Something has to give contests are slated for what is one of the most crucial weekends in college soccer. Automatic berths via conference championships are at stake across the country and teams seek to enhance their seeding.
Maryland vs. Indiana – Friday – Indiana may be the best team in the country but this one has the potential for an upset written all over it. The Hoosiers topped Maryland 2-1 when Indiana hosted the Terps back on October 12 with Andrew Gutman scoring the game-winning goal with only eighteen ticks remaining in regulation. Indiana comes into the contest off a 2-1 win in overtime against Northwestern. The Hoosiers had a huge twenty-seven to two advantage in shots but it still almost came down to penalty kicks. Maryland comes into the match off a 1-0 win over Michigan State.
This is one of the marquee matches of the most important weekends of the college soccer season. Both teams are a lock for an at-large berth but a win, particularly for Maryland, would provide momentum and confidence going forward.
Grand Canyon vs. Air Force – Friday – Grand Canyon topped Utah Valley 1-0 on Wednesday to earn a rematch with Air Force in the Western Athletic Conference semifinals. Air Force, which won the regular season WAC title, received a bye into the semifinals.
Grand Canyon defeated Air Force 1-0 when the two teams squared off on October 28. The Lopes under the direction of Schellas Hyndman attracted national attention when they began the year with unexpected wins over Wisconsin and Creighton. Air Force, 15-3-0 overall with a 8-2-0 mark in WAC play, comes into this one fresh off the loss to Grand Canyon since their scheduled season ending match with Utah Valley was cancelled due to field conditions.
The Falcons should prevail but Grand Canyon has established that they are a formidable opponent and it is foolish for anyone to look past them.
Saint Mary’s at Portland – Saturday – St. Mary’s has already claimed the West Coast Conference title and the automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament that goes with it.
The Gaels need a win in this one to enhance their seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Portland, who comes into the contest off a 3-2 loss to Pacific, currently has an RPI of thirty-eight. A Pilot win would give them momentum and enhance their chances for an at-large berth.
Louisville vs. North Carolina – Sunday – Both teams have been ranked all year and both have already nailed down a berth in the NCAA Tournament. This one is about momentum and seeding in the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina currently has an RPI of three. Louisville has an RPI ranking of eight. North Carolina advanced to the championship match by defeating rival Duke. Louisville advanced by upsetting Wake Forest.
North Carolina and Louisville didn't face each other in regular season play. The Tar Heels have been the more consistent team and have a defense that has allowed a total of only seven goals all year. This one could go either way based on which team is able to get into their rhythm.
A win for the Tar Heels would ensure a top four seed. A top four seeding for the Cardinals is unlikely but not out of the question with a resume that included an ACC championship.
UC Davis at UC Riverside – Saturday – UC Riverside, 7-9-2 overall with a 4-2-1 mark in conference play, is making their first ever appearance in the Big West Conference Tournament Championship match. The Highlanders began the season with a 0-7-1 record but have won seven of their last ten contests. UC Davis topped UC Riverside 3-0 when the two teams squared off on October 13 in regular season play. However, that contest was scoreless for the first sixty-six minutes of play. UC Davis, 11-4-4 overall with a 3-3-1 mark in conference play, currently has an RPI of thirty-seven and is on the bubble as far as a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Big West’s automatic berth is on the line in this one. On paper, UC Davis should prevail but if UC Riverside is able to put together a full ninety minutes of play their magical ride could continue.
Oregon State at Washington – Who would have thought at the beginning of the year that the Beavers would have a shot at winning the Pac-12 title going into this contest. Stanford has already secured at least a share of the Pac-12 title but their 1-0 loss to California at home Thursday night opened the door for Oregon State to share it if they defeat Washington. If Oregon State does not win then Stanford will claim the Pac-12 title outright.
Oregon State topped Washington 4-2 when the two teams faced each other in Corvallis on September 29. The Beavers are unbeaten in their last six conference contests but they are facing a Washington team that knows that a win in this one can only help enhance their chances of an at-large berth. Washington currently has an RPI of twenty-five. Oregon State currently has an RPI of twenty-seven. Stanford with an RPI of four and UCLA with a current RPI of twenty-one are the other Pac-12 teams with solid RPI’s.
UMBC at New Hampshire vs. UMBC – Sunday – New Hampshire advanced to the America East Championship contest with a 2-0 one win over UMass Lowell. UMBC punched their ticket to the title match by upsetting number one seed Stony Brook 1-0. New Hampshire defeated UMBC 1-0 when they hosted the Retrievers in regular season play on September 22. The game-winning score in that contest was a Jack Doherty goal in the seventh minute of play. This one is likely going to be decided by a single goal once again. Whoever scores first will have a big advantage.
New Hampshire, which was awarded an at-large berth last year, has advanced to the America East championship match five times but has never won it. The fact that they are hositing the tournament could give them the edge that they need. The Wildcats are undefeated at home this year with a perfect 9-0-0 record. New Hampshire has an RPI of twenty-six. UMBC with a current RPI of ninety-eight knows that they must win the conference tournament to go dancing which makes them a dangerous team.
UIC at Wright State – Saturday – This Horizon League Championship match features two very good teams. Wright State won the regular season title with a 6-1-1 mark in regular season conference play. Wright State and UIC tied 1-1 when Wright State hosted UIC on October 6. Wright State has an RPI of twenty-nine. UIC has an RPI of thirty-four.
Both Wright State and UIC received a scare in the semifinals. Wright State squeaked past Milwaukee in a contest that was decided by a penalty kick shootout after it was tied 1-1. UIC slid past IUPUI in penalty kicks after the contest was tied 1-1.
This game could prove to be a nail biter. The winner nails down an automatic berth and will not have to hope for an at-large berth which might not be forthcoming.
SMU at UCF – Saturday – It does not always happen but in this American Athletic Conference Tournament title match the number one seed and the number two seed advanced to the final. However, it didn't come easy for either number one seed UCF or number two seed SMU. UCF came from two goals down to defeat Connecticut 3-2 in overtime. SMU came from one goal down to secure a 2-1 win over Memphis in overtime.
UCF topped SMU 2-0 when they tangled in regular season play in Orlando. However SMU has been looking good down the home stretch of the season and is undefeated in their last seven contests. Credit the return of a healthy Phillip Ponder to the lineup as one of the reasons for the SMU resurgence. Ponder has contributed four goals in the past three contests to play a key role in the success that the Mustangs have enjoyed.
This one will hinge in large part on whether or not SMU can contain a high octane UCF attack led by Cal Jennings who is responsible for twenty of the forty-three goals that the Knights have scored to date.
UCF has an RPI of thirteen which makes them a lock for an at-large berth should they not secure the automatic berth. SMU with an RPI of fifty-four will have to win tthe conference tournament to keep their season alive.