Indiana (13-4-5) at Wake Forest (16-2-2) – Both of these teams were unexpetedly one and done in the NCAA Tournament last year and both teams have some youngeer players in key roles so getting a win under their belts in their first contest in the Tourney this year was a huge hurdle to get out of the way. Number sixteen seeded IU advanced by topping Connecticut 1-0 while number one seeded Wake Forest got past Charlotte 1-0. Don't be surprised if this one is also decided by a single goal. That translates into the fact the the margin for error for both teams is slight in this contest particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Wake Forest does an excellent job under the direction of Bobby Muuss of knocking the ball around, moving off the ball, and finding and exploiting weaknesses. The Deacons have five players who have scored five or more goals to date. Midfielder Jack Harrison (8g, 13a) and forward Jon Bakero (8g, 6a) power the attack. The depth of the Wake Forest attack is reflected in the fact that others have stepped up to replace the offense that the Deacons lost due to the knee injury that has kept highly productive senior forward Michael Gamble (6g, 2a) out of the lineup.
Perhaps even more important and the difference maker for the Deacons is the improvement over last year on the defensive side of the ball. Wake Forest has held opponents to a total of only eleven goals to date with a backline anchored by sophomore Kris Reeves, juniors Thomas Haws and Hunter Bandy and freshman Sam Raben. Redshirt junior Alec Ferrrell has been solid in goal with a 0.62 goals against average.
Indiana is led on the offensive side of the ball by senior forward Femi Janzen-Hollinger (8g, 5a), junior midfielder Tanner Thompson (3g, 9a) who was the Big Ten Midfielder of the Year and Grant Lillard (4g, 5a) who adds an additional dimension from the back. However, the Hoosiers do not have the "back in the day" big ticket dominant goal scorer up top that they used to have. Credit head coach Todd Yeagley who was one of those guys himself as a collegiate player at IU with doing a great job of adjusting the Hoosiers style of play to fit his personnel.
No program in the country has a better soccer tradition than Indiana but Wake Forest also has a banner soccer history. Players go to both schools in order to play in big games in the NCAA Tourney. Earning a berth in the NCAA Tourney is an expectation not a destination for the Hoosiers who are making their twenty-ninth straight appearance as well as for the Demon Deacons who are making their thirteenth appearance in the past fourteen seasons which means that the seasons of both programs are ultmately measured by how far they advance in the Tourney.
A victory in this one and a spot in the Elite Eight will be huge for the team that walks off the pitch in Winston-Salem the winner. The outcome of this one is up in the air but what is not is that fact that there will be a ton of talent on the field on both sides of the ball and it will be intense. Fasten your seatbelts. Neither coach is going to have a problem getting his team fired up. A game like this on this stage is what it is all about.
Ohio State (13-6-3) at Stanford (15-2-2) – The number nine seeded Buckeyes out of the Big Ten Conference travel to Stanford, California to take on the number eight seeded Cardinal out of the Pac-12 Conference at 8 p.m. E.T. on Sunday at Cagan Stadium. The Buckeyes who have a blue collar work ethic began the seaon with a 1-4 record but they rebounded to win twelve out of their last fifteen contests. Ohio State had a nine match winning streak in place before being defeated 2-0 by Maryland in the championship match of the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes earned the right to take the plane flight west to tangle with Stanford by sliding past Dayton 1-1 in a penatly kick shootout after the two teams were tied 1-1 at the conclusion of 110 minutes of play.
Ohio State is a talented and tenacious senior driven team led by the likes of senior attacking midfielder Kyle Culbertson (6g, 5a) and senior Zach Mason who is a rock solid four year starter at the holding midfielder position. Culbertson is a pace setter and old school player who holds himself and his teammates to a high standard. Mason is an unselfish player who puts team first and is also a pace setter. Add in senior netminder Chris Froschaver who is a transfer from Dayton and senior center back Liam Doyle who were the 2015 Big Ten Goalkeeper and Defender of the Year respectively and you have the necleus of an experienced team that is going to give it 110 per cent.
Junior Danny Jensen (6g, 6a) adds punch to the Ohio State offense up-top. Juniors Tyler Kidwell and Austin Bergstrom and sophomore Hunter Robertson join Doyle to form a very formidable back line but they are going to have their work cut out for them against a Stanford team that has a very potent attack.
Freshman Amir Bashti scored twice to lead number eight seeded Stanford to a 3-1 come from behind win over a game Santa Clara team to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. It took the Cardinal attack a while to get going but once they did they were very impressive. It was an important hurdle for the Cardinal to get over due to the fact that when a number six seed last year they were upset 1-0 in overtime by U.C. Irvine at home and had a much earlier than expected exit from the Tournament.
This is the best team from top to bottom that Jeremy Gunn has put on the pitch in the four seasons that he has been at Stanford. Their offense has produced a total of thirty-four goals and they have held their opponents to a total on only thirteen goals. Their two losses are an early seaon 1-0 loss to UCSB on the road and a 2-1 loss to Washington in Seattle.
Stanford's tenacity on the defensive side of the ball is reflected in the fact that only twice, a 2-2 tie with UCLA and the loss to Washington, have they allowed an opponent to score more than a single goal. Senior back Brandon Vincent (5g, 1a) who was the Pac-12 Defender of the Year, sophomore back Thomas Hillard-Arce, and junior goalkeeper Andrew Epstein who has a 0.67 goals against average are part of a very solid Stanford defense.
Junior forward Jordan Morris (8g, 3a) and sophomore forward Foster Langsdorf (6g, 2a) are formidable pair up-top for the Cardinal. Redshirt senior Eric Verso (1g, 11a), senior Ty Thompson (0g, 3a) and sophomore Carey Baird (2g, 9a) are part of what may be the best midfield in the country.
The Big Ten plays a more physical brand of soccer than the Pac-12. At times that style of play has appeared to throw Stanford off their game. If the Cardinal hope to make any kind of deep run in the Tourney they are going to have to get past that. Look for the effectiveness of both teams out of set pieces to have an impact on who wins. Also the Buckeyes will have to keep Stanford from dominating the run of play. If they can't and the Cardinal get their attack in gear the Buckeyes will be in trouble. The contrast in styles make this contest one of the more interesting third round games.
Creighton (18-3-0) at North Carolina (15-1-3) – This one is interesting because it features the by-line of the return to Chapel Hill of former twenty-three year North Carolina head coach Elmar Bolowich who has been the head coach at Creighton for the past five years to face the North Carolina Tarheels now coached by his former assistant coach of nine seasons Carlos Somoano who has had a very productive five years as the UNC head coach. The contest will get underway at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday night at Fetzer Field..
Number twelve seeded Creighton advanced to the Sweet Sixteen via a convincing 5-1 win over Drake. Under Bolowich's direction Creighton has advanced to the Elite Eight four times in the past five seasons and played their way into the Final Four in 2011 and 2012. The Bluejays offense which has netted a total of fifty goals to date is led by highly productive junior forward Fabian Herbers (15g, 15a) and by senior midfielder Timo Pitter (9g, 4a). The Creighton defense which has held opponents to a total of only sixteen goals is led by senior back Vincent Keller and senior goalkeeper Connor Sparrow who has a 0.76 goals against average.
Number five seeded North Carolina topped Coastal Carolina 2-1 to earn the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The Tar Heel attack is led by forwards Tucker Hume (11h, 5a), Alan Winn (6g, 4a) and Zach Wright (5g, 5a). Omar Holness and Raby George are part of a Tar Heel midfield that could prove to be the difference maker in this contest. The only loss that the Tar Heels have sustained this year was a 1-0 loss to Wake Forest. The Tar Heel defense that has allowed a total of fourteen goals is lead by backs Jonathan Campbell, Colton Storm, and Jordan McCrary. Redshirt freshman James Pyle has been solid in goal for UNC.
Both Creighton and North Carolina are capable of winning it all this year. This is a match-up that seems more fitting for the Elite Eight or College Cup and not the Sweet Sixteen. Can the Tar Heel attack keep Herbers and Pitter in check? Can Creighton contain Hume, Winn, and Wright? The margin for error in this one is slight but you can expect both teams to attack and attack some more. This one could go either way.
SMU (15-2-4) at Akron (16-3-2) – Unseeded SMU out of the American Athletic Conference defeated Utah Valley 2-0 and number thirteen seeded Denver 1-0 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The Mustangs have had a banner season under first year head coach Kevin Hudson. Hudson, who had a solid career as a player at SMU and was part of the 2003 SMU team that advanced to the College Cup, appears to be a perfect fit to get the program back in gear.
The Mustangs are led on the offensive side of the ball by sophomore forward Mauro Cichero (10g, 9a). The Mustang midfield of John Lujano, Caleb Smith, Brenden Lee (6g, 4a) and Stanton Garcia (6g, 2a) has great touch on the ball, is quick, and can run with anyone. Goalkeeeper Michael Nelson who has been outstanding between the pipes for two seasons and sophomore back Jordan Cano anchor a bend but don't break SMU defense.
Number four seeded Akron advanced to the Sweet Sixteen with a resounding 6-1 win over Rutgers. Akron has big ticket wins over Georgetown, Maryland, UC Santa Barbara, and Penn State. The Zips have a high octane and multi-dimensional attack led by Richie Laryea (11g, 6a), Sam Gainford (8g, 7a), Victor Souto (7g, 3a), Stuart Holthusen (7g, 5a) and Adam Najem (9g, 10a). Backs Andrew Sounders and Brad Ruhaak and senior goalkeeper Jake Fenalson anchor an Akron defense that SMU will test.
The big question in this one is whether or not the SMU defense can contain a very diverse and explosive Akron offense.
Boston College (11-7-1) at Georgetown (16-2-2) – Boston College is one of two non-seeded teams to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The Eagles defeated Vermont 1-0 in the first round and upset fourteen seeded South Florida 2-1 in overtime to earn the right to take on number three seed Georgetown on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Shaw Field in Washington D.C.
With a week to rest their legs and time to prepare, the Eagles out of the Atlantic Coast Conference will seek to put an end to Georgetown's seventeen game unbeaten streak and fourteen match winning streak. While Boston College is clearly the underdog in this one they do enter it with impressive wins over Boston University 3-2, SMU 4-2, Connecticut 3-1, Virginia 2-1 and Syracuse 2-1.
Boston College freshman forward Simon Enstrom (9g, 3a) who has five game-winning goals including the game-winners in the NCAA Tourney victories over Vermont and South Florida is a very capable finisher. Ditto that for junior midfielder Zeiko Lewis (5g, 8a). Midfielder Trevor Davock has also contriubtued five goals and five assists. Sophomore center back Len Zeugner and senior goalkeeper Alex Kapp will anchor a Boston College defense that faces the tough challenge of containing a multi-dimensional Georgetown attack.
Georgetown entered the 2015 campaign on everyones short list of teams that were likely to advance to the Final Four. However, it appeared there might be a chemistry problem when they began the season with a 0-2-1 record that included a tie on the road with FGCU, a 2-0 loss to South Florida on the road, and a 1-0 loss at home to Akron.
Head coach Brian Weise appeared to face the decision of whether to make changes and if so what changes to get his team back on track. At the time Wiese stated, "The schedule we have put together is merciles and if you don't get it just right, you lose." Instead of making drastic changes Wiese tweaked a few things and indicated that his team needed to get their rhythm back on what they were doing when they had the ball. The Hoyas got into the win column with a 3-1 victory over UCLA to improve to 1-2-1. After that contest Wiese stated, "This is maybe the most taltented team I've had and we're off to the worst start I've ever had, so how do you justify that?" The moral of the story might be that Wiese didn't panic. Instead, he continued to believe in the ability of his players to turn things around and they did just that.
Brandon Allen (12g, 7a), Alex Muyl (6g, 10a), and Arun Basuljevic (6g, 4a) power a very potent Hoyas attack. Cole Seiler, Joshua Yaro, Kegan Rosenberry, and Josh Turnley are members of what may be the most effective backline in college soccer this year. The play in goal was the biggest question mark for Georgetown entering the season due to the loss of four year starter Tomas Gomez, Freshman JT Marcinkowski who has nine shutouts to date has been outstanding between the pipes for Georgetown resolving that question.
Georgetown was the National Runner-Up in 2012 when they lost 1-0 to Indiana in the championship game. In 2013 the Hoyas were defeated 1-0 in the Sweet Sixteen by Michigan State. Last year their season ended in the Elite Eight when they fell victim to Virginia in a contest that was decided by penalty kicks. This is the bottom line. The only team that is likely to beat Georgetown this year is Georgetown by getting away from the things that they do well. At this point in the 2015 season the Hoyas likely understand that when it is all said and done the legacy that this team and the individuals on it will leave will be determined by whether or not the team wins the National Championship. The key word in that sentence is team.
Boston College has played well this year particularly when they are able to get on the board first but they have not been very effective at coming from behind this year. If both teams play to their potential Georgetown will prevail. But should the Hoyas not bring their A game and should Ed Kelly's team get a little momentum going then this one could be close.
Seattle (18-3-1) at Syracuse (14-5-3) – Number eleven seeded Seattle comes into this one off a 1-0 win over UCLA in a gut check kind of contest for a team that has roared into prominence on the national scene under the direction of head coach Pete Fewing who has previously won national championships at Seattle at the NAIA and Division II levels and now seeks to replicate that at the Division I level. When Fewing returned to Seattle in 2012 he indicated his goals were to win conference championships and to be competitve in the NCAA Tourney. So far he is ahead of schedule and may need to up his goals since Seattle has won two out of the last three WAC championships and won at least one game in the NCAA Tournament in two out of the last three seasons.
The Redhawks are clearly a dangerous team to face as reflected in the fact that they have eighteen wins and only three losses. It is noteworthy that two of the three losses came in their first four games of the year. Seattle is for real. They have had a very competitive dance card and their resume includes wins over the likes of Dartmouth, Washington, Oregon State, Utah Valley in addition to the victory over the Bruins. The Redhawks have played well on both sides of the ball as relected in the fact that they have produced a total of forty-eight goals while allowing opponents a total of only sixteen. What is particularly interesting is that they have allowed a total of only sixteen goals while recording only four shutouts. Only three times this year have they allowed an opponent to score more than a single goal and in two of the three times in which they did they still prevailed. In other words the Redhawks have consistently played solid team defense with few lapses in play on the defensive side of the ball. In order to continue to win they will need to contiue to do that.
Sophomore forward David Olsen (15g, 1a) and senior Hamza Haddadi (10g, 2a) are the go-to guys but not the only capable finishers in the Seattle offense. Junior defender Kyle Bjornethun (4g, 0a) and redshirt senior goalkeeper Shane Haworth play key roles on the defensive side of the ball. Although Fewing's Redhawks on are on a larger stage with perhaps a larger audience this is clearly not Fewing's first rodeo. You can count on Fewing having the Redhawks prepared when this contest gets underway at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
A good case could be make that Syracuse is currently playing as well as anyone in the country. They advanced past North Carolina, topped Clemson 2-0 and beat Notre Dame 1-0 in contests on the road to win the ACC Tournament and then defeated a good Dartmouth team 2-1 at home to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Ian McIntyre and his staff have done a great job this year. This is a team that entered the season with more than the average number of key gaps to fill. The Orange have steadily improved and are clearly playing their best soccer of the year at the right time of the year. One of the reasons for the success that they have enjoyed this year is the fact that McIntyre now has a solid base in place upon which he can build despite departures. This is a program in which the players now understand what is expected and believe they can win every game they play.
Junior foward Ben Polk (11g, 4a) who transferred in from Herkimer Community College has proven to be just what the doctor ordered on the offensive side of the ball for Syracuse. Sophomore midfielder Julian Buescher (8g, 10a) is also a tough player to contain and a huge contributor to the Orange attack. Junior Chris Nanco (4g, 3a) is another very skilled and quick forward who adds yet another look to a very formiable Syracuse attack. It is worth noteing that Syracuse has also shown a lot of balance this year with a total of forty-two goals to date and a defense that has held opponents to a total of twenty-one goals.
The bottom line is that the Seattle and Syracuse match-up is one of the more intriging contests in the Sweet Sixteen. Seattle is a very good soccer team and will give the Orange a little different look than they have faced all year. Syracuse on the other hand is a very hot team and a sizeable number of the Orange Nation should be on hand to support their team which is always an additional boost. This one is up for grabs.
Maryland (11-5-5) at Notre Dame (11-4-6) – This one will take place in South Bend on Sunday at 2 p.m. These two teams battled to a scoreless tie when they met back on August 28 in their 2015 season opener.
Number ten seeded Maryland won the Big Ten Tournament by topping Michigan 5-2, advancing past Indiana in penalty kicks, and defeating Ohio State 2-0. The Terps then got past Defending National Champion Virginia 1-0 with freshman forward Eryk Williamson netting the game-winner to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
It's always wise to fear a Sasho Cirovski coached Maryland team this time of the year. The Terps have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen eighteen times in the last twenty-two years, won the National Championship no less than eight times since the 2008 season, and were crowded National Champions in 2005 and 2008. However this is a relatively young Maryland team with midfielders Mael Corboz (2g, 10a) and Tsubasa Endoh (5g, 6a) the only seniors along with graduate student Cody Albrecht who is a first year Terp transfer from St. John's that were in the starting lineup when Maryland faced Virginia last week. This is a very competitive team but more likely than not the Terps are a year away from being a vintage Maryland team.
The Terps are led up-top by freshmen forwards Eryk Williamson (5g,5a) and Sebastian Elney (7g, 2a). Freshman Amar Sejdic joins Corboz, Endoh, and Albrecht in the midfield. Juniors Chris Odoi-Atsem, Alex Crognale, Ivan Magalhaes, and Suli Dainkeh are part of a solid Maryland backline along with redshirt junior Cody Niedermeier in goal who has a gaa of 0.79. Look for defense to play a key role in how far the Terps advance this year. The issue at Maryland at times this year has been offensive productivity. The emergence of Williamson in that regard over the past few games has been a big plus and perhaps a difference maker for the Terps.
Bobby Clark's number seven seeded Irish defeated Virginia 1-0 and Wake Forest 1-0 to advance to the championship game of the ACC Tournament where they were upset at home 1-0 by Syracuse 1-0. Notre Dame then advanced past Tulsa in penatly kicks after the two teams were tied at 1-1 at the conclusion of 110 minutes of play.
The Irish have big ticket wins this year over Indiana, Clemson, Virginia and Wake Forest. On a given day they can beat anyone in the country but when they are not clicking and in rhythmn they can sputter. This is a team that beats you by putting together combinations. The good news is that they are persistent on the offensive side of the ball and that persistence often leads to a goal. Notre Dame is led up-top by sophomore forwards Jon Gallagher (9g, 3a) and Jeffrey Farina (3g, 5a).
The Irish are at their best when their midfield consisting of seniors Patrick Hodan (3g, 6a), Evan Panken (2g, 8a), and Connor Klekota (2g, 1a) and junior Oliver Harris (0g, 1a) are able to generate the combinations and movement that give the guys up top the opportunity to get the ball at their feet with space to work in the attacking third.
Graduate student Max Lachowecki and junior Brandon Aubrey anchor the backline along with senior Michael Shipp, sophomore Patrick Berneski and junior Matt Habrowski. Junior Chris Hubbard has been rock solid in goal for Notre Dame with a 0.76 goals against average to date.
This contest is not likely to be high scoring. The play out of set pieces could be the difference in this one. Whoever is able to get in gear, maintain their composure, and control the rhythm of the game will prevail. This is a great matchup featuring two premier programs and two head coaches that are great ambassadors for the game of college soccer.
UC Santa Barbara (14-6-2) at Clemson (16-2-2) – The number fifteen seeded Gauchos under the leadership of veteran head coach Tim Vom Steeg returned to the NCAA Tourney this year after a rare non-appearance last year. They advanced past South Carolina 1-0 in overtime at home to earn the right to face the number two seeded Clemson Tigers under the direction of Mike Noonan.
The fact that UCSB has often found a way to win the close ones this year and that their defense led by centerbacks senior Brandon Brockway and sophomore Fuad Adeniy has been playing very well of late is a big plus. UCSB junior foward Nick DePuy is a prime timer as reflected in the fact that he has fifteen goals including eight game-winners to date. Freshman forward Geoffrey Acheampong is a playmaker who adds yet another dimension to the Gaucho offense.
UCSB has big ticket wins this year over Stanford and UCLA and a tie with highly regarded Denver so they clearly are capable of pulling off the upset. On the other hand the fact that they have to travel cross country to play in one of the toughest venues in the country against a veteran Clemson team makes it an uphill but not impossible task. Syracuse in fact did that just a couple of weeks ago when they topped the Tigers 2-0 at Historic Riggs Field in the ACC Tourney and halted Clemson's win streak at nine games.
A more favorable interpretation of the loss to Syracuse, from a Clemson standpoint, would be that it served as a wake up call for the Tigers. The fact that the Tigers rebounded from that contest with an impressive 5-2 win over a good Elon team in which four different players found the back of the net adds credence to that theory.
Senior forwards T.J. Casner and Kyle Murply, holding midfielder Paul Clowes, defender Kyle Fisher, and redshirt junior goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell are among the talented and determined veterans on a Clemson team that has played as well as anyone in the country this year. The Tigers have steadily improved since Noonan assumed the reigns of the program and they look to be a team on a mission to win it all not just in football under Dabo Swinney but in soccer under Noonan and that bodes well for them.
The key question may be whether UCSB can contain a very multi-dimensional Clemson offense. If the Clemson attack gets in gear they are very capable of scoring in multiples. On the other hand if the Gaucho defense can hold and DePuy is able to get the ball at his feet often with room to work in the attacking third then this one could come down to the wire. It should be a dandy.