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Time To Pick Up The Pace - College Soccer Coast To Coast

 

Fasten your seatbelts as this is the time of the season when the pace, what's at stake, and the level of intensity begins to increase in college soccer coast to coast. The college soccer season can be divided into three distinct segments. Regular season play, conference tournament time, and the NCAA Tournament. Everyone is involded in the first segment but the number of teams that earn the right to continue to particpate begins to shrink in segments two and three until the field narrows to the Final Four and subsequently only one team, the National Champion, remains standing. . 

The UCLA Bruins are headed toward their thirty-second consecutive invite to the NCAA Tournament.  However, at Westwood earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament is the norm and expected.  The real measure of success at UCLA is how far the Bruins advance in the NCAA Tournament and ultimately whether or not they advance to the College Cup. With the likes of midfielders Leo Stolz and Grady Howe, defenders Michael Amick and Aaron Simmons, and goalkeeper Earl Edwards on the pitch the Bruins are as solid up the spine as anyone in the country.  Their highly regarded recruiting class that includes forwards Larry Ndjock, Seyi Adekoya and Christina Chavez and defender Chase Gasper has also lived up to expectations. The issue at UCLA is never a lack of talent. The Bruins always have as much of it as anyone in the country.  The question at UCLA is the extent to which the Bruins are able to mold their individual talents into a unified team and their ability to remain focused and avoid the lapses in intensity that are fatal when it comes to the survive and advance criteria that accompanies the NCAA Tournament. This team has Final Four talent but if remains to be seen whether or not they can maintain the level of intensity needed to make a deep run in the NCAA Tourney this year. The Bruins were well positioned to solidify their spot as the number one team in the country going into last weeked when they hosted Stanford and California in regular season Pac-12 play. But they lost a little momentum and standing when they tied Stanford 2-2 and were topped 1-0 by California. They will close our regular season play when they host San Diego State on Sunday, November 16. Last year the number one seeded Bruins were eliminated in the third round of the NCAA Tournament when they were upset at home by Connecticut in penalty kicks after jumping out to a 2-0 lead.  The Bruins will no doubt be highly motivated to not experience a similar fate in the 2014 NCAA tournament.

Put the New Mexico Lobos in the category of teams that need to regain momentum  After advancing the College Cup last year the Lobos have suddenly found themselves in jeopardy of earning an invite to go dancing this year.  New Mexico has uncharacteristically lost three of their last four contests including a shocking 2-1 loss at home to Marshall to drop to 10-5-1 overall with a 3-4-0 mark in CUSA play.  In the contest with Marshall, the  Lobos had a 31 to 7 advantage in shots and a staggering 15 to 0 advantage in corner kicks but the bottom line was that Marshall took advantage of the scoring opportunities that came their way while New Mexico didn't.  The Lobos have dug themselves into a hole and are currently tied with South Carolina for the number six spot in conference play.  New Mexico will host the Gamecocks on Friday, November 7 in a game that both teams need to win. 

The Creighton Bluejays continue to take care of business. After a disappointing 1-0 home loss at home to Georgetown in the friendly confines of Morrison Stadium on October 25, Creighton has bounced back to secure a 2-0 win at home over Marquette and a 2-1 win over a pesky DePaul squad on the road at Wish Field in Chicago to improve to 13-2-2 overall with a  6-1-1 mark in Big East play.  The Bluejays will host a solid Providence team that is under the direction of third year head coach Craig Steward on Friday, November 7. The Friars pretty much flew under the radar on the national scene until they topped Georgetown 2-0 in Washington on October 15.  Providence has been solid on both sides of the ball with an attack lead by sophomore forward Mac Steeves and a defense anchored by redshirt senior netminder Keasel Broome. The Friars, who will arrive in Omaha with a 10-3-2 overall record and a 5-1-2 mark in Big East play, will seek to get back in the win column after an unexpected 2-0 loss to Butler on Sunday. The outcome of the Creighton and Providence contest will determine who wins the regular season Big East title and impact seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

The winner of the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season title will not be determined until the final week of play.  Stetson was in the driver's seat but a heartbreaking 1-0 Hatter loss to Northern Kentucky on the road on Saturday and a 2-1 Lipscomb win over Florida Gulf Coast University means that all three of those programs can now claim the regular season title.  Stetson under the direction of first year head coach Ernie Yarborough, who served as an assistant coach at Indiana for five seasons immediately prior to coming to Stetson, has finished regular season play with a 4-2-0 mark in league play.  Junior forward Lucas Diniz (5g, 9a), senior defender J.J. Bostic  (7g, 1a), redshirt junior midfielder Eli Beates (5g, 1a) and freshman Jared Huber (5g, 1a) have lead a multi-dimensional Stetson attack to date.  Lipscomb and FGCU are both 3-1-1. On Saturday, November 8, Lipscomb will travel to face Jacksonville and FGCU will host USC Upstate. The outcome of those two matches will determine which of the three teams earns the number one seed in the upcoming six team Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament.  Lipscomb controls their own destiny as a win over Jacksonville will give them the title but if they tie or lose and FGCU defeats SC Upstate then FGCU would earn the number one spot.  If both Lipscomb and FGCU lose or if both tie then Stetson would claim the regular season title and perhaps even more important the right to host the conference tournament.  Stetson, Lipscomb, FGCU, North Florida, and USC Upstate have all punched their tickets to the conference tourney.  Either Northern Kentucky or Jacksonville will claim the sixth spot.  The stakes are high since the winner of the conference tournament earns an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament

Marquette has not left the pitch with a win in their last six contests having gone 0-3-3 during that span.  Granted that includes ties with highly regarded Georgetown and Providence and a 1-0 loss to Xavier and a 2-0 loss on the road to Creighton.  However it also includes a 1-0 loss to Butler and a 1-1 tie with Villanova which were contests that Marquette was expected to win. The Golden Eagles are now 7-5-4 overall with a 1-3-4 mark in Big East Conference action which places them in the number six spot in the conference standings with a regular season ending contest with DePaul remaining on their dance card for Friday, November 7. The top six teams in the conference earn a berth into the Big East Conference Tournament. Last year St. John's didn't earn a spot in the Big East Tournament and was still awarded an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.  A loss to DePaul at home, while unlikely, could be disastrous for a Marquette team that currently has an RPI of 46.    

Coastal Carolina has been the team to beat in the Big South Conference and Radford did just that last Saturday to improve to 11-3-2 with a perfect 8-0-0 mark in conference play.  The Highlanders secured at least a share of the Big South regular season title for the first time since the 1998 season.   Radford will close out regular season play when they host Winthrop on Wednesday, November 5.  The loss to Radford dropped Coastal Carolina to 11-5-0 overall with a 6-1-0 record in Big South play.  The top eight teams in the ten member Big South earn the right to participate in the Conference tournament.  The Big South Conference tournament should be a dandy with Radford, Coastal Carolina, High Point and Winthrop among the teams in this conference that are very capable of getting hot and winning it and the league's automatic berth into the NCAA Tourney.   

Who would have thought that the CUSA regular season title would come down to the outcome of the final regular season contest of the year between the Charlotte 49ers and the Kentucky Wildcats which will be played in Lexington on Friday, November 7.  The  49ers who are ranked as the number four team in the country by College Soccer News will come into the contest with a 13-2-1 overall record and a 5-1-1 mark in conference play.  Charlotte is among the most balanced teams in the country with a work rate that is second to none.  Kyle Parker and Brandt Bronico lead a balanced 49er attack that has produced a total of 37 goals to date.  Goalkeeper Austin Peck and defenders Biko Bradnock-Brennan, Luke Waechter, Nick Barnhorst, and Matej Dekovic  are part of a very solid Charlotte defense that has allowed a total of only 13 goals to date.  Kentucky, a team that used to get overlooked when it came time to select the NCAA Tourney field, will enter the match with a 10-3-4 overall record and a 5-0-2 mark in conference play. The Wildcats, who are ranked by College Soccer News as the number 14 team in the country, are for real with signature wins over Notre Dame, Xavier, UAB and New Mexico.  They are lead on the offensive side of the ball by senior forward Justin Laird but a defense that has allowed on ten goals to date has been their strong suit this year.  Goalkeeper Callum Irving and backs Charlie Reymann,  Jordan Wilson, Kaelon Fox and Matt Quick have recorded a total of ten shutouts and can hold their own with any team in the country.  This one could go either way and will likely be decided by a one goal margin.     

Don't overlook the accomplishments of the Quinnipiac Bobcats who are unbeaten in their last eleven contests to improve to 9-4-4 overall.  The Bobcats have secured the regular season MAAC title with a 6-0-3 mark to date in league play.  Senior forward Machel Baker (10g, 2a) powers the attack while senior goalkeeper Borja Angoitia, who is a four year starter, anchors the defense.  The Bobcats will conclude regular season play when they travel to face Fairfield in an MAAC contest on Wednesday, November 5.  The top six teams in the MAAC earn the right to participate in the conference tournament which will begin on Sunday, November 8.  Quinnipiac, Rider, and Fairfield have already clinched a berth with the other three spots still to be determined.  Quinnipiac, which earned its first ever berth to the NCAA Tourney last year, will seek to make it two years in a row but will need to win the MAAC Tourney to do so.         

Clemson under the direction of Mike Noonan looks to be peaking as a team at the right time.  The Tigers are undefeated in their past six games during which time they have won five and tied one.   They have resume building wins to date over Providence, Wake Forest, Virginia and Coastal Carolina.  Clemson will host Wake Forest in a tough quarterfinal match in the ACC Tournament on Sunday, November 9.  The Tigers will enter that contest with a 10-6-1 overall record and a 5-2-1 mark in ACC play.  While the Tigers with an RPI of 12 look to have clinched an NCAA Tourney berth, a win over Wake Forest in the ACC Tourney would certainly solidify their standing.    

Perhaps no team entered the 2014 season with more unanswered questions than Indiana.  After recording an 8-12-2 overall record in 2013, the 2014 season looked like it might be one in which opponents would have a chance to enact a little revenge on the Hoosiers. That has not proven to be the case. The days in which the Hoosiers totally dominated Big Ten play may be a thing of the past primarily because the level of competition in the conference has significantly improved from top to bottom. Nonetheless IU, which is currently ranked by College Soccer News as the number three team in the country, has had a banner season to date with a 11-2-4 overall record that includes a 3-2-2 mark in conference play. You need look no further than one key statistic to see the reason for the difference in results in 2014 than in 2013.  Last year Indiana allowed a total of thirty-eight goals. This year to date they have allowed a total of only thirteen. This team is different from some of the banner IU squads in the past in that they do not have one dominant goal scorer. Tanner Thompson (5g, 2a) and Femi Hollinger-Janzen (5g, 2a) lead a very balanced Indiana attack that has netted a total of twenty-eight goals to date. The Hoosiers will conclude regular season play when they host Michigan State on Wednesday night in a must win game as far as seeding in the Big Ten Tourney for both programs. The Spartans are also 3-2-2 in Big Ten play.  

Keep an eye on Michigan in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. The Wolverines are currently 6-7-3 overall with a 3-2-2 mark in conference play. They close out regular season play when they host Ohio State on Wednesday, November 5. Despite a less than impressive overall record to date, the Wolverines have wins over the likes of Notre Dame and Michigan State and a tie with Maryland which means on a given night they can hang with anyone. Colin McAtee (8g, 2a) has netted eight of the nineteen goals that Michigan has scored to date.     

Rider University under the direction of head coach Charlie Inverso is making a little noise of their own this year.  The Broncs are 9-6-2 overall with a 6-4-0 mark in MAAC play. The nine wins to date are the most that Rider has recored since the 2000 squad finished with a 10-10-0 record. The Broncs have rebounded from early October losses to Iona, Canisius and Quinnipiac to secure a berth in the six-team MAAC Tournent and will enter it having won five out of their last six contests. Rider features a multi-dimensional offense powered by midfielders Christian Flath (9g, 4a) and Florian Valot (7g, 4a) and forward Zach Bond (6g, 3a)    

From the get-go most felt it was just a matter of time before Ian McIntyre turned things around and made Syracuse soccer relevant in the college soccer world. However few thought Syracuse would have the level of success that they are having this year. The Orange were 14-6-1 overall in 2012 and earned an at-large berth in the NCAA Tourney field for just the second time in the history of the program. They joined the ACC in 2013 and finished with a 10-7-1 overall record. Syracuse will enter the 2014 ACC Tournament with a 14-2-1 record and a very impressive 5-2-1 mark in conference play. Emil Ekblom (7g, 3a),Chris Nanco (5g, 2a) and Nick Perea (4g, 0a) lead the Orange attack while a stellar defense lead by backs Skylar Thomas, Jordan Murrell, Tyler Hilliard and junior goalkeeper Alex Bono have held a very competitve slate of opponents to a total of only seven goals to date. The Orange have moved from being the hunter to being the hunted. Syracuse's two losses to date are to Notre Dame 1-0 and to Louisville 2-1. They have signature wins over Akron, Clemson, Virginia, Wake Forest, and Connecticut.

The Connecticut Huskies have won six out of their last seven  games to improve to  9-6-2 with a 6-1-1 mark in American Athletic Conference play.  The Huskies have rebounded from a dismal 2-5-1 overall record and a 0-1-0 mark in conference play at the end of September to secure the AAC regular season title and new life entering the AAC Tournament which will get underway on Saturday, November 8 when the Huskies square off with Temple.  Whether Connecticut's recent success is due to the lack of competition in the AAC or an improvement in their level of play or perhaps a combination of the two remains to be seen.  The Huskies have advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament for the last three years in a row. Connecticut has a ton of talent and has momentum but right now they are a team on the bubble that may need to win the ACC Tournament in order to get into the NCAA Tourney in 2014.     

California upped their stock when they upset then number one ranked UCLA 1-0 on the road to improve to 10-3-1 overall with a 4-2-1 mark in Pac-12 Conference play.  Connor Hallisey (8g, 10), Stefano Bonomo (8g, 2a), Christian Thierjung (7g, 2a) and Paul Salcedo (4g, 2a) are at the heart of a very productive Golden Bear offense.  Opportunity knocks for California who will close out regular season play with games at home against Oregon State, Washington, and Stanford. If California, which currently has a number five RPI, can hold serve and win all three of those contests their stock will continue to soar.    

UC Santa Barbara entered the season knowing that they would have to depend on a lot of young players in key roles.  The Gauchos looked to be down and out after losses to Cal State Fullerton, Loyola Marymount, and UC Davis.  However they are undefeated in their last four contests including wins over Cal Poly and UC Davis to improve to 9-6-3 with a 5-2-2 mark in Big West Conference play.  The margin for error is very slim for the Gauchos who can't afford lapses in play. UCSB will close out regular season play on Wednesday at Sacramento State and begin play in the Big West Conference Tournament on Wednesday, November 12.  The good news is that the Gauchos appear to be playing with a higher level of confidence and intensity which could bode well for them in the Big West Tournament and beyond.

Always fear the turtle. Maryland was 3-5-2 with a 1-2-1 mark in Big Ten play when they were topped by Northwestern back on October 5, 2014. With their backs to the wall the Terps under the direction of Sasho Cirovski got back on track and have won seven straight including a huge 4-0 win over Penn State and a 2-1 win over Indiana at Bloomington to up their record to 10-5-2 with a 4-2-1 mark in Big Ten play. Maryland will close out regular season play at Rutgers on Wednesday, October 5. A win in that contest will clinch the Big Ten regular season title for Maryland. Once again, fear the turtle.