The Season Is Still Young But These Matchups Are Good Early Indicators Of The Strength Of Teams
Syracuse (5-0-1) vs. Clemson (6-0-0) – Friday – This is among the marquee matches of the week. Syracuse’s calling card so far this season has been their play on the defensive side of the ball but the Orange faces the difficult challenge of containing a multi-dimensional Clemson attack that is primarily powered by midfielder Ousmane Sylla (4g, 5a) and forwards Mohamed Seye (2g, 4a) along with forwards Isaiah Reid (2g, 0a) and Tim Strobeck (2g, 1a).
It is tough to top Clemson particularly when they are playing in the friendly confines of a supportive crowd at Historic Riggs Field. The Tigers have played well on the defensive side of the ball holding opponents to a total of only three goals in six contests. Ditto that for a Syracuse team anchored by a backline consisting of juniors Christian Curti and Buster Sjoberg and freshman Olu Oyegunie and and Buster Sjoberg and redshirt senior goalkeeper Russell Shealy that has only allowed one goal in six games. Nonetheless lingering questions remain about how well both teams will respond on the defensive side of the ball based on the pressure they will be placed under in this one. The bottom line is that breakdowns on the defensive side of the ball by either team will be costly.
Clemson has the advantage of playing at home and has much more big game experience but Syracuse is capable of pulling off the upset. Syracuse has signature 1-0 wins at home over Penn State and Notre Dame. Much will hinge on the level of energy that the teams bring to the pitch. If Clemson gets their offense in gear, it could be a long evening for Syracuse. It’s difficult to imagine Clemson being shutout at home but it could happen. Neither one of these teams wants to have to chase the game from a goal down.
North Carolina (3-2-0) vs. Duke (4-0-0) – Friday –Duke has only allowed one goal in four contests. North Carolina has had trouble finding the back of the net. Regardless, anything can happen in a rivalry match like this.
This is UNC’s first game on the road although the fact that it is only a short drive from Chapel Hill to Durham minimizes some of the challenges normally associated with playing on the road in college soccer. Fifth year senior midfielder Milo Garvanian (2g, 1a) is among the pace setters for the Tar Heels but others must emerge to add balance to the attack in order for UNC to have a chance to upset Duke.
Juniors Peter Stroud and Nick Pariano sophomores Shakur Mohammed and Ruben Mesalles are part of a Duke midfield that should give the Blue Devils an edge in terms of possession. This is a confidence building game for the winner.
Marshall (4-1-0) vs. Kentucky (4-0-1) – Friday – This one has implications in terms of national standing as well as standing in the Sun Belt Conference. It is without a doubt the something has to give contest of the weekend.
Both teams have played well on both sides of the ball. Marshall’s lone setback so far is a 1-0 loss to Butler in their second match of the season in which they dominated shots but were unable to find the back of the net. The lone blemish on Kentucky’s record is a 1-1 tie with Tulsa on the road last weekend during which they had an eight to zero advantage in shots during the second half.
Possession is important in this one but the real key will be which team is able to do a better job of utilizing possession to create shots on goal. Kentucky does a good job of pushing players forward out of the back to create a numbers advantage they can exploit. Marshall does a good job of patiently switching the field of play to create seams they can attack. Both teams will probe for weaknesses that they can exploit.
Chances are pretty good that the play of senior forward Eythor Bjorgolfsson will figure into the outcome for the Wildcats and redshirt senior forward Milo Yosef for the Thundering Herd. Senior back Luis Grassow is the X-Factor for Kentucky while freshman forward Matthew Bell is the X-Factor in Marshall’s offense. This one should be a dandy with an enthusiastic crowd certain to be on hand at the Bell Soccer Complex.
UAB (2-3-0) vs. Charlotte (5-0-0) – Saturday – On paper this one should be all Charlotte but UAB might surprise. Charlotte rocketed upward in the rankings with a season opening 3-0 win on the road over Connecticut followed by wins over Gardner-Webb 4-0, Georgia Southern 5-0, Detroit Mercy 5-0 and Winthrop 5-0. The 49ers are averaging a whopping 4.40 goals per game while allowing an average of only 0.20 goals per match.
Two of UAB’s losses to date are to top five ranked Wake Forest 2-0 and Clemson 2-0. Both of those games were scoreless at halftime. If UAB can put together two solid halves of play they have a chance for an upset. That’s a tall task considering the fact that 17 of Charlotte’s 22 goals to date have come in the second half.
UAB is better than their record indicates while Charlotte’s record may be, repeat may be, misleading. We may not know just how good the 49ers are until they face Tulsa on the road on September 25. In the meantime, this AAC opener for both teams could be intriguing.
Lipscomb (4-0-1) vs. Liberty (2-1-2) – Saturday –Lipscomb attracted national attention when they upset Saint Louis 2-1 on the road during the first weekend of the season. It was no doubt a good win but perhaps a little bit of a false positive. Liberty has a 1-1 tie with Maryland and a 5-2 thumping from UCLA in Los Angeles. The Flames have not allowed a goal in their three home games to date.
This one will likely hinge on whether or not Liberty can contain Lipscomb senior forward Jelldrik Dallmann (5g, 2a). If they can they have a good shot of pulling off the upset.
Portland (3-0-2) vs. Denver (4-1-1) – Friday -Portland is unbeaten in their first five matches for the first time since 2018 and will come into this match off impressive 3-1 wins over Seton Hall and 2-0 over UCLA.
As in past seasons, Denver began the year with a challenging schedule. A veteran Denver team handled the early season challenge well by securing a 2-0 signature win over Maryland and a 1-1 tie with Georgetown before a perhaps leg and travel weary Pioneer side sustained a 2-1 loss to San Diego State last Sunday. This one could go either way. Much will depend on the level of energy and focus the teams bring to the pitch. It will take two solid halves of play to prevail in this one.
Loyola Chicago (4-0-2) vs Duquesne (5-0-1) – Saturday –Both of these teams are off to a great start. Duquense opened the season with five wins for the first time in program history before securing a 1-1 draw with Wright State last week. During that time, they scored a total of 14 times while goalkeeper Domenic Nascimben anchored a stout defense that only allowed two goals.
Loyola Chicago under first year head coach Steve Bode is undefeated during which time they have scored 11 times and have only allowed opponents to score twice. Redshirt senior midfielder Billy Hency (3g, 3a) is the catalyst on the offensive side of the ball for Loyola Chicago while graduate student Simon Jillson has been rock solid in goal.
Chances are pretty good that this one could be determined by a single goal. This one will be a good measure of just how competitive each team is.
Ohio State (4-0-2) vs. Indiana (3-1-1) – Sunday –Ohio State is off to their best start during the five seasons that Brian Maisonneuve has been at the helm of the program. The Buckeyes are coming off a 2-0 win over Butler and a 3-3 tie on the road with Akron.
Indiana is coming off a 2-0 win over Akron and a 2-1 win over Butler. It is difficult to beat Indiana in Bloomington but a win in this one would be huge for an Ohio State team that has only won six Big Ten contests in the last four seasons.
Win or lose, Ohio State looks to be back on track but a win in this one would be a big step forward for the program.