The Road to the College Cup heats up this weekend when the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament gets underway with the right to advance to the Elite Eight at stake. College Soccer News takes a look at each contest and identifies what both teams likely have to do well in order to survive and advance.
Butler (14-4-2) vs. # 1 Wake Forest
Place – Spry Stadium – Winston Salem, North Carolina
Time – Sunday, November 26 – 5 p.m.
The Skinny – Wake Forest advanced to the Elite Eight two years ago and to the College Cup last year. This year they hope to take things one step further and secure the national championship. They have all the ingredients to accomplish that if they continue to do the things well that have worked for them all year but the one and done environment of the NCAA Tourney sometimes can cause a team to play not to lose instead of to win which is problematic. Perhaps the only team that can beat Wake Forest this year is Wake Forest. Butler is very good and could pull off the upset but to do so they will have to play their best soccer of the year on both sides of the ball.
Wake Forest will prevail if Butler is unable to contain a high octane Wake Forest attack powered by senior forward Jon Bakero (15g, 14a), Ema Twumasi (10g, 5a), Luis Argudo (8g, 6a) and Omir Fernandez (6g, 5a). The Demon Deacon attack which has scored a total of fifty-six goals has been contained in their last two contests during which they tied Virginia 0-0 and topped Columbia 1-0 when Bakero converted a penalty kick during the last minute of regulation.
Butler will prevail if they stay organized on the defensive side of the ball and keep Wake Forest from getting into a grove on the offensive side of the ball. A one goal contest favors Butler. A high scoring run and gun contest favors Wake Forest. Sophomore forward Brandon Guhl (13, 4a) and sophomore midfielders Lewis Suddick (6g, 8a) and Isaac Galliford (3g, 7a) will have to find a way to breakdown a very good Wake Forest defense and come up with the big play or two on the offensive side of the ball that Butler must have in order to have a chance of upsetting the number one seeded Demon Deacons.
X-Factors – The ability and toughness of the Butler backline of junior Joe Moulden, sophomore Alex Lehtinen, junior Kieran Geldenhuys, redshirt sophomore Braden Van Allen and junior Michael Peay and goalkeeper Eric Dick to contain the Wake Forest attack.
Coastal Carolina (14-6-1) vs. #9 Stanford (15-2-2) –
Place – Maloney Field at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium – Stanford, California
Time – Sunday, November 26, 5 p.m.
The Skinny – Coastal Carolina was a dismal 4-5-1 through the end of September but the Chanticleers gelled as a team in October and are undefeated in their last eleven games including a huge momentum and confidence building win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament over number eight seed Clemson. That upset changed the landscape of the NCAA Tournament. Had Clemson prevailed, number nine seed Stanford would be traveling to the east coast to play in the Sweet Sixteen instead of hosting a match. Two-time defending national champion Stanford dodged a bullet in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when they slipped past a determined Pacific team in a penalty kick shootout that occurred when the teams were tied at the conclusion of one-hundred and ten minutes of play.
Stanford is the stronger team from top to bottom but Coastal Carolina is an explosive side which means that they are very capable of pulling off the upset. The Chanticleers have been in their share of big games against marquee teams so don't expect them to be intimidated by Stanford.
Stanford will likely prevail if senior forwards Foster Langsdof (12g, 6a) and Corey Baird (6g, 5a) are able to put together the type of combinations that make the Cardinal attack difficult to defend. Midfielders Amir Bashti (6g, 2a) and Drew Skundrich (5g, 4a) will also need to bring their "A" game.
Coastal Carolina will likely prevail if forward Frantzdy Pierrot (10g, 4a) and midfielder Martin Melchor (7g, 3a) get into a zone on the offensive side of the ball and the Chanticleers are able to remain organized on the defensive side of the ball for a full ninety minutes plus some if necessary.
X-Factors – The Stanford defense has allowed a total of only nine goals but they are facing a Coastal Carolina offense that they are not familiar with which could cause problems. Both teams will attack so it should be an interesting and entertaining contest.
Wisconsin (12-4-5) vs. #5 Akron (17-3-1)
Place – FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field – Akron
Date – Saturday, November 25 – 4 p.m.
The Skinny – This may be the most intriguing of the Sweet Sixteen contests because it features two very good teams who match up well. It is going to be strength on strength which means the potential exists for one of the teams to pull away and take control as the contest progresses if they are able to find an advantage and exploit it. The unanswered question and the intriguing part is that it is difficult to get a handle on which team will get the upper hand in this "something has to give" matchup when strength meets strength.
Akron has the advantage in terms of NCAA Tournament experience and the fact that this one is taking place on their home turf before a very supportive fan base. Wisconsin has momentum and looks to be a team of destiny which makes them very dangerous.
Akron will likely prevail if senior forwards Stuart Holthusen (11g, 3a) and Sam Gainford (8g, 5a) are able to get into their rhythm up-top. Sophomore midfielder Nick Hinds (6g, 4a) is among several other Akron players who add punch to an attack that has produced a total of forty-seven goals to date.
Wisconsin will likeky prevail if senior midfielder Chris Mueller (9g, 18a) and senior forward Tom Barlow (10g, 5a) are able to exploit the Akron defense. Senior forward Mark Segbers (5g, 7a) and senior midfielder Mike Catalano (8g, 1a) add additional firepower to a Wisconsin attack that has scored a total of forty-one goals.
The X-Factors – Both of these teams have seniors in key roles who are determined to advance. They will set the pace for both teams. However the difference maker will be the performance of the underclassmen in the back and their ability to contend with the pressure that they will face.
Colgate (12-10-1) vs. #4 Louisville (12-2-4)
Place – Dr. Mark and Cindy Lynn Stadium – Louisville
Time – Sunday, November 26 – 5 p.m.
The Skinny – On paper this one should be all Louisville. But contests are not played on paper and who would have thought a few weeks ago that Colgate would be among the teams advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. The Raiders' magical ride down the homestretch of the season looked to be over when Michigan jumped out to a 2-0 lead last week in the second round of the NCAA Tourney but Colgate dug deep and ended up upsetting the Wolverines 3-2 to keep their season alive. Louisville has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen six times in the past eight seasons which is impressive but for the most part the Cardinals have not played to expectations in the NCAA Tournament. Louisville is no stranger to the Sweet Sixteen but Colgate is traveling in uncharted waters having never before advanced this far in the NCAA Tournament.
Louisville has the advantage in terms of overall athletic ability and big game experience. Colgate has the advantage in that they are playing their best soccer of the year. The Raiders maximize their individual talents by playing very well together as a team.
Louisville will likely prevail if they play a full ninety minutes and avoid mistakes on the defensive side of the ball. Junior midfielder Tate Schmitt and senior forward Mohamed Thiaw are excellent finishers who will likely be able to create and finish several scoring opportunities. Senior defender Tim Kubel adds big play ability and an additional dimension to the attack out of the back. Chances are pretty good that one or more of that trio will find the back of the net for Louisville.
Colgate will likely prevail if they avoid costly lapses in their play on the defensive side of the ball, match the intensity that Louisville will bring into the contest, and stick to what has worked well for them down the homestretch of the season. It has to be a total team effort for the Raiders to have the chance of upsetting the Cardinals. Senior midfielder Jared Stroud is the guy who is the catalyst and playmaker for Colgate. Look for his play in the middle third to set the pace for the Raiders. First Team All-Patriot League selection junior Aram Ouligian is a key for the Raiders on both sides of the ball.
X-Factors – Which team will put together a full ninety minutes of play. Colgate has come from two goals down to win in several key contests but the Raiders can't afford to spot Louisville a two goal lead if they want to keep their season alive. On the other hand Louisville can't take their foot off the gas against Colgate or this one could be upset city.
SMU (17-2-1) vs. #3 North Carolina (15-3-1)
Place – WakeMed Soccer Park – Cary, North Carolina
Time – Saturday, November 25 – 6 p.m.
The Skinny – Run and gun. Both teams have high powered offenses. That means the play on the defensive side of the ball will be the difference maker. In other words who can contain the other side while still finding a way to put the ball into the back of the net. The Tar Heels can score in multiples when their attack gets in gear. Senior forward Alan Winn (10g, 2a) redshirt sophomore forward Jelani Pieters (8g, 7a), sophomore midfielder Cam Lindley (7g, 11a) and senior forward Zach Wright (3g, 10a) are all playmakers. North Carolina has scored a total of forty-nine times. Sophomore forward Garrett McLaughlin (14g, 3a) and senior forward Mauro Cichero (9g, 7a) are the big guns in the SMU attack. Junior midfielder Emil Cuello (2g, 5a) senior midfielder Bryce Clark (0g, 4a), and freshman midfielder Nicky Hernandez (2g, 4a) are all gamers.
Both teams have talented and battle tested and very talented goalkeepers. Redshirt senior Michael Nelson anchors an SMU defense that has held opponents to a total of only eleven goals. Redshirt junior James Pyle who missed a large part of the season due to injury just recently returned to the pitch for the Tar Heels. UNC has allowed opponents to score a total of seventeen times.
North Carolina will likely prevail if Winn, Pieters, and Wright are able to break down the SMU defense and set the pace of the contest from the get-go. Should SMU get on the board first, the Tar Heels could be in trouble.
SMU will lekely prevail if they are able to control the middle third of the field and get the ball to the feet of McLaughlin and Cichero in the attacking third. Senior defender Jordan Cano has also factored into the Mustang attack down the home stretch.
X-Factors – You don't win seventeen games as SMU has and fifteen as North Carolina has without being very good. The team that is able to settle in and play their game from the get-go will have a huge advantage. Momentum will be huge. Look for the ability of the netminders to come up with the big saves they need to make to be a key. Both SMU's Nelson and UNC's Pyle are prime timers. However, Pyle has the disadvantage of having missed most of the season due to injury but he appears to be fully recovered and is no stranger to big games. Also the play in the middle third featuring UNC's Cam Lindey and SMU's Emil Cuello among others will be a key factor.
Fordham (14-5-2) vs. #6 Duke (13-4-1)
Place – Koskinen Stadium – Durham, North Carolina
When – Saturday, November 25 – 6 p.m.
The Skinny – Who would have thought that when these two teams faced each other back on August 27 in Durham that Fordham would be returning to Durham to tangle with Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. In that contest Duke topped Fordham 3-0 but you can throw out that score in terms of the upcoming contest as both teams now have a season of play under their belts.
Duke has had a banner season during which they had marquee wins over Georgetown and Virginia during regular season play and FIU in the second round of the NCAA Tourney. The Blue Devils retrun to the NCAA Tourney field for the first time since 2011. Fordham has earned a berth in the NCAA Tourney for three out of the past four seasons. They topped St. Francis Brooklyn 3-2 in overtime and upset number eleven seed Virginia 1-0 in Charlottesville to earn a return trip to Durham and a rematch with the Blue Devils.
Duke will likely prevail if senior forward and captain Brian White (9g, 2a) has a good day on the offensive side of the ball and the Blue Devil defense anchored by freshman netminder Will Pulisic is able to contain Janos (7g, 9a) and Jannik Loebe (7g, 4a) who are the go-to guys in the Fordham attack. However they are not the only weapons in a Fordham offense that has produced a total of thirty goals.
Fordham will likely prevail if their defense anchored by senior back Matthew Lewis who is a four-year starter and junior goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu plays with the type of intensity that they displayed in the win over Virginia and the Loebe's are able to keep the Blue Devils off balance on the defensive side of the ball.
X-Factors – Factor number one is the abilty of center back Carter Manley and the Duke backline to contain the Fordham attack. Factor number two is the ability of the Fordham backline lead by Lewis (2g, 4a) and sophomore Joergen Oland (5g, 0a) to contain the Duke offense while also adding an additional dimension to the offense.
#10 Western Michigan (17-3-1) at #7 Michigan State – (12-3-3)
Place – DeMartin Stadium – East Lansing, Michigan
When – Saturday, November 25 – 6 p.m.
The Skinny – Michigan State leads the overall series with Western Michigan 33-2-8. Who would have thought that a number ten seeded Western Michigan team would be facing a number seven seeded Michigan State team in the Sweet Sixteen. This one is special indeed. In fact, it is the only Sweet Sixteen contest that features two seeded teams. A solid Western Michigan side out of the Mid-American Conference has exceeded all expectations this year. The Broncos claimed the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament win defeating Albany 2-0 in the second round to advance to earn a rematch with Michigan State out of the Big Ten Conference. The Spartans topped Western Michigan 1-0 when the two teams faced each other in regular season play.
Junior forwards Ryan Sierakowski (8g, 3a) and DeJuan Jones (7g, 5a) have been the top goal scorers for Michigan State while Connor Corrigan (1g, 6a) leads the Spartans in assists. This is a very good but sometimes unpredictable Michigan State squad. One of the Spartans biggest strengths has been their ability to find a way to win the close contests. A big key factor in that has been a stout defense that has only allowed an opponent to score more than a single goal in two contests this year.
Michigan State will lekely prevail if they play with the intensity on the defensive side of the ball that has been their trademark this year. Goalkeeper Jimmy Hague and senior defender and captain Jimmy Fiscus are the guys who must keep things organized. In particular that means containing Western Michigan senior midfielder Brandon Bye and senior forward Jay McIntosh. The Spartans can also help their chances by doing a better job of finishing their scoring opportunities than they did when the two teams faced each other during regular season play at the WMU Soccer Complex.
Western Michigan will lekely prevail if their defense anchored by defender Zach Bock and goalkeeper Drew Shepherd can avoid any breakdowns particularly in the early going and keep Michigan State from getting into any kind of rhythm on the offensive side of the ball. Midfielder Bye will also need to have a productive contest by either finding the back of the net or contributing helpers.
X-Factors – There are several. The first is the play of Michigan State midfielder Ken Krolicki (0g, 4a) who is a workhorse and the guy who will set the pace for the Spartans. Ditto that for redshirt junior midfielder Tommy Clark (1g, 8a) who can make good things happen for Western Michigan. The ability of someone unexpected on either team to come up with a big play is also a key factor in this type contest. This Sweet Sixteen matchup between in-state teams that are very familiar with each other could go either way. The margin for error is pretty small for both teams so chances are good that the team that settles into its rhythm first, plays simple, and does not make costly mistakes on the defensive side of the ball will be the one that survives and advances.
New Hampshire (13-3-5) vs. #2 Indiana (16-0-5)
Place – Jerry Yeagley Field – Bill Armstrong Stadium – Bloomington, Indiana
Time – Saturday – November 25 – 7 p.m.
The Skinny – IU is making its thirty-first consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tourney. A spot in the NCAA Tourney is an expectation at Indiana. At Indiana seasons are judged on how far the Hoosiers advance in the NCAA Tourney. Last year Indiana was upset by Virginia Tech 2-1 in overtime in the Sweet Sixteen. That loss should keep the number two seeded Hoosiers from looking past a New Hampshire team that is making its second appearance in the NCAA Tournament after a twenty-three year absence. New Hampshire advanced to the Sweet Sixteen by topping Fairfield 3-0 and advancing past Dartmouth in a contest that was decided by a penalty kick shootout after it was scoreless at the conclusion of regulation and overtime.
Indiana has allowed a total of only four goals and posted seventeen shutouts. New Hampshire has held opponents to a total of eleven goals while recording twelve shutouts. The first team to scores will have a huge advantage. Both teams will attack but chances are pretty good that the side with the lead will begin to settle into more of a defensive mode in the later part of the second half.
Indiana will likely prevail if they take advantage of the scoring opportunities particularly out of free kicks that come their way and the Hoosier backline of Grant Lillard, Andrew Gutman, Rece Buckmaster and Timmy Mehl continues to take care of business. IU will also need freshmen goalkeeper Trey Muse, forward Mason Toye (10g, 2a) and midfielder Griffin Dorsey (3g, 6a) to continue to contribute.
New Hampshire will likely prevail if striker Robin Schmidt is able to create and finish the scoring opportunities that come his way and if the Wildcat defense anchored by graduate student goalkeeper Andrew Pesci can keep a very potent IU attack off the board.
The X-Factors – New Hampshire is traveling in unchartered waters and will have to avoid getting caught up in the atmosphere that accompanies an NCAA Tournament match in Bloomington. The X-Factor for Indiana is their ability to stay focused and take it one game at a time. The Hoosiers are undefeated but their record to date includes five ties. Ties in NCAA Tournament play are settled by a penalty kick shootout during which anything can happen.