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Men’s College Soccer – Rapid Reactions To The First Round Matchups In The 2021 NCAA Tournament.

The First Round Gets Underway On Thursday At Campus Sites Across The Country.

Princeton (12-5-0) at St. John’s (10-5-3) – St. John’s prevailed 1-0 when these two met back on September 28 in Princeton. Since that contest Princeton has won seven of eight contests but all seven of their wins were against Ivy League opponents. The Tigers are 5-5-0 when playing out of conference.

Defense has been St. John’s calling card this year. Princeton did not do a good job of finishing the scoring opportunities that came their way in the first contest but chances are pretty good this one will be another 1-0 contest so the team that gets on the board first will have a huge advantage.

Princeton under head coach Jim Barlow has momentum so it would be foolish to count them out but the Red Storm defense anchored in goal by redshirt junior Luka Gavran and graduate student back Lucas Bartlett should give St. John’s the edge in the rematch.  Also look for the play of Brandon Knapp (4g, 6a) to have an impact on the outcome on both sides of the ball.

Loyola Maryland (106-3) at North Carolina (11-6-1) – The Greyhounds have played their best soccer of the year down the homestretch which is encouraging but it is hard to overlook the fact that they were thumped 7-0 by Wake Forest when they ventured into ACC land back on October 19.

Reaching a conclusion based on a one game comparison can be misleading for a variety of reasons but it is worth noting that Wake Forest defeated North Carolina 2-1 in Chapel Hill.

North Carolina has also played their best soccer of the year down the homestretch with four straight wins before losing to Clemson 2-1 on the road in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. Prior to that a very inconsistent Tar Heel team was unable to put together back-to-back wins since defeating Georgia Southern and Davidson at the beginning of September. As a result, an extended stay in the NCAA Tournament by North Carolina this year is unlikely but they should survive and advance past the Greyhounds.

Santa Clara (11-1-4) at Akron (9-5-3) – The Broncos return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. They come into the NCAA Tournament on a 12-match unbeaten streak.

Akron returns to the NCAA Tournament field after being AWOL in 2019 and 2020. Akron has big ticket wins over Pitt 2-1 and MAC foe Bowling Green 5-1 but they closed out regular season play with losses on the road to NIU 2-1 and Western Michigan 4-3 in overtime and failed to qualify for one of the four spots in the MAC Tournament. The Zips are 8-1-2 when playing at home.

Based on the body of their work to date Santa Clara should prevail but it would be foolish to discount Akron when they are playing at home. Both teams have had trouble on occasion putting together two full halves of play. Look for Santa Clara’s ability to play through the pressure that Akron will likely apply in the early going to be a key factor in what is likely to be a multi-goal match.  

Denver (9-3-5) at Grand Canyon (15-3-1) – It has been offense by committee at Denver with no dominant goal scorer like Andre Shinyashiki who put 28 in the back of the net back in 2018. The Pioneers are a team with a lot of grit under head coach Jamie Franks but a small margin for error as reflected in the fact that they prevailed over Kansas City and Oral Roberts in the Summit League Tournament in matches that had to be determined by penalty kick shootouts.

Grand Canyon under first year head coach Leonard Griffin didn’t have the lapse in play that often occurs when there is a transition to a new head coach. Instead, under Griffin they continued to build on the foundation of success put in place by Schellas Hyndman.

The Lopes have a multi-dimensional offense led by Justin Rasmussen (9g, 6a), Shaun-Chris Joash (9g, 4a) and Cameron Weller (7g, 3a).

If Grand Canyon is able to get their attack in gear and create a situation in which Denver has to chase from behind, they should prevail. Denver’s chances of a win increase the longer the contest remains close.  

Oakland (12-6-2) at Northern Illinois (14-2-2) – Oakland has won nine out of their last ten matches. Their lone loss during that span is a 3-1 setback to a Bowling Green team out of the MAC that NIU tied 1-1 during regular season play and defeated 5-2 in the MAC Tournament.

NIU’s two losses on the season are an early season 2-0 setback on the road to Notre Dame and a disappointing 4-0 thumping on the road from Portland in their final game of regular season. This is a very good NIU team but the result at Portland demonstrated that they have to bring their A game if they expect to prevail from this point forward.

Oaklands ability to contain Nick (16g, 5a) and Anthony Markanich (5g,7a) and Pepe Martinez (7g, 2a) and NIU’s ability to contain Oakland’s Mikey Ketteman (10g, 3a), Noah Jensen (6g, 11a) and Dylan Borczak (6g, 2a) will have a huge impact on the outcome of this match.

Look for one of these teams to take control and dominate the match.

Lipscomb (12-3-2) at Hofstra (16-1-2) – Don’t look past Lipscomb. Remember 2018 when Lipscomb came alive down the homestretch of the season led by Logan Paynter and advanced past nationally ranked Washington in penalty kicks and UCF 1-0 on the road in the NCAA Tournament before losing to Kentucky 2-1 in the Sweet Sixteen. Well, that was then and not now but Lipscomb like then has been on a roll of late and will come into the NCAA Tournament on a six-game winning streak. The Bisons are powered on the offensive side of the ball by Tyrese Spicer (8g, 6a) and Hayes Wood (8g, 4a) and on the defensive side of the ball by backs Noah and Scott Gulden.

Hofstra is a also a hot team that has not lost since an early season 2-1 loss to Northeastern. The Pride is averaging 2.32 goals per game while holding their opponents to an average of 0.68 goals per game. The duo of Ryan Carmichael (13g, 7a) and Matthew Vowinkel (11g, 6a) has presented matchup problems for Hofstra’s opponents all year.

This one could go either way but at the end of the day it is likely that Hofstra powered by Carmichael and Vowinkel will settle in and take control of the contest as it progresses.

Mercer (10-7-1) at Wake Forest (11-6-1) – Mercer punched their ticket by advancing past Furman 4-0 and Belmont 4-3 to win the Southern Conference Tournament. Midfielder Dylan Gaither (13g, 5a) has been the go-to guy in Mercer’s offense. Forward Trevor Martineau (3g, 4a) is among others who add to the Bears attack. Mercer is averaging a healthy 2.06 goals scored per game but their defense has been vulnerable at times allowing an average of 1.44 goals per contest.

A case could be made that Wake Forest is the best team in the country with six losses. Kyle Holcomb (9g, 4a) has been the go-to guy in the Demon Deacon attack. Omar Hernandez (5g, 3a) is among others with the ability to add punch to Wake Forest’s offense. Wake Forest has also struggled at times on the defensive side of the ball of the ball. The Demon Deacons look to be a team that has had trouble at times in finding the right balance between offensive pressure and defensive stability. When they get it right, they are very good but when they don’t, they are vulnerable.

Look for the play of both teams on the defensive side of the ball to be the key factor in who prevails.

Villanova (11-7-1) at Vermont (13-4-2) – There is a lot to like about the season that both of these teams have had.

Count Villanova among the teams that have greatly exceeded expectations this year. The Wildcats are making their second appearance in the NCAA Tournament with the first coming back in 2016. Junior forward Liam Mackinnon (7g, 6a), a 2021 All-Big East Second Team selection, has been biggest threat on the offensive side of the ball for Villanova. Five of Villanova’s wins this year have been 1-0 games. The Wildcats have a small margin for error. In four of their losses, they allowed their opponents to score 3 or more goals which means this a team that has to play rock solid defense and take advantage of the limited number of opportunities that come their way on the offensive side of the ball in order to win. A run and gun high scoring contest is not likely in Villanova’s best interest.

Vermont pretty much flew under the radar this year in the shadow of New Hampshire until they defeated New Hampshire 1-0 to win the America East Tournament and the automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament that goes with it. Vermont comes into the NCAA Tournament on a five-game winning streak. Alex Nagy (5g, 10a) is the guy at the heart of Vermont’s attack. Senior Nate Silveira anchors a Vermont defense in goal that has allowed a total of 18 goals.

Give Vermont a slight edge in this one based on their productivity on the offensive side of the ball.

Georgia State (12-6-0) at Charlotte (10-5-1) – Georgia State has fared well when playing Charlotte in the past. This is a very competitive Georgia State team that has a 3-1 win over Akron on the road and a 1-0 win over West Virginia in the MAC Tournament. Senior back George Proctor has been a stalwart on the defensive side of the ball for Georgia State since arriving on campus as a freshman. Proctor and junior goalkeeper Gunther Rankenburg anchor a Panther defense that with several exceptions has been very tough for opponents to break down. Five different Georgia State players have scored four our more goals led by freshman forward Ethan Sassine who has put six in the back of the net on the season.

Charlotte under Kevin Langan is always competitive and always has a high work ethic. Midfielder Joe Brito (5g, 10a) is the catalyst on the offensive side of the ball for Charlotte. Look for the play of Brito and forward Preston Popp (8g, 3a) to be a factor in the outcome of the contest.

Marist (12-6-3) at Providence (10-4-4) – Marist under head coach Matt Viggiano won the MAAC Tournament to secure the conference’s atlarge berth.

The Red Foxes are making their first appearance in the tournament since 2005. Marist is undefeated in their last nine games during which time they have done a good job of finding a way to close out contests. Marist has averaged 16.3 shots per game compared to 10.8 for their opponents. Center back Huib Achterkamp, the MAAC Defensive Player of the Year and Samuel Ilin, the MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year, will have the tall task of containing Providence’s attack while forward Stefan Copetti (9g, 3a) is among the guys that Viggiano will count on for offensive productivity.

Providence advanced to the Big East Championship game where they fell to a talented Georgetown team 2-1. It was a disappointing outcome for the Friars who had upset Georgetown 3-0 when the two teams faced each other during regular season play. When Providence settles into a rhythm, they can be very difficult to contain as reflected in the fact that they have scored three or more goals in 7 of the contests that they have won this year. All of Providence’s losses have been on the road this year.

Providence comes into the contest with one win, two losses and a tie in their last four contests during which time they have only been able to score a total of three goals. Providence can’t afford to look past anyone but if they play to their potential, they should be able to top the Red Foxes.

Campbell (15-3-2) at Virginia Tech (10-5-3) – There are several storylines in regard to this contest but the main one is that Campbell has a high-octane attack led by Tyler Young (9g, 9a), Kemy Amiche (7g, 11a) and Jake Morris (5g, 8a) that is averaging 2.70 goals per game.

This one is going to come down to whether a battle tested Virginia Tech team that has a 7-1-0 record at home can contain Campbell’s attack. Jacob Labovitz (8g, 4a) and Conor Pugh (6g, 2a) add big play ability on the offensive side of the ball for the Hokies.

Creighton (8-7-2) at Missouri State (17-1-0) – Creighton reenters the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 2016. The Bluejays were somewhat of a surprise selection but earned an at-large berth on the basis on an RPI of 26 and by going 5-1-1 in their last five contests that included a regular season signature win over Providence.

The Bluejays will tangle with a Missouri State team that was surprisingly not awarded one of the top 16 seeds despite going 17-1-0 and having an RPI of 16. Missouri State has put 39 into the back of the net while only allowing a total of 10 goals. The Bears have a very balanced attack with seven different players who have scored three or more goals.

Look for Creighton to keep it close in the early going but for Missouri State to gain momentum and secure the win by attrition as the contests progresses. Missouri State has had a banner season but a deep run in the tournament would add a lot of credibility to what they have accomplished.

UC Santa Barbara (12-4-4) at UCLA (10-6-1) – The Gauchos punched their ticket to the NCAA Tourney by winning the Big West Conference Tournament for the first time since 2010. UCSB has displayed a balance on both sides of the ball this year that they have not had at times in the past. Their attack which is averaging is averaging 2.15 goals per game and has produced three or more goals in 8 games is powered by forwards Fin Ballard McBride (9g, 7a) and Ameyawu Muntari (6g, 4a) and midfielder Thaabit Baartman (7g, 5a).

Senior center backs Henry Davies, the Big West Defensive Player of the Year, and William Gillingham anchor a Gaucho defense that has posted nine shutouts on the season. The Gauchos look to be a team that is capable of making a deep run in the Tourney as they did in 2019 when they made a run to the Elite Eight.

UCLA took a big step forward this year under third-year head coach Ryan Jorden when they returned the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. The Bruins look to be a team that is still a work in progress but one that on a given night can hold their own with anyone as they established in their recent 3-2 win over Oregon State. Senior goalkeeper Justin Garces, freshman center back Pietro Grassis, sophomore back Tommy Silva and graduate student midfielder Yoni Sorokin were all Pac-12 Second Team selections.

UCLA has several young guys in key roles which bodes well for the future of the program but it will be the play of veterans like Sorokin who will have to set the pace for the Bruins in the NCAA Tourney.

LIU (11-4-4) at Maryland (12-3-2) –Sophomore forward Emil Jaaskelainen (15g, 4a) has been the main man in LIU’s offense while senior goalkeeper Demetri Skoumbakis, the NEC Goalkeeper of the Year, has anchored a Sharks defense that has held opponents to a total of 16 goals. LIU is capable of pulling off the upset but they will have to be clicking on both sides of the ball to do it.

Maryland is making its 21st straight appearance in the NCAA Tourney. The Terps were among the best teams in the Big 10 this year with a 5-2-1 record in conference play but they had an earlier than expected exit from the Big Ten Tournament when they came out on the short end of a penalty kick shootout with Northwestern after the contest was tied at the conclusion of 110 minutes of play. The Terps have played everyone close in large part because of their play on the defensive side of the ball. Look for sophomore midfielder Ben Bender (7g, 5a) to play a key role in how well the Terps fare on the offensive side of the ball.

When Maryland settles into a rhythm that enables them to apply pressure on their opponents while remaining organized on the defensive side of the ball they are a tough team to defeat.

Bowling Green (10-5-3) at Louisville (10-6-1) – Who would have thought that the MAC would have five teams in the NCAA Tourney. NIU secured the conference’s automatic berth while West Virginia, Georgia State, Bowling Green, and Akron were awarded at-large berths.

Jacob Erlandson (6g, 4a), Alberto Anaya (5g, 4a) and Roberto Fernandez-Garrido (6g, 1a) are among the guys who have made good things happen for the Falcons this year. Bowling Green has a big ticket 2-0 win over FIU and gave Marshall a run for their money before losing 1-0. The Falcons struggled down the home stretch going 1-3-1 in their last five contests including a 5-1 loss to Akron and a 5-2 loss to NIU in the semifinals of the MAC Tournament.

The Falcons will have to get back on track or they will likely sustain another multi-goal loss to an explosive Louisville offense that is led up-top by Aboubacar Camara (13g, 2a) and Pedro Fonseca (8g, 8a).  

Seattle (13-7-1) at Portland (10-6-1) – This is an intriguing first round contest between two teams who have had up and down seasons during which they have looked very good at times and not as good at other times. The good news for Seattle is that after a sluggish start to the season they now look to be playing their best soccer of the year with five wins followed by a 2-2 tie with Grand Canyon in the championship game of the WAC Tourney in which Seattle prevailed in a penalty kick shootout.

Portland also looks to be gaining momentum with a 5-1-1 record in their last seven games that included a 4-0 thumping of a good NIU team. Portland prevailed 3-2 when they faced Seattle back on September 17 but this is the one that really counts. Give Portland the a slight edge due to playing at home but this one is up for grabs

Picture from Providence Athletics

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