Becoming an undefeated national champion is a nearly impossible task, a feat that’s only happened once in the past thirty-two years. Although it’s still fairly early in the season only four out of 203 division one programs remain unbeaten. These sides include two PAC 12 teams in the University of Washington and the University of California along with ACC powerhouse Notre Dame and Atlantic-10 surprise team Dayton. All four teams have done impeccably well thus far, but how will they fare going forward?
How they got here:
Washington: The Huskies hold a 9-0-3 record through their first twelve games and look poised to keep their streak going for a bit longer. The PAC-12 squad has gritted out results through a stellar defense only giving up six goals on the season including five shutouts. Although the defense led by Senior Taylor Peay (6 goals) has gained the notice, the offense has done a superb job as well recording 24 goals. You know you’re going to do well if you’re scoring four times as many goals as you’re giving up. Darwin Jones (3g, 4a) and Josh Heard (3g, 2a) have played the role of playmakers for the squad thus far and will need to continue to excel as the season comes to a close.
California: The Bears started off their season emphatically with statement wins over College Soccer News preseason number 2 and 3, Georgetown and Maryland. They haven’t looked back and have since then recorded important results over the likes of Oregon State and UCLA. The team is ranked #1 in the latest RPI and has lived up to the recent hype. Redshirt senior center back Steve Birnbaum (7g, 1a) has provided the team with much needed stability while junior forward Stefano Bonomo (5g, 2a) has given them their offense spark. Senior co-captain midfielder Alec Sundly is among others making a significant contribution on both sides of the ball. Although now tournament favorites, the Bears started off the season unranked and have had to prove all of their doubters wrong.
Dayton: The Flyers are the most underrated of the four teams on the list. Dayton comes in ranked #17 by College Soccer News and has improved every week. The team clearly doesn’t play the same caliber of team’s as some power conference teams, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t playing as well. They have recorded 29 goals while only allowing 8 through twelve games. Thus far the team is ranked 52 in the RPI so will need to keep winning or win the conference title, which is no easy feat. Dayton may not have a huge marquee win, but they’ve played some quality sides and have taken care of business.
Notre Dame: The transition into the ACC has been seamless for the Fighting Irish. The team has only allowed six goals in eleven games while recording nineteen. Notre Dame has one the toughest schedules in the country and has played the likes of UCLA, UNC, Duke, Maryland, Indiana, Clemson, etc. Playmaker Harrison Shipp (6g, 5a) has been the team’s catalyst and arguably the best player in the country. The team has four ties, but that’s fairly impressive considering the caliber of the teams they’ve played. The team’s sturdy defense is the driving force and what has gotten them to this point thus far.
The Road Ahead:
Washington: The team currently ranked #3 in the country by College Soccer News still has a difficult road ahead of them. Out of their seven final regular season affairs, four of them are against ranked teams including two matches versus the #8 UCLA Bruins and a highly anticipated second matchup against fellow undefeated conference foe Cal. This remaining schedule becomes even harder with the loss of senior goalkeeper, Spencer Richey. The captain, Richey is out for the season with a devastating leg injury, but backup Ryan Herman has done a tremendous job in his six starts posting a 0.61 goals against average (GAA). Expect the Huskies to continue to battle in an attempt at perfection, but they will need the ball to bounce their way a couple more times to continue their undefeated journey.
California: Expect big things from the College Soccer News new #1. The Bears, like Washington still have a rough road ahead to remain perfect. Their schedule includes two tough matchups against the confident Stanford Cardinals and contests versus UCLA and Washington. If they make it through their upcoming four home games unscathed then they end the season on a three game road skid. This trio of contests looks most likely to knock off the Bears. California may be playing the best soccer out of any team in the country right now and will need to stay on top of their game to keep their streak going.
Dayton: Despite the early season dominance, the Fylers face their toughest opponent thus far as they travel to #25 Saint Louis. The Billikens easily provide the biggest test for Dayton, still looking for their first conference win. It’s by no means an easy road after the St. Louis game as the Atlantic Ten is one of the most competitive conferences in the country. On top of that, the team closes four of their next six games on the road, including a three game road skid to close out the season. Dayton aren’t favorites to win a national championship, but they’ve done all they can so far to make a name for themselves entering the tournament and will look to keep their Cinderella story going late into November.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are ranked #2 in the country by College Soccer News and are only looking ahead. The schedule only gets harder, if that’s possible for Notre Dame. They face two non-conference foes in #18 Northwestern and #22 Michigan State. On top of that they face NC State, Virginia, and Wake Forest. This grueling schedule leaves no room for error for the 2012 Big East Tournament Champs. The schedule is without a doubt the toughest out of these four team’s and they will need be on top of their game to stay undefeated.
Staying undefeated is the toughest thing to do in college soccer and involves a bit of luck. So far these teams have faced some tough obstacles already, but still have some work to do. Looking ahead to the final stretch of the season, which one of these teams will be the final unbeaten team?
Ben Roth is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org