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Men’s College Soccer. The One (or Two) Things That Each Team Must Do Well to Prevail In The Five Sweet Sixteen Matches On Tap On Sunday.

The Margin For Error Is Slim Across The Board In The Five Sweet Sixteen Contests Slated For Sunday. Portland, Vermont and Creighton won on Saturday to Punch Their Ticket To The Elite Eight.

UNCG (13-1-5) vs. Stanford (12-2-) – Sunday 5 pm PT

UNCG – The Spartans have to stick with the things that have worked well for them all year. Forwards Ismail El Harchi (10g, 3a), and Marco Afonso (7g, 8a) and midfielder JC Ngando (4g, 13a) have the ability to unlock a tough Stanford defense anchored by backs Keegan Hughes and Keegan Tingey and goalkeeper Noah Adnan and the UNCG defense anchored by junior goalkeeper Niclas Wild has the ability to contain Stanford if they play with the level of intensity in the attacking and defending thirds as they did in their 2-1 win on the road over Clemson.

Stanford – Stanford is coming off a dominating 6-2 over High Point during which they scored a program record number of goals in an NCAA Tournament game. The Cardinal face a much tougher opponent this week. Stanford is a tough team to top at home but they can’t allow the lack of intensity to creep into their play that they have at times this year if they hope to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Marshall (11-3-4) at Indiana (11-4-6) – Sunday 6:30 ET

Marshall – Marshall advanced past number four seed Virginia by playing with patience, keeping things tight, and sticking to the possession-oriented style of play that has been their trademark under Chris Grassie. The same game plan will work against Indiana. Goalkeeper Oliver Semmle will anchor a solid Thundering Herd defense and chances or pretty good that either freshman forward Matthew Bell or redshirt senior forward Milo Yosef will find the back of the net.

Indiana – The Hoosiers are the only men’s soccer team to reach the third round of the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament each of the last eight seasons. This one will likely be decided by a single goal which means that the Hoosiers must do a good job of finishing the likely few goal scoring opportunities that come their way particularly out of set pieces. IU has to find the balance that will enable them to push forward and apply pressure while remaining organized on the defensive side of the ball.  

Cornell (14-3-1) at Syracuse (15-2-4) -Sunday 2 pm ET

Cornell – The Big Red topped Syracuse 2-1 in Syracuse when the two teams squared off back on October 4, 2022. Cornell’s play on the defensive side of the ball is a critical success factor in this one. If their defense anchored in goal by Ryan Friedberg and backs Connor Drought, Cam Maquat, Andrew Johnson, Nick Allen and Kisa Kingi can contain Syracuse the chances are pretty good that a balanced Big Red attack that includes seven players that have scored three or more goals will take care of business on the offensive side of the ball.

Syracuse – Look for the key in this one to be ability of an Orange defense anchored in goal by Russel Shealy and a very solid contingent of backs to contain a balanced Cornell offense without taking away from the ability of Syracuse forwards Levonte Johnson (9g, 6a) and Nathan Opoku (9g, 5a) among others to push forward and keep the Cornell defense busy. Syracuse will have to match the intensity and work rate that Cornell will bring to the pitch.

FIU (14-4-1) at Duke (12-1-4) – Sunday 3 pm ET  

FIU – The Panthers are peaking at the right time of the year. That is due in large part to improvement on the defensive side of the ball during the later part of the season. The Panthers advanced to the third round by advancing past a New Hampshire team in a marathon penalty kick shootout after the contest was tied at 2-2 at the end of regulation. New Hampshire beat FIU 3-0 when they played early in the season. Much will depend on FIU’s ability to put in a full 90 minutes of play on the defensive side of the ball and their ability to keep in check a Duke attack powered by Shakur Mohammed (10g, 2a). Can FIU netminder Kevin Harr and backs David Garcia, Carlos Scheckermann, Edgar Aguilar and Philip Hildebrandt put in two full halves of play?

Duke – If a very good and deep Duke midfield led by Shakur Mohammed (10g, 2a), Nick Pariano (1g,7a) and Peter Stroud (2g, 5a) among others can get the best of the run of play in the middle third it will create goal scoring opportunities in the attacking third that will give the Blue Devils the edge they need to prevail. Duke will have to match FIU’s physicality.    

Pittsburgh (10-4-5) at Kentucky (15-0-5) – Sunday 6 p.m.

Pittsburgh –The Panthers have have dug themselves into a hole several times this year by allowing an early goal. Pitt must be able to play through the pressure that Kentucky will apply and exert a little pressure of their own to keep the Wildcats from pushing numbers forward.   

Kentucky – Kentucky is very tough to top when they are able to settle into a rhythm and balance that enables them to push forward and create goal scoring opportunities in the attacking third it. If they can do that successfully it will come down to their ability to finish the opportunities that come their way without leaving themselves vulnerable for a counter attack. Look for Kentucky to press the attack from the get-go.

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