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Men’s College Soccer. A Look At The First Round Matchups In The 2020/2021 NCAA Tournament.

Four Very Competitive First Round Contests On Tap

Jacksonville (7-4-1) vs. American (4-1-2) – Thursday, April 29 – Spry Stadium, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 

Jacksonville punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament by defeating Stetson 3-0, Lipscomb 4-2 and FGCU 2-0 to win the ASUN Tournament.

This is a young Jacksonville team with nine underclassmen in starting roles. The Dolphins struggled early on beginning the season with a 2-4-1 record before jelling as a team. Jacksonville comes into the contest on a five-game winning streak during which time they have scored thirteen goals while allowing only two.

Their attack is powered by redshirt sophomore midfielder Reed Davis (5g, 1a) and freshmen midfielders Oliver Correa (5g, 2a) and Cao Chaves (1g, 6a). Redshirt senior forward Jose Manzo (0g, 5a) and junior netminder Matt Levy who has been the starter in goal for three seasons are the lone upperclassmen in the starting lineup.

The Dolphins are playing their best soccer of the year at the right time which is a plus but they have struggled when playing away from home and their inexperience means that they are traveling in unchartered waters which is potentially problematic.

American returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004 by defeating Loyola Maryland 3-2 and upsetting previously undefeated Lafayette 2-1 in overtime to win the Patriot League Tournament and the automatic berth that accompanied it.

Junior forward David Coly (5g, 0a), a transfer from the University of Washington, has been the main man in the American attack accounting for five of the twelve goals they have scored to date. Coly netted the game-winning goal in the tournament semifinal win over Loyola Maryland and was responsible for AU’s first goal in their victory over Lafayette in the championship match.

American has an experienced backline anchored by redshirt junior Nicolas Blassou who is a transfer from Kentucky and sophomore Damian Searchwell. Senior goalkeeper Jake Agnew, a transfer from Appalachian State, provides a solid presence in goal.

This is a deep AU team but a team that also has a youthful component as reflected in the fact that their starting midfield in the contest with Lafayette included freshmen Jason Bouregy (1g, 3), Evan Schweickert, Kevin Ventura (0g, 1a), and Ethan Boyle along with redshirt junior Kyle Hellman (2g, 1a).

Prognosis: Jacksonville under Mauricio Ruiz has momentum. They have a balanced attack that includes several playmakers along with a defense that has improved as the season has progressed. Jacksonville’s youth is a very positive sign for the continued success of the program but it might hamper their play in the NCAA Tournament.

American under Zach Samoul demonstrated a lot of grit in finding a way to win two difficult on the road contests in the Patriot League tournament.

This one is clearly up for grabs but AU’s toughness and proven ability to find a way to win the close contests could prove to be the difference in the game. An NCAA Tourney win will provide the victor with something that they can build on.

Next Step:  The winner will face number one seed Clemson on Sunday, May 2.

Omaha (6-2-1) vs. UNCG (9-2-2) – Thursday, April 29, 2021 – UNCG Soccer Stadium, Greensboro, North Carolina

Omaha – Veteran Omaha head coach Bob Warming is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament and will have his team prepared.  The Mavericks, who finished as the number two team behind Denver in regular season Summit League play, were awarded with a spot in the NCAA Tournament when Denver was unable to participate due to COVID protocols.

Warming utilized the transfer route as a means to enable his team to improve from a 4-9-4 overall record in 2019 to a 6-2-1 overall record and 5-2-1 mark in league play during the spring 2021 season. Junior forward Hugo Kametani (7g, 1a), junior defender Fitzroy Cummings, junior midfielder Ed Port (1g, 3a) and sophomore midfielder Tevin Rochester (1g, 0a) are among the newcomers who made an immediate impact.

All-Summit League First Team members  Kametani and senior midfielder Nil Avats (4g, 4a) have powered Omaha’s offense while Cummings, the Summit League Defensive Player of the Year, redshirt senior Gonzalo Ledesma, freshman Danis Dominik and All-Summit League First Team selection Stevie Siy who has been out of the lineup for the past three contests and redshirt senior goalkeeper Jeremy Pollard have anchored a Maverick defense that with the exception of 3-1 and 2-1 losses to UMKC has been difficult to penetrate.

UNCG – The Spartans have a ton of momentum under second year head coach Chris Rich who took over the reins of the program just one month prior to the start of the 2019 season. The Spartans were 9-9-1 in 2019 with a 5-1-0 mark in Southern Conference play but their season came to an end when they were defeated by Mercer 1-0 in the finals of the conference tournament. The Spartans didn’t falter this year topping ETSU 2-1 and Belmont 1-0 to win the Southern Conference Tournament and secure the conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

In the later part of March, Furman looked to be the team to beat in Southern Conference play after topping both ETSU and UNCG but the Paladins faltered down the homestretch losing to Belmont in the semifinals of the Southern Conference Tournament. UNCG on the other hand has played their best soccer of the year since the loss to Furman and will enter the NCAA Tourney on a six-match unbeaten streak.

The Spartans have a balanced attack led by forwards freshman Theo Collomb (7g, 3a), sophomore Mani Austman (6g, 3a) and junior Fernando Garcia (5g, 0a). Senior captain Nelson Oceano sets the pace in the midfield. Sophomores Ethan Conley and Myson Darden, junior Matthew Cutler and freshman Emanuel Hagen anchor a solid Spartan defense along with freshman netminder Niclas Wild.

Prognosis – Both of these teams have an international roster. Look for it to be a physical contest with both sides cautiously attacking from the get-go.

Omaha has not played since April 3 which could cause them to be a little rusty in the early going. The Mavericks have been a perfect 5-0-0 when playing at home but they are 1-2-1 while on the road.

UNCG looks to be the stronger team from top to bottom and they have the advantage of playing at home. Nonetheless, like most first round contests between two sides that are not familiar with each other, this one is up for grabs. The winner will secure a nice building block and momentum builder for the future of the program.  

Next Step:  The winner will face number four seed Stanford on Sunday, May 2.  

Milwaukee (8-4-0) vs. St. Francis Brooklyn (5-1-2) – April 29, 2021 – UNCW Soccer Stadium -Wilmington, North Carolina

Milwaukee – The Panthers secured the Horizon League’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament by defeating UIC 2-1 in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament and topping number one seed Northern Kentucky 1-0 in the championship match.

Milwaukee ironically lost to UIC 2-1 and Northern Kentucky 1-0 when the teams faced each other early on in what has been somewhat of a roller coaster spring season for the Panthers. Since a 1-0 loss to Cleveland State and a 4-3 loss to Oakland early in March, Milwaukee looks to have jelled as a team.

The Panthers will be making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2013 and will enter it on a five-game winning streak. Milwaukee is playing with a renewed sense of purpose on both sides of the ball and with a level of confidence as a team that they didn’t appear to have earlier in the season.

Junior midfielder Paolo Gratton (11g, 0a), an All-Horizon League First Team selection, has been on fire on the offensive side of the ball as reflected in the fact that he has found the back of the net at least once in Milwaukee’s last six contests. Freshman forward Logan Farrington (5g, 4a), the Horizon League Freshman of the Year, is among others who provide an additional dimension to the attack.

Sophomore Kasper Davidsson and redshirt freshman David Cox add toughness to the midfield. Defenders redshirt senior Jake Kelderman and junior Andres Soerensen and sophomore netminder Nick Chiappa are part of a Milwaukee defense that has significantly tightened up since a porous 4-3 loss to Oakland back on March 12.

St. Francis Brooklyn – The Terriers punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament by advancing past rival LIU in penalty kicks in the NEC championship match after the contest was scoreless at the end of regulation and extra time.

St. Francis has a winning mentality. They have been the team to beat in the NEC securing the conference championship five times in the last eight years and three out of the last five. Their lone loss during the spring season was an opening day setback to Merrimack 2-1 in overtime.

The Terriers have played everyone close this year. They have possessed the tangibles and intangibles that a team must have in order to prevail in the close contests.  While their offense has only netted a total of nine goals, they also have allowed a total of only five.

Senior forward Nicolas Molina (3g, 3a) and freshman midfielder Ramchwy Saint Vil (2g, 2a) have been St. Francis’ top goal scorers. Sophomore goalkeeper James Callum and backs seniors Vincente Gallardo, Ridwan Hannan, Domenico Pugliese and junior Harald Sollund anchor a Terrier defense that has been hard to breakthrough. Senior Dennis Coke is among the pace setters in the midfield.

Prognosis: This one is going to come down to whether or not Milwaukee can break the code on St. Francis Brooklyn’s defense. If the Panthers are able to score and force the Terriers to have to play from behind a multi-goal win is possible.

On the other hand, St. Francis is not the type of team that you want to have to chase from behind. Breakdowns on the defensive side of the ball will be fatal in this one. If Milwaukee can control the pace, they should prevail but this game could easily end up being decided by penalty kicks. If that occurs the advantage shifts to St. Francis with James Callum in goal.

Next Step:  The winner will advance to face number three seed Indiana on Sunday, May 2, 2021.

Bowling Green (7-4-1) vs. Monmouth (5-2-1) – Thursday, April 29 – Bryan Park, Greensboro, North Carolina

Bowling Green – The Falcons earned the MAC’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament by winning the regular season title. The conference race came down to the last match of the regular season with Bowling Green topping NIU 2-1 in overtime to secure a spot in the NCAA Tourney for the first time since 1996.

Bowling Green is 25-13-4 over their last 42 matches under the guidance of head coach Eric Nichols. The Falcons have been building toward this year. They fell one win short of a berth in the NCAA Tourney in 2019 when they were edged 1-0 by West Virginia in the championship match of the MAC Tourney. They finished the 2019 season with a 13-7-1 overall record.

There is a lot to like about this Bowling Green team in 2021. They are experienced and have that little something special that has enabled them to win the contests this year that they had to win to secure a berth. Their losses are to Marshall 1-0, Kentucky 1-0, Akron 2-0 and Western Michigan 2-1. This is a team with a small margin for error as reflected in the fact that they have scored a total of twelve goals while allowing ten.

The Falcons four losses have come on the road but that is a reflection in part of the fact that they have played a very competitive schedule on the road. Forward Chris Sullivan (4g, 5a) has been the main man for the Falcons on the offensive side of the ball. Senior defender Jacob Erlandson (3g, 2a) is among others who have added to be attack. The defense is anchored by senior backs Achille Robin and Erlandson and sophomore goalkeeper Logan Kowalczyk. The midfield consisting of seniors Zach Buescher (0g, 1a) and Vinny Worner (1g, 2a) junior Jensen Lukacsko (0g, 1a) and sophomore Nathan Masters (1g, 1a) is a team strength.

Monmouth – To say the Hawks under veteran head coach Robert McCourt finished the season strong is an understatement. They earned the MAAC’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament by topping number three seed Niagara 2-1, number two seed Rider 2-0 and number one seed Quinnipiac 1-0 in the conference tournament final. Add to that the fact that they had to play all three of those games on the road.

Sophomore forward Julian Gomez (5g, 0a), an All-MAAC First Team selection, powers the attack along with sophomore playmakers forward Ben Zakowski (1g, 4a) and midfielder Luke McBeth (0g, 1a).

Senior back George Akampe (0g, 1a), a four-year starter and the 2021 MAAC Defensive Player of the Year, adds stability and experience to the defense along with redshirt junior goalkeeper Sean Murray who is a composed and very competent shot stopper.  The Hawks, a team under McCourt who were at one time a perennial member of the NCAA Tournament field, return to the big dance for the first time since 2014. McCourt has been there before and will have his team ready to play.

Prognosis: Monmouth defied the odds by winning the MAAC Tourney so it would be foolish to count them out. They have new found momentum and will arrive in Greensboro ready to play. Bowling Green has come close to a berth in the tourney several times in the past so they will arrive at Bryan Park grateful to be there but hungry for continued success.

The bottom line is that both teams have had magical seasons of sorts and will want to keep it going. Look for this one to be close. It clearly is the most intriguing game of the first round.  The winner will have to put in a full ninety-minute shift and perhaps then some.

It all depends on which team is able to settle into a rhythm and simply play to their strengths and under control. Give Bowling Green a slight edge but as previously indicated it would be a mistake to count the Hawks out.

NextStep: The winner will face number two seed Pittsburgh on Sunday, May 2.

Picture from Bowling Green Athletics

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