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The Difference Between Winning And Losing Can Be Small. A Look At The Top Ten Teams

All teams have strengths and opportunities for improvement. The best find the right balance between offensive productivity and effectiveness on the defensive side of the ball.  A look at the top ten teams in the College Soccer News National Poll and the factors that will shape the remainder of their season.   

Virginia – 9-0-0 – Offensive productivity. A young Virginia team was rock solid on the defensive side of the ball last year but they lacked the offensive punch needed to take their game to the next level.  This year their attack has matured with eleven different players finding the back of the net in the Cavaliers first nine contests. Sophomore forwards Daryl Dike and Daniel Steedman and juniors Joe Bell, Nathanial Crofts and Irakoze Donasiyano are among those who have scored twice to date while Virginia has held opponents to only one goal.

Stanford – 7-1-1 – A multi-dimensional attack. Stanford’s Achilles heel in the early going last year was their inability to score. That has not been the case this year with freshmen forwards Ousseni Bouda (3g, 3a) and Gabe Segal (4g, 0a) joining redshirt sophomore forward Zach Ryan (4g, 1a) and senior defender Tanner Beason (3g, 1a) among others to provide an additional dimension to the attack.  Last year Stanford was shutout three times in their first nine contests during which they scored a total of thirteen goals while allowing only two. This year during the same time period the Cardinal has scored twenty-two times while allowing seven goals including five in their last two contests (3-3 tie with UCSB and a 2-1 loss to Washington).  Stanford’s attack is a plus since it gives them the ability to come from behind to win but it is problematic if lapses on the defensive side of the ball put them in a hole, as it has the last two contests, that causes them to have to play catchup. 

Wake Forest – 8-1-0 – Defense – The Demon Deacons entered the season needing to find the right balance between offensive productivity and defensive toughness with a focus on the need for improvement on the defensive side of the ball.  They have accomplished that for the most part with a potent attack that during nine contests has produced seventeen goals and a defense that is led by redshirt goalkeeper Andrew Pannenberg and backs Michael DeShields, Eddie Folds and Alistair Johnson among others that has only allowed five goals. Two of the goals allowed came in the Deacons 3-2 come from behind win over a highly productive Clemson team.

SMU – 9-0-0 – Experience counts. SMU entered the 2018 season with a lot of key gaps to plug. As a result, they experienced growing pains in the early going but settled in and improved as the season progressed. With a very solid contingent of returning players supplemented by several experienced transfers, the Mustangs hoped to build on the success that they enjoyed last year. They have done just that with an explosive attack led by forward Garrett McLaughlin (8g, 2a), defender Eddie Munjoma (6g, 5a) and midfielder Knut Ahlander (4g, 8a) that has produced thirty-goals and a defense anchored by goalkeepers Shane Lanson and Grant Makela and back Talen Maples than has allowed only three goals. Transfers forward Nick Taylor (0g, 2a), midfielder Gabriel Costa (3g, 4a) and defenders Henrik Bredeli and Brandon Terwege have all contributed.  

Washington – 9-1-0 – Big play ability. Washington was very competitive last year but the lack of big play ability and the toughness needed to prevail on the road placed a ceiling on their success. Significant improvement in both of those areas has been a difference maker to date for Washington. Both were reflected in the Huskies recent 2-1 on the road win over Stanford in which Lucas Meeks (6g, 0a) netted the game-winner in overtime. The Huskies have another big test coming up when they travel to face California on Sunday.    

Clemson – 9-1-0 – Play to their potential for a full ninety minutes. The Tigers entered the 2019 season off a down year in 2018 in which they uncharacteristically had costly lapses in play on the defensive side of the ball and trouble finishing scoring opportunities. What a difference a year can make. Clemson has displayed an opportunistic attack powered by Robbie Robinson (8g, 2a), Kimari Smith (11g, 2g) and Grayson Barber (5g, 5a) that has netted thirty-eight goals in ten contests and an improved defense that has allowed a total of ten goals and recorded four shutouts. The Tigers have a tough three game stretch in front of them that includes contests at home against Virginia Tech and Louisville and Syracuse on the road. Clemson’s attack looks to be among the best in the country.  If they have any weakness it is on the defensive side of the ball.

Georgetown – 7-1-0 – Consistency – This is a deep and very talented Georgetown team. It is a big plus that they continue to find a way to win even when they have had difficulty putting together two good halves.  Junior forward Derek Dodson (3g, 5a) and sophomore midfielder Zach Riviere (4g, 1a) are among those who provide punch to the attack. Junior transfer Paul Rothrock (1g, 6a) is a playmaker who has added an additional dimension to the attack.  A 1-0 loss on the road in overtime to Louisville is the only blemish on Georgetown’s record so far this year.  When they are on their game the Hoyas are very good but they are at risk with a small margin for error when they are unable to get into a rhythm against those teams that match up well with them.

St. Mary’s College – 8-1-0 – One game at a time.  You don’t win as many games as the Gaels have won over the past two seasons without being very good. But this is a team with a big target on their chests which means that they have to take it one game at a time and bring their “A” game to every contest if they hope to continue to win. St. Mary's can't look past anyone. 

Charlotte – 7-0-2 – Unified. The 49ers play well together as a team and they work hard which makes them a difficult side to face. They are good but, in the past, have had trouble winning the big games that could go either way. So far this year they have a 0-0 tie with West Virginia on the road and a 1-1 tie at home with Kentucky in big games. Teddy Chauuche (6g, 6a) and Joe Britto (2g, 1a) are at the heart of the 49er engine. Goalkeeper Elliot Panicco anchors a Charlotte defense that has only allowed six goals. Charlotte has a big CUSA game down the road with FIU but in the meantime they have to get by FAU on the road, Marshall at home and non-conference foe Georgia State at home.

Indiana – 6-1-2 – Youth development -The Hoosiers entered the season depending on a lot of newcomers to make an impact. Todd Yeagley has done a good job of merging his newcomers in with returning players. A lot of freshman have been in key roles and have performed well.  It helps that significant reloading is taking place throughout the Big Ten this year. Indiana has Big Ten Conference wins so far over Wisconsin 3-1 and Northwestern 3-1. The toll, if any, that the grind of the season will have on the young Hoosiers remains to be seen as well as how they will fare as they get into the heart of the Big Ten schedule. This is a good Indiana team but they are young and learning on the job in the Big Ten can be difficult. The Hoosiers will be tested when they travel to face Penn State on Sunday and host non-conference foe Kentucky the following Wednesday. 

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