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The Road To Santa Barbara – A Look At The First Round Contests – The 2018 NCAA Tournament

Get ready.  The action, excitement and intensity of the NCAA Tournament is about to begin.  The first round of play gets underway on Thursday with a slate of sixteen outstanding college soccer contests on tap across the country. 

Colgate (12-4-5) at New Hampshire (12-3-2) –  Colgate won the Patriot League Tournament and New Hampshire the America East Tournament. 

A veteran and team oriented Colgate squad features a balanced attack led by senior midfielder Oliver Harris and a defense led by back Aram Ouligian and junior Christian Clarke.  Team chemistry is also a big plus for a New Hampshire team that features a defense led by graduate student goalkeeper Lars Huxsohl and sophomore back Josh Baue that has allowed a total of only nine goals and posted ten shutouts.  New Hampshire which is 10-0-0 at home this year hosts the contest. 

Prognosis – Give New Hampshire the edge due to playing at home but give Colgate the edge in the grit factor.  All things considered this one is too close to call.  

Rider (10-9-1) at Akron (10-6-2) – Rider won the MAAC Tournamet.  Akron won the MAC Tournament. 

Both of these teams struggled during the early part of the season before rebounding and gaining momentum.  Rider comes into the contest on a five game winning streak during which they have not allowed a goal.  Forwards Elliott Otmani  (7g, 10a) and Pablo DeCastro (8g, 1a) add punch to the Rider attack.  Sophomore goalkeeper Pablo Gatinois and redshirt junior backs Sylvain Coco and Arthur Herpreck anchor a Rider defense that will face a lot of pressure from Akron. 

Akron comes into the game off a four game winning streak.   David Egbo (10g, 3a), Diogo Pacheco (5g, 2a), and Marcel Zajac (5g, 7a) power an  Akron attack that has produced thirty-seven goals but that at times has lacked the explosiveness of vintage  Akron offenses.  Senior goalkeeper Ben Lundt. a three-year starter, is a big plus between the pipes for the Zips. 

Prognosis  – Akron's pressure will take a toll as the game progresses.   Look for the Zips to prevail. 

Grand Canyon (12-8-0) at UC Irvine (12-5-2) – Grand Canyon won the WAC Tournament.  UC Irvine was awarded an at-large berth. 

Grand Canyon comes into the contest off a six game winning streak during which time they have scored eight goals and allowed only one.  Credit veteran head coach Schellas Hyndman with an outstanding job of merging the talents of the Grand Canyon players into a unified team.  Sophomore forwards Josh Drack (3g, 2a), Afonso Marco (3g, 3a) and midfielders Jackson Jellah (3g, 1a) and Alex Radilla (2g, 3a) are among the key elements in a very balanced but not highly prolific Grand Canyon attack.  Senior back Sam Gardner and redshirt freshman goalkeeper George Tasouris are at the heart of a bend but don't break GCU defense that has allowed a total of only sixteen goals and has played well under pressure.  

UC Irvine under the guidance of second year head coach Yossi Raz won the Big West Conference regular season title.   Forward Ivan Canales (10g, 5a), the Big West Offensive Player of the Year, and midfielder Jose Ortiz (8g, 3a) provide firepower to an Anteater attack that has netted a total of thirty-four goals.  Junior midfielder  Danie Crisostomo (3g, 3a) adds another dimension to the offensive. 

Prognosis – The future looks bright for both teams and both have had seasons upon which they can build but the 2018 campaign has to come to an end for one of them.  Grand Canyon by a goal. 

SMU (10-4-3) at Oregon State (10-5-3) – The Mustangs won the American Conference Tournament.  Oregon State out of the Pac-12 was awarded an at-large berth.

SMU concluded the month of September with a loss to UCF and a disappointing 4-4-1 record.  They then gelled as a team and have not lost since then with six wins and two ties in their last eight contests. Senior midfielder Emil Cuello (5g, 5a) and forwards Akean Shackleford (6g, 0a) and Garrett McLaughlin (3g, 2a) are key elements in the attack.  Backs Talen Maples, Eddie Munjoma (2g, 5a),  Philip Ponder and Thomas Haney and goalkeeper Grant Makela anchor a Mustang defense that has played very well down the homestretch. 

Oregon State had a chance to share the Pac-12 title with Stanford but a season ending 2-0 loss to Washington derailed that.  Nonetheless the Beavers have way exceeded expectations this year behind first year head coach Terry Boss.  Senior forward  Don Tchilao (7g, 7a) and freshman forward Gloire Amanda (8g, 1a) are very dangerous finishers.  Freshman midfielder Sofiane Dieffal (4g, 7a) adds yet another playmaker to the Beaver attack.  Freshman Adrian Fernandez anchors the Oregon State defense in goal. 

Prognosis – This one is all about which team is able to settle in and play their game.  Traveling can be detrimental but SMU's experience should prove to  be a difference maker in this one.  If the Mustangs  avoid lapses in play, they should leave Corvallis with a win.

James Madison (12-4-3) at High Point (13-2-2) – James Madison won the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.  High Point out of the Big South Conference received an at-large berth. 

James Madison won both the CAA regular season and tournament titles under first-year head coach Paul Zazenski.   JMU has scored a total of thirty-one goals while allowing only ten so far this year.  Redshirt sophomore forward Carson Jeffris (7g, 3a), senior forward Aaron Ward-Baptiste (5g, 4a) and junior midfielder Manuel Ferriol (6g, 5a) who was the MVP of the 2018 CAA Tourney,  are among those who add credibility to James Madison's offense.  Graduate Student midfielder  Yannick Franz (0g, 2a) is a solid two-way player and team catalyst who sets the pace for JMU.   Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper TJ Bush and senior back Thomas Shores are key ingredients in the Dukes defense. 

This has been a history making and high energy season for a High Point team under the leadership of head coach EJ O'Keeffe that is making its first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament.  Junior forwards  Ilias Kosmidis (10g, 3a) and Siggi Benonysson (5g, 7a) and freshman midfielder Tony Pineda (7g, 5a) are all dangerous playmakers.  Senior backs Johnny Fenwick and Rashid Tetteh and redshirt netminder Keegan Meyer anchor a Panther defense that has held opponents to only sixteen goals.

Prognosis – This is a credibility game for HPU.  If they remain focused on the task at hand and don't get caught up in the event then their history making 2018 season should include the program's first ever NCAA Tournament win.  

Georgia State (11-6-2) at Charlotte (14-4-1) – Georgia State won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.  Charlotte out of CUSA was awarded an at-large berth.

A determined Georgia State team showed a lot of grit when they came from behind to top Georgia Southern 4-2 in the Sun Belt Championship contest.  Georgia State has a balanced attack that features senior midfielder Max Hemmings (4g, 4a), sophomore forward  Aris Briggs (5g, 1a),  junior forward Frank Rosenwald (4g, 2a) and senior midfielder Hannes Burmeister (3g, 1a) who contributed a hat trick in the tournament championship game.   Junior Kyle Clinton, the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year,  redshirt senior Liam Fitzsimmons and sophomore George Proctor anchor a very capable GSU defense along with junior goalkeeper Paul Tyson. 

Charlotte's eight game winning streak came to an end when they were topped 1-0 by Kentucky in the CUSA Conference Tournament final.  This is a very balanced Charlotte team that has scored a total of thirty-six goals while allowing only ten.  Senior back Callum Montgomery, the CUSA Defender of the Year,  and redshirt junior Elliot Panicco anchor a 49er defense that is among the best in the country.  Senior forward Daniel Bruce (5g, 4a), senior midfielder Tommy Madden (4g, 5a)  and junior midfielder Teddy Chaouche (1g, 10a) power the Charlotte offense. 

Prognosis – Georgia State will come to play but Charlotte's stout defense will provide the edge that they need to take control of the contest and secure the win.

LIU Brooklyn (12-5-1) at West Virginia (13-6-0) – LIU Brooklyn won the Northeast Conference Tournament.  West Virginia out of the MAC was awarded an at-large berth. 

Senior forward Rasmus Hansen (7g, 1a), sophomore midfielder Fredrik Mathisen (5g, 5a) and redshirt senior forward Romario Guscott (4g, 4a) are at the forefront of an LIU Brooklyn attack that has scored a total of thirty-two goals.  Sophomore Erik Johansson, the NEC Defensive Player of the Year, senior  Flilip Nordstrom, and junior Marius Koss are part of a very solid Blackbird backline along with freshman goalkeeper Sam llin.

West Virginia won the MAC regular season title but fell to Akron 3-1 in the semifinals of the conference tournament.  This is a good Mountaineer team but on occasion they have been porous on the defensive side of the ball.  Senior midfielder Joey Piatczyc  (7g, 9a), the MAC Player of the Year, junior midfielder   Andres Muriel Albino (6g, 1a) and junior defender Pascal Derwaritsch  (6g, 1a) have been the top goal scorers for the Mountaineers.  Sophomore goalkeeper Steven Tekesky  and junior backs Albert Andres-Liop, Pascal Derwaritsch and Ryan Kellogg are among those who head coach Marlon LeBlanc will count on on the defensive side of the ball.     

Prognosis –  LIU Brooklyn will be very competitive but the loss to Akron should serve to keep West Virginia focused and hungry.  It may be close but when it is all said and done the Mountaineers should advance to the second round of play.

UIC (12-5-2) at Michigan State (10-4-4) – UIC won the Horizon League Tournament.  Michigan State out of the Big Ten was awarded an at-large berth.

UIC has scored a total of thirty-eight goals with senior forwards Max Todd (12g, 2a) and  Markel Saddler (5g, 10a) and junior midfielders Oscar Gonzalez (5g, 9a) and  Jesus Perez (3g, 12a) all playing key roles.  Sophomore back Jacob Graiber and senior goalkeeper Sawyer Jackman are key ingredients on the defensive side of the ball for the Flames.

Michigan State will seek to get back into the win column after losing to Maryland 1-0 in overtime in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.  The Spartans have played everyone close this year but their inability to come up with the big play needed to win the close contests has derailed them at times.  Junior Giuseppe Barone (3g, 9a), the Big Ten Midfielder of the Year,  and junior forwards Ryan Sierakowski (5g, 4a) and DeJuan Jones (5g, 3a) are the keys to the Spartan attack.   Sophomore back Patrick Nielsen and senior goalkeeper Jimmy Hague are among the standouts on the defensive side of the ball. 

Prognosis – UIC is a perfect 7-0-0 at home but 3-5-1 on the road.  Nonetheless, the  Flames will come to East Lansing believing they can win.  An upset is not out of the question particularly when you consider that Michigan State has managed to find the back of the net a total of one time in their last four contests.  Look for the Michigan State attack to get in gear in this one and secure the win. 

UCLA (10-8-0) at Portland (11-3-3) – Portland out of the WCC received at-large berth.  Ditto that for UCLA out of the Pac-12 Conference. 

The Bruins return to the NCAA Tournament field after a rare absence last year.  UCLA comes into the contest with four losses in their last five games including a regular season ending 1-0 loss at home to San Diego State.  Midfielder Matt Hundley (5g, 7a) and forward Mohammed Kamara  (5g, 1a) are among the twelve players who produced the twenty-five goals UCLA has scored.  Backs senior Erik Holt, sophomore Brandon Terwege, freshman AJ Vasquez, and redshirt junior Matthew Powell anchor the Bruin backline.  Freshman Justin Garces and senior Cole Martinez have shared time in goal. 

Portland comes into the match with three losses in its last four contests including a 1-0 loss at home to Saint Mary's in their final regular season game.  Junior Benji Michel (10g, 2a) has been the main man in a Portland attack that has produced a total of thirty-three goals.  Junior midfielders  Gio Magana-Rivera and  Rey Ortiz are key playmakers.  Senior center back Lionel Milles and junior Esteban Calvo Malcom will be counted upon to anchor the Pilot defense.

Prognosis – Both teams have struggled down the homestretch.  Give Portland the edge due to playing at home.

Lipscomb (9-9-0) at Washington (12-7-0) – Lipscomb won the ASUN Conference Tournamet.  Washington out of the Pac-12 was awarded an at-large berth.

Credit Lipscomb. They never gave up.  After a dismal start that would have sent many teams into a tailspin, the Bisons rebounded to win eight out of their last ten contests including a signature 3-2 win over Louisville and ASUN tournament wins over Jacksonville and Stetson.  Senior forward Logan Paynter (9g, 3a), the ASUN Player of the Year, has been the go-to guy in the Lipscomb attack since arriving on campus. Senior Ryan Birchfield is a box-to-box midfielder who contributes on both sides of the ball.  Goalkeeper Chris Zappia gives Lipscomb a talented and composed presence between the pipes. 

Washington has had a bit of a roller coaster season that included a four game losing streak in the middle of the season. They will come into the contest with Lipscomb on a four came winning streak.  Seniors Kyle Coffee (4g, 7a), Scott Menzies (9g, 0a) and Corban Anderson (3g, 4a), sophomore Blake Bodily (2g, 4a) and freshman Dylan Teves (5g, 2a) are among those who add firepower to Wasington's attack.  Seniors Quentin Pearson and Luke Hauswirth anchor the backline along with redshirt junior goalkeeper Saif Kerawala. 

Prognosis – Washington seems to have resolved whatever caused their midseason slump.  Lipscomb will make it close for a while but Washington should pull away as the game progresses.    

Campbell (9-8-3) at North Carolina State (9-6-3) –  Campbell won the Big South Tournament.  NC State out of the Atlantic Coast Conference received an at-large berth.

Senior co-captain JJ Donnelly (6g, 5a), sophomore Thibaut Jacquel (4g, 8a), senior midfielder Josh Signey,   (4g, 3a) and freshman midfielder Matt Lock (3g, 4a) are among Campbell's key goal scorers.  Junior Ian Rees is a solid two-way player who sets the pace in the middle of the park.  Junior Gideon Betz (3g, 1a), Michael Barrow, and Ben Morrison anchor the defense along with sophomore goalkeeper Samuel Lechuga.   

NC State is making its first back-to-back appearance in the NCAA Tournament since the 1991 and 1992 seasons.  The Wolfpack started the season strong and have signature wins over Akron, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina.  However, they come into the contest with Campbell having lost three out of their last five games.  The departure of sophomore midfielder Manny Perez (1g, 5a) to play with the U20 Men's National Team likely contributed to that.  Junior Gabriel Machado (4g, 3a), sophomore Brad Sweeney (4g, 2a) and sophomore David Loera (3g, 6a) are important elements in the Wolfpack offense.  Senior back Simon Blotko and sophomore goalkeeper Leon Krapf anchor a defense that has allowed a total of twenty-one goals. 

Prognosis – George Kiefer has the Pack back on track.  Look for North Carolina State to prevail and claim their first NCAA Tournament win since the 1994 season  and their first ten win season since 2012.

UC Riverside (7-9-3) at Pacific (11-4-2) – UC Riverside won the Big West Conference Tournament.  Pacific out of the West Coast Conference was awarded an at-large berth.    

UC Riverside is hands down the Cinderella team of the 2018 season.  The Highlanders rebounded after beginning the year with a 0-7-1 mark to secure the program's first ever Big West Conference Championship and berth in the NCAA Tournament.  Sophomore midfielder Daniel Aguirre (6g, 2a), redshirt senior midfielder Edward Benito (3g, 2a), freshman forward Daniel Castaneda (3g, 1a) and forward Roberto Garcia-Vargas (3g, 0a) are among the key contributors on the offensive side of the ball.  Senior back Dusan Keca (4g, 1a) has been an impact player on both sides of the ball.  

Pacific comes into the contest with wins in five of their last six games including regular season ending wins over Portland 3-2 and Gonzaga 1-0.  The Tigers have scored a total of twenty-nine goals while only allowing thirteen. Senior Camden Riley (9g, 5a) and junior Jonathan Jimenez (8g, 5a) power the Pacific attack.  Senior backs Wouter Verstraaten and Bob Groenendijk are a key factor in a very tenacious Tiger defense.

Prognosis –  A very experienced and talented Pacific team is making its third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.  If they play to their potential they will earn the right to advance to travel cross county face Duke in the second round.

Princeton (10-5-2) at Michigan (12-5-2) – Princeton won the Ivy League regular season title and the automatic berth that accompanies it.  Michigan out of the Big Ten was granted an at-large berth.

Sophomore midfielder Kevin O'Toole (4g, 3a)  the Ivy League  Player of the Year, senior forward  Sean McSherry (4g, 3a), and senior forward  Jeremy Colvin (5g, 0a) power a Princeton attack that netted a total of twenty one goals.  Backs Richard Wolf, Cole Morokhovich, Bobby Hickson, Benjamin Issroff and junior goalkeeper Jacob Schachner anchor a Princeton defense that only allowed a total of eleven goals.

Michigan comes into the contest with Princeton after defeating Penn State 3-1 and Wisconsin 1-0 to advance to the Big Ten Tournament title match where they were topped by Indiana 3-0.  Junior Jack Hallahan (8g, 8a), the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, and sophomore Farouk Osman (9g, 3a) provide firepower to the Michigan attack up-top.  Senior  midfielder Robbie Mertz (2g, 4a) sets the pace in the midfield.  

Senior back Marcello Borges and goalkeeper Henry Mashburn are key ingredients in a Wolverine defense that has allowed a total of seventeen goals.

Prognosis – This one is going to hinge on whether or not the Princeton defense can contain the Michigan attack.  Whoever scores first will have a big advantage.  Look for Hallahan or Osman to break through and secure a closely contested win for Michigan.  

Furman (13-6-1) at UNCW (12-5-2) – Furman won the Southern Conference Tournament.  UNCW out of the Colonial Athletic Association received an at-large berth. 

 After losing their final two regular season contests, Furman rebounded to top Belmont, ETSU, and UNCG to win the Southern Conference Tournament.  Junior midfielder Emery May (9g, 1a) and senior midfielder Laurence Wyke (7g, 1a) have been a key part of a Furman offense that has found the back of the net a total of thirty-seven times.  Ben Hale, the Southern Conference Goalkeeper of the Year, anchors a Paladin defense that has allowed a total of twenty goals. 

UNCW is making back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament.  The Seahawks maintained a spot in the national rankings for most of the year but dropped out after losing three out of their last four matches including a 2-1 loss to Hofstra in the semifinals of the CAA Tournament.  A productive UNCW attack that is paced by junior forward Philip Goodrum (12g, 4a) and sophomore forward Emil Elveroth (11g, 5a) has produced a total of thirty-nine goals.  Senior midfielder Joel Bylander (0g,3a) is a four-year starter and team catalyst.  Junior defenders Mark Lindstrom and Wilhelm Nilsson and senior goalkeeper Ryan Cretens are key elements in a Seahawk defense that has held opponents to a total of fifteen goals.  

Prognosis – Both teams can score in multiples when their attack settles into a rhythm and they control the pace of the match.  Breakdowns on the defensive side will be costly.  Furman has momentum but UNCW looks to be the stronger side.  The Seahawks should survive and advance to the next round.

Central Arkansas (8-5-4) at Air Force (15-4-0) – Central Arkansas won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.  Air Force out of the Western Athletic Conference was awarded an at-large berth.

Central Arkansas is powered on the offensive side of the ball by junior forward Niklas Brodacki (9g, 0a) who was named the MVC Player of the Year the past two seasons.  Sophomore forward Kasper Anderson (2g, 3a)  and senior midfielder Chris Holmes (1g, 2a) are among those who add balance to the offense. Senior Daltyn Knutson (3g, 3a)  is a box-to-box midfielder who sets the pace for the Bears.   Junior Marc Olsen anchors the defense in goal. 

Air Force comes into the match off back-to-back 1-0 loses to Grand Canyon.  Tucker Bone (12g, 6a) and Austin Dewing (11g, 4a) are key ingredients in a potent Air Force offense that has scored a total of forty-eight times.  Junior goalkeeper Andrea Seazzu, the WAC Defensive Player of the Year,  and senior back David Louthan anchor a defense that has allowed a total of fourteen goals.

Prognosis – Air Force may have trouble containing Brodacki.  Likewise Central Arkansas will have to contend with the dual threat of Bone and Dewing.  Give Air Force the edge and the win.

Rhode Island (15-4-0) at Connecticut (11-5-2) – Rhode Island won the Atlantic 10 Tournament.  Connecticut out of the American Athletic Conference was the recipient of an at-large berth.

Rhode Island won the Atlantic 10 Tournament with impressive wins over Fordham, VCU, and George Mason.  Senior Dominik Richter (9g, 5a), freshman Edvin Akselsen (7g, 6a) and junior Stavos Zarokostas (8g, 3a) are among the key goal scorers for a Rhode Island team that has found the back of the net thirty-nine times.  Graduate Student goalkeeper Tyler Dickson and junior back Peder Kristiansen anchor a Ram defense that has allowed a total of seventeen goals. 

Connecticut returns to the NCAA Tournament field after a two year absence. Forwards senior Abdou Mbacke Thiam  (13g, 6a) and redshirt junior Dayonn Harris (5g, 6a) are the top goal scorers in UConn's offense.   Senior center  back Jacob Hauser-Ramsey, the AAC Defensive Player of the Year, and freshman back Felix Metzler, the AAC Rookie of the Year, redshirt senior Dylan Greenberg  and sophomore Robin Lapert anchor a Connecticut backline that has allowed a total of twenty-three goals.

Prognosis – These two teams were supposed to meet during the regular season but the game was cancelled due to the weather.  Connecticut has lost three out of its last four contests although against very tough competition.  Rhode Island has been playing very well as a team but their defense may have problems containing Abdou Mbacke Thiam.  This one could go either way.

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