doubt the best team in the country that has four losses.
This is a team that needs more offensive productivity. The potential is there but without more of an attack VCU will likely continue to fall into the category of teams that have a very small margin of error. Regardless, the win over Saint Louis was a big one for VCU. At the end of the season it may be one that Giffard looks back to as a turning point of sorts. Then again maybe not.
One thing however is for sure. The Rams will enter Atlantic 10 play a battle tested team.
UC Santa Barbara – The Gauchos are 7-4-0 with a 2-0-0 mark in Big West play. They began the season with impressive on the road wins over Northwestern and UIC but hit a snag when they were upset at home by Gonzaga 2-0. The fan base at UC Santa Barbara has been great for college soccer but the good folks at Harder Stadium are used to seeing UCSB win at home and a loss to Gonzaga was a hard pill to swallow for the Gaucho faithful. Add to that home losses to New Mexico 1-0 and Stanford 2-1 and mix in a 1-0 on the road loss to UCLA and you have a team with its back to the wall.
The Gauchos responded with a 1-0 win over non-conference foe Loyola Marymount followed by Big West Conference wins over Cal State Fullerton 3-0 and UC Riverside 2-0 to generate a little momentum and to give the folks at Harder Stadium something to get excited about.
This is a Gaucho team that has a crucial weekend of soccer in front of them with contests on the road against a red hot Cal State Northridge team on Friday and a surging UC Irvine squad on Sunday that would like nothing better than to take it to the Gauchos. Wins in those matches would be huge for Tim Vom Steeg's squad.
The good news if you are among the UC Santa Barbara faithful is that the Gauchos are playing extremely well on the defensive side of the ball of late which is often the best way for a team to get back on track. The play of freshman goalkeeper Josh McNeely and freshman midfielder Ismaila Jome (1g, 5a) in particular have been big plusses.
However for the Gauchos to fully get back on track the seniors must lead the way. Look for the play of forward Achille Campion (4g, 2a), midfielders Goffin Boyoko (4g, 1a) and Fifi Baiden (1g, 0a), and defenders Daniel Welsh, Peter Schmetz and Matt Glodack to set the pace for the Gauchos one way or another for the remainder of what still has the potential to be a very good season.