The first round of the NCAA tournament is in the books, after concluding an exciting round of games, which included five penalty kick shootouts and two overtime contests. With the second round matchups taking place Sunday, College Soccer News takes a look at four teams that are well positioned to upset their top 16 counterpart.
Stanford vs #15 Cal State Northridge: The Cardinal snuck by the Loyola Marymount Lions in a pk shootout in possibly the most exciting game of the first round. Jeremy Gunn’s squad comes into this second round matchup on a three game winning streak. Stanford’s six losses this year may not seem great, but none have come against a team ranked worse than six in the country. The Matadors come into this matchup only having won three of their last seven, and having lost four home games this year. The Cardinal have three of the most exciting attacking players in the country led by Zach Batteer (9g, 3a), Jordan Morris (6g, 7a), and Aaron Kovar (2g, 5a), all of whom are capable of breakout games. This second round West Coast matchup brings together two of the most high flying offenses in the country and is a possible upset in the making.
Penn State vs #10 UC Santa Barbara: The Nittany Lions face a strong Gauchos side, which sets the stage for one of the best second round matchups in the tournament. Coach Bob Warming’s Penn State side, has only lost two of their last nine and will look to keep their run of form. Meanwhile, the Gauchos have only won one of their last five. Coach Vom Steeg’s team has dropped four of their five games this year at Harder Stadium, so the home field advantage isn’t as strong as it may seem. In addition, the Gauchos will be without freshman midfielder Drew Murphy and junior defender Kevin Garcia-Lopez who have to sit out the match with red card suspensions. The status of center back Peter Schmetz is also questionable due to a ligament injury that has caused him to miss the last four games. Penn State, led by RS junior Jordan Tyler (5 goals) and freshman Connor Maloney (1g, 7a) will look to provide the offensive output to out work the Gauchos. The Big Ten regular season champs faced a difficult road schedule this year, but came out on top of the likes of Michigan State and Indiana. They will need more of this quality play to outscore a UCSB team, which scored 22 of their 31 goals at home. The fact that Penn State played Thursday night and then had to travel cross country could hamper them particularly if the game goes into extra time. Expect an end-to-end battle in California.
Akron vs #9 Marquette: The Zips are coming off a terrific result against last year’s national champs and will look to carry this momentum into their contest with the Golden Eagles at Valley Fields in Milwaukee. Coach Embick’s squad has been on a roll as of late, having won seven in a row. Technically, some might not consider Akron to be the underdog in this one since they are ranked sixth in the latest College Soccer News poll and seventh in the latest NSCAA poll while Marquette is ranked eleventh. The Golden Eagles are in good form as well, as they are coming off the Big East championship. These possession based sides are two of the most confident sides in the country, which arguably makes this contest a strong candidate for the top matchup of the second round. Both teams have well known and potent attacks. However, defense is the real strength of both sides. Bryan Gallego anchors a Zips backline which has only given up 15 goals this year, while Axel Sjoberg (2g, 2a) controls a stellar Marquette defense that notched nine shutouts en route to a Big East title. Akron’s defense will need to shut down Marquette’s offensive weapon, C. Nortey (9g, 2a) and if they do expect the Zips to cruise into the sweet sixteen. This is a very good Marquette team but this may not be the year that they secure their first ever win in NCAA Tourney play.
Connecticut vs #16 UMBC: There are more than the usual number of unanswerd questions surrounding this one which makes it a must watch match. Perhaps the biggest question relates to just how competitive is UMBC. We know they are good but just how good remains unknown. The outcome of this contest should help to clarify that. The Huskies will put their 15 game undefeated streak to test as they travel to face the 16-1-2 Retrievers. Head Coach Ray Reid has his side in great shape having won, six of their last seven, but they face a UMBC side whose only loss of the year was nearly two months ago. UMBC has a great record and many feel the team should have a better seeding, but they haven’t played a side UCONN’s caliber all year. UCONN’s current RPI of 21 is the best of any opponent the Retriever’s have faced this year. This matchup sees one of the best forwards in the country Pete Caringi (12g, 3a) go head to head with the best goalkeeper in the nation, Andre Blake. UMBC has tallied 39 goals this year, but the Huskies defense, led by Sergio Campbell has allowed only ten goals so far this year. This highly anticipated matchup will be the first true test for the Retrievers, and if the Huskies can maintain their recent form, there is a good chance that Connecticut will pull off the upset.
Ben Roth is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. He can be reached at email@example.com