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A Look At Some Very Challenging Early Season Contests

It is time to take care of business. The 2019 college soccer season will get underway this weekend with several NCAA Tournament caliber matchups slated from coast to coast.  

#1 Wake Forest hosts #18 UCF on Friday, August 30.  Plenty of offensive firepower will be on display in this one. The Demon Deacons, ranked in the number one spot in College Soccer News’ Preseason Poll, have a tough season opener. Their defense anchored by senior netminder Andreu Cases Mundet will be tested by a UCF attack powered by Cal Jennings (20g, 5a).  Wake Forest has an impressive contingent of goal scorers of their own led by Bruno Lapa (10g, 9a) which should give the Deacons the edge as the game progresses but Wake Forest could be in trouble if they are unable to contain UCF’s offense.

#2 Kentucky travels to face #15 Louisville on Tuesday September 3. No prisioners will be taken in this one. Kentucky, ranked number two in the College Soccer News Preseason Poll, made their presence known last year when they dominated Louisville 3-0 in an early season contest. This in-state rivalry is a tough matchup for both teams. The winner will gain bragging rights and a resume building win. It will be interesting to see how Kentucky fares without the punch that JJ Williams brought to the attack last year and how Louisville fares without Ken Lolla at the helm of the program.  

#3 Akron travels to Cincinnati to face Xavier on Friday, August 30 then returns home to host #5 Stanford at First Energy Stadium on Monday, September 2.  Xavier under Andy Fleming tends to rise to the occasion in contests like this so put the Akron vs. Xavier contest on the upset alert list. The big question is whether or not Xavier's defense can contain Akron's attack.  Stanford returns a veteran group that should be very solid on both sides of the ball but questions remain in regard to offensive productivity. Akron has started slowly in the past and tends to be vulnerable in the early going.  A slow start in 2019 could equate to two losses for the Zips.

#4 Maryland faces #13 Virginia on Monday, September 2, at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. in a rivalry match that goes back to when both teams were members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Defense could rule in this one as both teams could have trouble settling into a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball. Virginia played solid team defense last year but their productivity on the offensive side of the ball was problematic. Sophomore forwards Daryl Dike (5g, 1a) and Cabrel Happi Kamseu (5g, 1a) could prove to be difference makers in the Cavalier attack in 2019. Maryland has some big shoes to fill due to departures and the recent injury incurred by senior forward Paul Bin was a blow to the Terp offense. Sophomore forward William James Herve looks to be the key to Maryland’s offensive productivity and could give the Terps the edge they need to prevail but Maryland could be in trouble if Virginia gets on the board first and is able to control the tempo of the contest. These two teams battled to a 0-0 tie when they faced each other last year.  The 2019 contest could be decided by a single goal.

#5 Stanford travels to University Park to tangle with Penn State on Friday, August 30 before traveling to #3 Akron to tangle with the Zips on Monday, September 2.  It is tough to open on the road and Stanford is among those teams that tends to start slowly and improve as the season progresses. If they look past Penn State an upset is possible. Last year the Cardinal began the season with a 0-0 tie at home with San Jose State followed by a 0-0 tie with Maryland and a 1-1 tie with Georgetown on the road. It is a big plus that Stanford heads into the 2019 campaign with an experienced group that includes nine starters so chances are pretty good that they will not experience the learning curve on the offensive side of the ball that they did last year. Stanford forward Ousseni Bouda is among several highly regarded members of the recruiting class who could immediately add an additional dimension to the offense.

#6 Saint Mary’s College hosts #27 UC Irvine on Friday, August 30. Will there be an encore? The Gaels will not sneak up on anyone in 2019 after a program best 18-0-2 season last year. In fact, they will enter the 2019 campaign with a big target on their chests. With just about everyone back, it will be interesting to see how well Saint Mary's performs in 2019. UC Irvine under Yossi Raz begins the season with a lot of momentum but also with several big voids to fill due to departures. Saint Mary’s looks to be tough on both sides of the ball with an explosive attack powered by forwards Jake Rudel and Anders Engebretsen and a rock-solid defense anchored by netminder Remi Prieur. Midfielder Jose Ortiz (8g, 3a) will be at the heart of UC Irvine’s offense. Saint Mary’s experience should enable them to prevail over a UC Irvine team that will improve as the system progresses and they gel as a team. A UC Irvine win would be a huge momentum builder and statement for the Anteaters. A Saint Mary’s loss would be a huge disappointment for the Gaels.  

#7 North Carolina hosts Creighton on Friday, August 30. The Tar Heels will play their first regular season contest at newly renovated Fetzer Field after playing their home games elsewhere for the past two seasons.  Creighton will play their first game under head coach Johnny Torres. The Tar Heels look to be in good shape on the offensive side of the ball with Giovanni Montesdeoca (8g, 4a), Jalani Pieters and Mauricio Pineda among those providing offensive firepower. However, UNC does have some reloading to do on the defensive side.  Offensive productivity is a potential area of concern for the Blue Jays whose big play ability was suspect at times last year. Creighton took a hit on the defensive side of the ball when back Julius Fohs, a three-year starter, sustained an injury that will sideline him for the 2019 season.  Creighton’s sophomore netminder Paul Kruse will likely be a busy man in this contest. UNC should prevail unless they experience growing pains on the defensive side of the ball.  Creighton opens the season with contests on the road against UNC and Wake Forest and a match at home with #3 Akron.  The Torres era could easy begin with three consecutive losses.

#8 Duke hosts Furman on Friday, August 30. This could be the strongest Duke team from top to bottom, other than the ones he played on back in the day, that John Kerr has been associated with. The talent is there on both sides of the ball with seniors Daniel Proch and Brandon Williamson and junior netminder Will Pulisic among the keys to Duke's success in 2019. The unanswered question in Durham pertains to Duke's ability to consistently come up with the big plays needed to prevail as the season progresses. Furman led by senior midfielder Emery May who tallied nine goals last year and redshirt junior netminder Ben Hale who was the 2018 Southern Conference Goalkeeper of the Year will be a good season opening test for Duke.    

#9 Indiana entertains Pittsburgh out of the ACC on Friday, August 30 and UCLA on Sunday, September 1. The Hoosiers will have a lot of new faces in he starting lineup in 2019. Indiana's ceiling in 2019 will be determined by the ability of the returning players to assume greater roles and the ability of several members of a highly regarded recruiting class to make an immediate contribution.  Pitt has steadily improved under head coach Jay Vidovich and should not be taken lightly. Junior forward Edward Kizza, a 2018 All-ACC First Team selection who found the back of the net fifteen times last year, is a very dangerous finisher. UCLA, once considered the flagship team of the west coast, has experienced a lot of controversy over the past few months. The Bruins under the direction of new head coach Ryan Jorden will rebound but when and how high remains to be seen. UCLA looks to be in rebuilding mode in 2019 with a lot of unanswered questions on both sides of the ball.   

#10 Michigan State hosts SIUE on Friday, August 30. The Spartans return a good nucleus from the 2018 team that secured a program best fourteen wins and advanced to the College Cup.  Senior midfielder Giuseppe Barone (3g, 10a) is the catalyst on the offensive side of the ball while redshirt junior back Patrick Nielsen anchors the defense. Questions remain in regard to who will fill the huge void that exists in the Spartan attack due to the departure of Ryan Sierakowski and DeJuan Jones. SIUE out of the Mid-American Conference is under the direction of new head Cale Wassermann who served as an assistant coach at Michigan State for the past four seasons.  SIUE will be competitive but chances are pretty good that Michigan State will spoil Wasserman's homecoming.  

#11 James Madison travels (weather permitting) to face FAU in Boca Raton on Friday, August 30 and FIU in Miami on Sunday, September 1. Can JMU build on the success they enjoyed last year? James Madison seemed to play their best last year when they were the underdog.  That will not be the case against FAU and FIU. The Dukes are now the hunted and not the hunter. On paper, James Madison led by senior midfielder Manuel Ferriol (9g, 5a) and junior goalkeeper TJ Bush should top both FAU and FIU but opening on the road could hamper their ability to get into a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball. If they play to their potential, James Madison should leave south Florida with two wins. If not, they are vulnerable particularly against an FIU team on Sunday that is very hungry to get back on track after a disappointing 2018 campaign in which they underachieved.  

#12 Georgetown hosts Syracuse on Friday,  August 30.  This one will likely hinge on the ability of the Syracuse defense led by backs junior Sondre Norheim and senior John-Austin Ricks among others to contain what looks to be a very explosive Georgetown offense powered by senior Achara and junior Derek Dodson.  Senior forwards Massimo Ferrin and Severin Soerlie and sophomore midfielder Ryan Raposo are among the key ingredients in Syracuse's offense. Georgetown should hit the ground running while Syracuse may need a few games under their belt in order to fully jell as a team.   

#13 Virginia will welcome Pacific out of the West Coast Conference to Klockner Stadium on Friday, August 30 before facing Maryland on Monday, September 2 at Audi Field in Washington.  Offensive productivity is the key unanswered question at Virginia.  Look for the degree of the bump in the level of play of the current sophomores to be the key in regard to improvement on the offensive side of the ball.  Adam Reeves takes over the reins of the program at Pacific for Ryan Jordan who left to accept the head coaching job at UCLA. Pacific has made great strides forward since reinstating the men's soccer program in 2014. Senior Jonathan Jimenez (8g, 5a) looks to be the main man in Pacific's attack in 2019. Defense will rule in this one. 

#14 Notre Dame travels to Hermann Stadium to tangle with Saint Louis on Saturday, August 31. Questions exist in regard to who will power the Irish attack in 2019. Finding the right balance between the level of play on the defensive side of the ball and the level of play on the offensive side of the ball looks to be a critical success factor in Notre Dame's ability to increase their win total in 2019. The Irish traveled to England for a ten day foreign tour over the spring break. Such trips almost always generate momentum heading into the regular season.  Saint Louis was 6-4-7 in 2018 in Kevin Kalish's first year at the helm of the program.  Sophomore transfer forward Simon Becher and sophomore midfielder John Klein are among the Billikens who will seek to break down the Irish defense.  Whoever scores first will have a big advantage in this one. The potential for an upset exists in this one if Saint Louis can breakdown the Irish defense.   

#15 Louisville hosts Cleveland State on Friday, August 30 before hosting #2 Kentucky on Tuesday, September 3. The Cardinal had an impressive spring season which is a positive sign as they embark on the John Michael Hayden era. The Louisville defense anchored by netminder Jake Gelnovatch looks to be very good. The key voids that need to be addressed due to graduation are on the offensive side of the ball. Transfer forward Emil Elveroth could prove to be just what the doctor ordered. The Cleveland State match should prove to be a good tune up for the battle with Kentucky.  

#16 Michigan hosts FGCU on Friday, August 30. Both teams have accomplished goal scorers. Michigan's offense powered by senior Jack Hallahan, juniors Umar Farouk Osman and Mohammed Zakyi and transfer Nebojsa Popovic has the potential to be very prolific. Senior forward  Shak Adams (8g, 8a) and sophomore O'Vonte Mullings give FGCU a lot of firepower.  This one is going to come down to which team is able to settle into a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball and avoid costly letdowns on the defensive end.  

#17 Denver travels to face #28 Washington on Friday, August 30 and Seattle on Monday, September 2. Their gauntlet of tough competition continues after that with games on the road against #9 Indiana, #14 Notre Dame, #5 Stanford and California.  The ability of transfers Preston Judd, Danny Barlow, and Josh Drack to help fill the void that exists due to the graduation of forward Andre Shinyashiki (28g, 4a) looks to be among the factors that will determine Denver's ceiling in 2019. Keep an eye on Denver as the season progresses.  

#18 UCF travels to face #1 Wake Forest on Friday, August 30 and then squares off with #7 North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Sunday, September 1. The Knights are talented but their margin for error in both of these games will be small. Look for the ability of midfielders Louis Perez (3g, 5a and Yoni Sorokin (4g, 5a) and forward Hattabiou Barry (3g, 4a) to supplement the attack to be a critical success factor.  Both Wake Forest and UNC will test UCF's backline and goalkeeper Yannik Oetti. 

#19 Virginia Tech ventures to the west coast to tangle with Loyola Marymount on Friday, August 30 and UC Santa Barbara on Sunday, September 1. The Hokies return a solid contingent from the 2018 team that won eleven games. Forward Kristo Strickler (10g, 4a) looks to be the key to Virginia Tech's attack while goalkeeper Mathijs Swaneveld will anchor the defense.  The experience of traveling cross country to play usually helps prepare a team for the rigors they may face later in the year but it could prove to be hazardous to Virginia Tech's win-loss record in the early going.  UCSB led by Rodney Michael and Noah Billingsley will be a very difficult opponent if they are able to get into a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball.

#20 West Virginia travels to face Monmouth on Friday, August 30 and Delaware on Monday, September 3. The Mountaineers will seek to build on the success they had last year but they will have to do it without the playmaking ability of All-American midfielder Joey Piatczyc who was the catalyst last year.  The good news is that a lot of experienced talent returns on both sides of the ball supplemented by a recruiting class that has several players who should contribute immediatey.  However, West Virginia can't afford to look past anyone.