It Has Been A Season Of Surprises To Date. Whether Or Not That Will Continue Remains To Be Seen.
There are always teams that fail to meet expectations and others that exceed expectations but this has been a season to date with more than the usual number of surprises.
Five of the teams currently ranked in the top ten in the College Soccer News Top 30 poll (West Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Tulsa and Duke) were not ranked in the top 25 in the College Soccer News Preseason Poll. The same thing applies to the United Soccer Coaches Poll which has four teams in the top ten which were not ranked in the top 25 in their preseason poll.
Indiana (4-2-1) , North Carolina (4-2-1) , Stanford (2-3-1), Pittsburgh (4-3-0), and Wake Forest (4-2-0) are not having the season so far that was expected. Who would have thought for example that at this point in the season that Indiana would have two consecutive losses at home, that Stanford would be 2-3-1 or that West Virginia would be 5-0-2 with wins over Pitt and Penn State and a tie on the road against preseason number one Marshall.
It is way to early to reach root cause conclusions but on the surface a case could be made that the impact that COVID had on the 2020 season, the decision of the NCAA to allow players an extra year of eligibility, the transfer portal, the infusion of international players at some programs, and the increased utilization of graduate students are among the factors that could be having an impact.
It has been a season in which teams like West Virginia, Rutgers, SMU, Providence, and San Diego State have rocketed upward in the polls.
In addition, there have been three different number one teams to date in the College Soccer News National and the United Soccer Coaches Association Polls.
Marshall (3-1-2), Indiana (4-2-1) and Clemson (7-1-0) are the three number one teams to date in the College Soccer News Poll. The fact that a Clemson team that had allowed only one goal in its first seven contests was upset 3-1 by UNCG on Tuesday means that it is likely that could be a fourth number one in the College Soccer News Poll for the week ending September 26.
Marshall, Indiana and Georgetown (6-0-0) are the three number one teams to date in the United Soccer Coaches Association Poll.
Enthusiastic crowds have returned to fill venues across the country that were often empty in 2020 due to restrictions imposed by COVID. This is a plus for college soccer and a sign that fans are eager to get back into the stands. Coaches continue to express the benefit that the crowds bring to their teams and players continue to express their appreciation for the support of their fan base.
Defense often rules in the early going while teams settle into a rhythm and jell on the offensive side of the ball. While that has been the case as well this year there have been more than the usual number of high scoring and often lopsided contests.
Teams to keep an eye on it the early going include Saint Louis, Rhode Island, Xavier, Santa Clara, Harvard, Stony Brook, Saint John’s, Louisville, UNCG and Oral Roberts.
There are always teams that start strong but can’t sustain it due to lack of depth, injuries, and other factors and teams that start slow but then jell and settle in as the season progresses. Weak early schedules can create some false positives while some teams may start slow due to difficult early season contests that result in early season losses that are not reflective of just how competitive they are going to be.
No other position has a greater impact on the performance of a team than the play of goalkeepers. An outstanding netminder can make a good team great and a weak shot stopper can turn what would otherwise be a great team into a good team.
Keepers who have been impressive to date include but are not limited to sophomore Jacob Castro at San Diego State, senior Eliot Hamil at Duke, redshirt senior Will Meyer at Akron, senior George Marks at Clemson, senior Giannis Nikopolidis at Georgetown, junior Oren Asher at Rutgers, junior Logan Kowalczyk at Bowling Green, and junior Jassem Koleilat at New Hampshire.
Crucial games coming up this weekend:
Maryland at Ohio State on Friday. Maryland could have trouble breaking the code on what has of late been a very tenacious Buckeye defense.
Duke at Syracuse on Saturday. Ian McIntyre’s Syracuse teams always get better as the season progresses.
Xavier at Providence on Saturday. Providence is coming off a big win over Seton Hall. If they look past the Musketeers they could be in trouble.
Wisconsin at Rutgers on Friday. John Trask’s Wisconsin team has played everyone close and is unbeaten in their last four contests.
Pittsburgh at Clemson on Saturday. Both teams have explosive offenses that are very capable of getting into a rhythm and taking over a match.
Penn State at Princeton on Saturday. Penn State is coming off a 4-0 win on Tuesday in which sophomore midfielder Peter Mangione netted a hat trick. Princeton is coming off a disappointing 3-2 loss to Saint Joseph’s on Tuesday.
Rhode Island at Davidson on Saturday. Rhode Island was upset by Albany on Tuesday halting what had been an impressive three game winning streak. Davidson started strong but has lost their last two contests. This one could go either way.