Up or down. There is still a lot of soccer to be played but the fact is a good case could be made that all teams in the country are at that point in the season in which they are beginning to face a tipping point of sorts in which the outcome of their next few games will play a key role in setting the pace for the remainder of the season. In some cases it's can they keep the momentum they currently have going? In some cases it's can they regroup and turn the corner?
The following teams are among those that are clearly facing a fork in the road. Will those that have struggled to date pull it all together or will they spiral downward? Will those that have exceeded expectations to date continue to do so? Time will tell.
Charlotte (3-4-2) – The 49ers entered the season with a solid group of returning players on both sides of the ball and high expectations. Season opening losses to Virginia and Coastal Carolina and a subsequent loss at home to Wofford dropped them out of the polls. The 49ers lost to Clemson 1-0 at home on Tuesday night and missed a chance to pick up a resume win and build a little momentum. Charlotte has the talent to rebound and get back on track but they have dug themselves into a hole that is going to be hard to dig out of. The road back for the 49ers is an uphill one and begins when they host Marshall on Saturday in a must win contest.
Saint Louis (4-4-1) – This is a program that has a winning tradition and pretty much begins every season on the national radar. They started well but dropped off the radar on the national scene after sustaining losses to Akron, Denver, and Indiana. The Billikens have the ability to turn things around as they begin Atlantic 10 play but in order to make that happen they are going to have to find a way to finish strong and win the close contests that have eluded them so far. An 0-1-1 start in conference play that includes a 1-1 tie last weekend on the road with Rhode Island and a 3-2 loss at home to Drake on Wednesday night in overtime after jumping out to a 2-1 advantage is not the start in Atlantic 10 play that the Billikens had hoped for. They now seek to get back on track when they take to the road to face Massachusetts in Atlantic 10 play with their back to the wall.
SMU (8-2-2) – The Mustangs are looking good under first year head coach Kevin Hudson who served as an assistant coach at SMU for eight seasons before taking over the reins of the program. They returned to the College Soccer New Top 30 last week for the first time in a while. This is a program that was at one time an annual contender on the national scene but fell off the college soccer map in that regard for several seasons. They now look to be back. SMU has now won six straight including a good 3-1 on the road win over Memphis on Wednesday night to improve to 3-0-0 in an American Athletic Conference win. The Mustangs have a ton of momentum but are at a tipping point of sorts as they host a Connecticut team on Saturday that has their back to the wall. The Mustangs are now playing with a target on their chests once again. Have they turned the corner under Hudson's direction and can they sustain the level of success that they have enjoyed to date?
UCLA (5-5-0) – Where have you gone Leo Stolz? The Bruins were the consensus number one team in the nation heading into the 2015 campaign with a ton of talent returning from the 2014 team that advanced to the national championship contest. In addition, as in the past, they added a strong recruiting class but clearly things have not turned out so far in 2015 as the Bruins and pretty much everyone else thought they would. No one doubts the talent level of this team but they have dug themselves into a huge hole and their margin for error in terms of upcoming games is pretty slight. They did take a step in the right direction when they gutted out a 3-2 win in overtime last weekend against Washington. There are a lot of unanswered questions regarding the heart of this team and just how the remainder of the season is going to unfold for the Bruins. What is clear is that this is a team that is going to have to buckle down and take the remainder of the season one game at a time beginning with must win up-coming Pac-12 contests at home against San Diego State and Stanford if they seek to right the ship.
Michigan State (5-4-1) – The Spartans entered the season with some big gaps to plug but the legacy of having played their way into the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament for the past two seasons. To their credit they have played a challenging schedule so far with losses against Oregon State, Creighton, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. Their 2-1 loss at home to Ohio State was a momentum breaker that halted a two game winning streak. The Spartans play Wisconsin on the road on Saturday in a have to win Big Ten contest for both sides. In the past the Spartans have finished strong and they could do so again this year but in order to do so they are going to have to find a way to significantly up their productivity on the offensive side of the ball without a decrease in the level of play on the defensive side of the ball.
Connecticut (3-3-4) – The Huskies don't appear to be the same team since moving from the Big East Conference to the American Athletic Conference. In reality that change may have nothing to do with their struggles last year and so far this year. The Huskies began the 2015 season with three ties then reeled off three consecutive wins and looked to be back on track. However that didn't prove to be the case when they subsequently sustained consecutive losses to Boston College, South Florida, and Memphis. The Huskies stopped the bleeding and halted their losing streak with a 1-1 tie with Cincinnati at home on Wednesday. However, with a 0-2-1 mark in conference play, this is a program facing an uphill battle with zero margin for error no matter how you spin it as they travel to face SMU in Dallas on Saturday in what shapes up to be a must win American Athletic Conference contest with a lot on the line for both teams. The fact that Connecticut has only managed a total of seven goals in ten contests while holding opponents to a total of eight goals to date adds additional credence to the belief that they are a team with a margin of error that is slim to none. The bottom line is that the Huskies must finish a high percentage of the scoring opportunities that come their way and avoid any let downs or mistakes on the defensive side of the ball if they have any hope of turning the corner.
Indiana (7-3-1) – The Hoosiers' days of running roughshod over the Big Ten Conference are now in the rearview mirror but they remain one of the premier programs in the country. Losses to Big Ten foe Penn State and non-conference foe Notre Dame followed by a disappointing and totally uncharacteristic 4-1 thumping at home by Big Ten foe Rutgers dropped IU's stock. However it is now trending upward once again as they have responded with a 4-0 run which included a Big Ten Conference win over Northwestern. Nonetheless with a 1-2-0 mark in Big Ten play, the Hoosiers have their work cut out for them as they host a surging Ohio State team on Saturday that topped non-conference foe Bowling Green on Wednesday night 2-1 in overtime. The Buckeyes are yet another Big Ten school that looks to be at a tipping point. After that contest IU has to travel to College Park to face an equally hungry Maryland team the following Friday in yet another difficult Big Ten Conference game.
Maryland (5-3-3) – Since joining the Big Ten Conference last year the Terps have been living dangerously. They struggled early on last year but then pulled it all together and rallied to win the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles in their first year as a member of the conference. They are capable of doing the same again this year but once again their backs are to the wall with a 1-1-2 start in conference play that includes an unexpected loss at home to Northwestern and ties with Michigan at home and Michigan State in East Lansing in which they were unable to finish the opportunities to score that came their way. Maryland tangles with Penn State on Friday on the road in a must win conference contest. After that their dance card includes regular season Big Ten games at home against Indiana and Rutgers and a game in Columbus against the Ohio State Buckeyes. There are no easy wins in Big Ten play.
New Mexico (6-3-1) -The Lobos entered the 2015 season seeking to get back in the NCAA Tournament field after a rare absence last year. This is a very talented but young New Mexico team that despite setbacks has shown some grit. After opening the season with a 1-0 loss to then number one ranked UCLA on the road things looked to be falling into place for the Lobos when they subsequently racked up five consecutive wins that included notable victories over Santa Barbara and then ranked LMU and American. However subsequent CUSA losses to South Carolina on the road and Kentucky at home have mudded the water somewhat. The Lobos now find themselves with a 0-2-0 start in CUSA play and a very real possibility of going 0-3-0 in conference play with a contest on the road coming up this Saturday with highly regarded Old Dominion.
Oregon State (7-3-0) – The Beavers started strong opening the season with five consecutive wins while others faltered. As a result they rose in the rankings like a hot balloon. However reality or something like that came to town and some of the air went out of their balloon when they took it on the chin and sustained consecutive losses to Portland, Gonzaga, and Seattle. Last weekend Oregon State appeared to have gotten their legs back under them when they defeated UCLA and San Diego State at home to open Pac-12 play with two solid wins. The Beavers have regained momentum but the road does not get any easier for them, in fact in gets tougher, since they now face the difficult task of tangling with California and Stanford this weekend away from home. This is a very good and potentially explosive Oregon State team led up top by Timmy Mueller and Jordan Jones but just how good remains to be seen. The outcome of the games with California and Stanford will provide a little insight into just how competitive mentally and physically Oregon State really is. Wins from now on are going to be tough to come by. The 2015 season has the potential to be an up and down roller coaster type year for many of the teams in the Pac-12.
Temple (7-3-2) – The Owls soared when they began the season with a 7-0-1 record. However they are 0-3-1 in their last four contests including a 3-1 loss to UCF on Wednesday night in Orlando to drop to 0-3-0 in American Athletic Conference play. Jorge Gomez Sanchez was a scoring dynamo in Temple's first nine games during which time he scored a total of eleven goals. The Owls have dropped out of sight on the natioanl scene but will seek to get back in the win column when they host Memphis on Saturday. Temple could still regroup and rebound but more likely that not this looks to be a team that had a magical start but for whom the ride is now over.
Boston College (7-3-1) – The Eagles have played very well at times and not so well at others. They are 2-2-0 in ACC play to date with ACC wins over Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech and losses to N.C. State and Wake Forest. The 5-0 loss to Wake Forest at home was not something you would expect to occur to an Ed Kelly coached team and fair or not raises questions about the mettle of Boston College this year. To their credit they rebounded with a 1-0 win on the road against a good Brown team on Tuesday night. The Eagles now host a very good Virginia team on Friday night in a potential resume building must win conference contest. Their ACC dance card then includes ACC matches with extremely challenging road trips the next two Fridays in which they will square off with Louisville and then Clemson at Historic Riggs Field before hosting a young but what appears to be a steadily improving Syracuse team the following Friday to close out regular season conference play. One could reasonably conclude that the margin of error for Boston College, and perhaps for all the teams in the ACC, is very slim indeed as they jockey for position down the home stretch.