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The 2016 College Soccer Season Is Heating Up As Teams Coast To Coast Continue To Gel


Creighton topped Butler 1-0 Friday night in Omaha in one of the key games of this weekend.  Riggs Lennon headed in the lone goal of the evening out of a corner kick served in by teammate Joel Rydstrand in the fourteenth minute of the contest.  The goal was the ninth of the year for Lennon who is helping the Bluejays fill the void on the offensive side of the ball that existed due to the departure of All-Americans Fabian Herbers (15g, 7a) and Timo Pitter (10g, 5a).  Creighton moves into the top spot in the Big East Conference with a 3-0-1 mark in league play and a 7-1-3 overall record. Butler drops to 3-1-0 in Big East action and is now 8-2-1 overall.  Butler has another tough contest on their dance card Monday when they host a very highly regarded Denver team that will arrive in town with a 10-0-2 overall record.


Virginia pulled off one of the surprises of the weekend when they came from behind to upset North Carolina 2-1 in Chapel Hill on Friday night to put a halt to a UNC nine-match unbeaten streak against the  Cavaliers. The Cavaliers, who are undefeated in their last four contests,  are very talented but they have been inconsistent so far this year. Sophomore forward Wesley Wade contributed the game-winner for Virginia out of a counter attack when he placed a shot into the back of the frame from twenty-three yards out.  Jeff Caldwell had seven saves in goal for a Virginia side that has momentum.  The gutsy and determined Cavaliers improve to 6-2-3 overall with a 1-2-2 mark in ACC play while the Tar Heels drop to 8-2-1 and are now 3-1-0 in ACC play.

 


Louisville continues to impress with a hard fought 1-0 victory over Syracuse on Friday night at Dr. Mark and Cindy Lynn Stadium.  Mohamed Thiaw, the College Soccer News National Player of the Week two weeks ago, scored the lone goal of the contest when he skillfully chipped a shot into the left post after creating the room he needed to do so.  Thiaw has scored nine goals so far including six game-winners. Graduate student Stefan Cleveland had six saves to notch his eight shutout of the season for a hot Louisville team that is unbeaten in eight straight games to stand at 9-1-2 overall with a 4-0-1 mark in ACC play that includes a win over number one ranked Notre Dame on September 16.  Syracuse has now lost two in a row to drop to 8-3-1 after being upset on the road by Albany 2-1 on Tuesday.  


Albany out of the America East Conference under the leadership of head coach Trevor Gorman has been on a roll of their own.  The Great Danes began the week by topping Syracuse 2-1 on Tuesday.  That win was the highest ranked team the Great Danes had ever topped at home.  They then followed that up with a 4-0 thumping of a very good Vermont team in a crucial America East Conference contest on Friday night.  Albany has a tough one coming up on Wednesday when they travel to tangle with New Hampshire in what shapes up to be another key conference contest.  The Great Dane offense appears to be gelling but the difference maker for Albany will likely be their performance on the defensive side of the ball where inconsistency and lapses in play have hurt them at times this year.   

 


Coastal Carolina began the season with a 1-4-1 overall record in their first six contests.  They then rebounded to go  3-0-1 in their last four games including a scoreless tie with highly regarded Clemson Tuesday night to improve to 4-4-1 overall.  The Chanticleers may look back to their come from behind victory over Old Dominion in which they showed a ton of grit by scoring three times in the last twelve minutes to prevail 3-2 as the turning point in their season.


Air Force has been flying under the radar on the national scene with a 8-3-0 record to date including a 2-0-0 mark in Western Athletic Conference play.  However that may change in the future if they continue to win beginning with a contest on the road against Grand Canyon University on Saturday.  The Falcons have little margin for error in any of their remaining conference contests including key resume making games coming up on their dance card with Utah Valley and Seattle University.


Notre Dame forward Jon Gallagher (10g, 4a) and defender Brandon Aubrey (7g, 1a) provide the Irish one of the strongest one-two forward-defender combinations in the country.  Gallagher scored twice and contributed an assist and Aubrey scored once in the Irish's 4-0 victory over a very good Indiana team on  Tuesday night.  The Irish will host Wake Forest on Saturday night in another challenging contest that has national implications.


Loyola University Maryland began the 2016 season with a 1-5-0 record but have since won four straight to improve to 5-5-0 including a very impressive 1-0 win over American University on the road. The Greyhounds are 3-0-0 in Patriot League play to secure their best start in conference action since the 2009 season.  Loyola, which added a 2016 recruiting class ranked by College Soccer News as the number thirteen class in the country, has another tough contest coming up on Saturday when they host Boston University in a Patriot League match.  


Florida Gulf Coast University is among the most explosive teams on the offensive side of the ball having scored a total of thirty-five goals while winning eight straight to improve to 8-2-1. This is a team that can score in multiples in a short period of time as reflected in their 4-1 win over FIU in Miami on Tuesday night in which they came from behind to score three times in a thirteen minute span to take control of the contest.  Forwards Albert Ruiz (11g, 3a) who was named the National Player of the Week last week by College Soccer and Arion Sobers-Assue (8g, 2a) have been the key point producers to date for the Eagles. The win over FIU was noteworthy in that freshman forward Shak Adams scored twice while junior midfielder Miguel Jaime and junior forward Rielee Mohsin each contributed a single goal providing evidence that the Eagles have a multi-dimensional  attack.  


Connecticut has won five straight to improve to 8-3-0 overall with a 2-0-0 mark in American Athletic Conference play.  Sophomore forward Adbou Thiam (7g, 2a) and senior midfielder Kwame Awuah (0g, 6a) power the Huskie offense while centerback Simen Olafsen and goalkeeper Scott Levene anchor a traditional solid UConn defense that has only allowed a total of seven goals to date while recording a 0.63 goals against average.  Connecticut will seek to make it six in a row when they host Cincinnati on Saturday.  Key hurdles in the near future include contests in the friendly confines of Morrone Stadium with USF in conference play and ACC foe Boston College. 


Keep an eye on South Carolina.  The Gamecocks  began the season with a 1-3-0 record that included close losses to Clemson 2-1, Mercer 3-2 (ot) and Coastal Carolina 1-0 before rebounding  to win six straight including Conference USA games against FAU on the road and Marshall in Columbia to improve to 7-3-0 with a 2-0-0 mark in CUSA play.  Whether or not South Carolina can keep on winning remains to be seen as the degree of difficulty of their opposition is about to increase beginning with a contest on the road with FIU on Monday.  The CUSA race looks to be wide open with South Carolina, Charlotte, Kentucky, and New Mexico the current frontrunners.  Whoever prevails in CUSA play will have to hold serve at home and pick up a few wins on the road.  The Gamecocks must travel to tangle with FIU, ODU and New Mexico but they will host UAB, Charlotte, and Kentucky .  The conference tournament will be played in Huntington, West Virginia.


Michigan State came from behind to top Western Michigan Wednesday night with sophomore forward Ryan Sierakowski  scoring both goals for the Spartans.  Michigan State is showing a lot of grit which is a good sign for this bunch.  The Spartans are 8-2-0 with a 3-1-0 mark in Big Ten play to date.  They have already equaled the eight win total they secured last year.  Michigan State has a tough one coming up on Sunday when they host a Wisconsin team that is 6-2-1 overall with a 3-1-0 mark in Big Ten action.  The Badgers come into this one after a 1-0 win over Marquette on Wednesday night.  Wisconsin is also looking good with more wins to date this year than the entire season last year.  Junior midfielder Mike Catalano, who was named to the College Soccer News National Team of the Week last week,  has been a key element of late in the Badger offense.  There are a lot of games left to play but this contest has the potential to be a tipping point of sorts for both the Spartans and the Badgers. 


Loyola Chicago cleared a hurdle on Tuesday night when they defeated city-rival DePaul 2-0 at Wish Field to improve to 9-1-0.  The win was the Ramblers first on the road over DePaul since the 2000 campaign and the first time since 1993 that they have topped DePaul in back-to-back seasons. The Ramblers are playing very well on both sides of the ball with a very impressive  9-1-0 overall record and 3-0-0 mark in MVC play but Loyola Chicago remains a team that is sailing in uncharted waters with a target on their backs which means their margin for error is small.   Loyola Chicago hosts a Drake side on Saturday evening that will arrive in Chicago with a disappointing 3-7-0 overall record and a five game losing streak but that nonetheless has the potential to be a difficult opponent.  The Ramblers defeated Drake 1-0 when the two teams tangled back on September 17.   


Pacific out of the West Coast Conference has won seven straight to improve to 8-2-0 overall including a 2-0 signature win over a highly ranked San Diego State team on September 23 that has been performing very well this year.  The jury is still out on the Tigers but this is a program under the direction of head coach Ryan Jorden that is gaining credibility.  They will host Saint Mary's on Sunday after winning four straight on the road including the win over San Diego State as well as an always difficult cross country victory in Atlanta last Sunday over a solid Georgia State team. Pacific is 0-3-0 in prior meetings with Saint Mary's. Senior midfielder Julio Cevantes (5g, 3a), who was named to the College Soccer News National Team of the Week two weeks ago, has been at the heart of a very balanced Pacific offense. The Tigers, who only started competing at the Division I level in 2014 were 1-15-1 overall last year. Pacific is the cinderella team of the 2016 season breaking into the College Soccer News poll last week for the first time as the number twenty-one team in the nation. Time will tell if they can sustain the success they have enjoyed to date. 

 


It is becoming increasingly difficult to predict who is going to prevail in Pac-12 play as well as in west coast play in general. Things may begin to settle somewhat as teams get further into conference play but in the Pac-12 it is likely to continue to be an anyone can beat anyone on a given day season. UCLA travels to face San Diego State on Sunday in what looks to be a key match that should provide the winner with momentum.  San Diego State is looking good with a lock down defense that has limited opponents to a total of only four goals while recording a 6-1-3 overall record and a 1-0-1 mark in conference play.  The Aztecs are third in the country in goals against average (0.37).  They  have a tie in conference play with Oregon State and a 1-0 win over Washington.  UCLA is 5-3-1 overall with a 1-1-0 mark in conference play.  UCLA enters the match a 2-0 win over Oregon State and a 4-0 loss at home to Washington in Pac-12 play.  The Bruins have been on a roller coaster ride so far this year looking awesome in some contests and not so good in others.  The outcome of this one hinges on what UCLA team shows up.  If the Bruin attack can unlock the San Diego State defense they will likely prevail.  However, if this becomes a defensive struggle then give the edge to the Aztecs.  Whoever scores first and is able to control the pace of the contest will have a huge advantage. 


Seattle stumbled out of the gate beginning the season with two wins and three losses but they have since won five and lost two to improve to 7-4-0 overall.  Loses to Akron, Gonzaga, Dartmouth and Washington are evidence that the Redhawks have struggled and are not playing to preseason expectations just yet.  However consecutive Western Athletic Conference wins over Utah Valley, CSU Bakersfield, and San Jose State are a positive sign and place them in the driver's seat in WAC play and they now look like the team to beat in the conference.  Seattle hosts Houston Baptist on Saturday night.


Stanford for now is clearly not as strong a side on both sides of the ball as they were last year. However, few teams in the country are as strong as the Cardinal were last year.  Stanford is a team that is talented and beginning to gel so it would be a mistake to overlook or underestimate them.  After beginning the season with three ties and a loss they have won five out of their last six matches to improve to 5-2-3 overall with a 2-0-0 mark in Pac-12 play.  Stanford's unexpected 2-1 loss on the road to San Francisco on September 23 in which the Cardinal came out flat to say the least may have been a moment of reckoning for Stanford.  It was a good win for the Dons who were fired up and ready to play.  After that loss Cardinal head coach Jeremy Gunn stated, "All credit to them (San Francisco) to the way they played, but we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and see about that attitude."  The jury is still out on Stanford, but subsequent wins over California 1-0 and Washington on the road 1-0 in their last two outings may signal that the Cardinal players got Gunn's message and learned a valuable lesson.  Stanford travels to Corvallis to face an always difficult Oregon State team on Sunday.