It’s the America East champions hosting the Patriot League winners, and both teams will fancy their chances. UNH’s success leans on a stout defense, conceding just nine times on the season and picking up nine shutouts. In fact, five of the team’s 25 goals came against UMBC in the America East conference tournament final. Linus Fallberg is a key piece for them going forward. Colgate are no strangers to Patriot League success, winning three straight conference tournaments. Seniors Oliver Harris and Aram Ouligian provide the experience and quality that gives them more than a fighting chance in this one.
Prediction: Colgate 2-1 New Hampshire
It’s been a wild ride this season for Akron, but the Zips got over the line and into the tournament, with three straight wins in the MAC tournament. Marcel Zajac caught fire for Akron, and defender Carlo Ritaccio continues to excel as a freshman. Battle-tested in the MAAC season, Rider held firm against Quinnipiac in the conference tournament final, winning 1-0 despite being outshot by a 19-10 margin. They’ll look to keep it close and aim to get a moment of magic or two from forward Elliot Otmani.
Prediction: Akron 3-1 Rider
The remarkable turnaround around head coach Yossi Raz continued in 2018 for UC Irvine, and the Anteaters snapped up an at-large bid after coming up short in the Big West tournament. Ivan Canales led the way with 10 goals and five assists, and any damage they do in the tournament could fall on his shoulders. Behind a stout defense and timely goals, Grand Canyon emerged as WAC tournament champions. Finishing the season with 19 goals scored and 16 conceded, a lot of the pressure might fall on goalkeeper George Tasouris.
Prediction: UC Irvine 2-1 Grand Canyon
Under a new coaching staff, Oregon State returned to the NCAA tournament, coming a few points shy of a share of the Pac-12 title. Even more impressively, they went unbeaten with a win and a draw against defending champions Stanford. Senior Don Tchilao’s been a big part of that, scoring seven times and chipping in seven assists. Making the trip to Corvallis, SMU have the weapons to come away with the result. The 2018 season’s been relatively quiet for Garrett McLaughlin after a couple sensational years, while Emil Cuello’s ability to impact the game is critical as well.
Prediction: Oregon State 2-2 SMU (Mustangs win on PKs)
Despite falling in the Big South tournament on penalty kicks, High Point built a strong enough resume to earn a spot in the NCAA tourney. Forward Ilias Kosmidis is the team’s scoring force, complimented nicely by freshman Tony Pineda and Siggi Benonysson. James Madison will have their hands full, although the Dukes turned in a memorable season after losing their head coach a few days before preseason. Carson Jeffris and Aaron Ward-Baptiste offer a formidable one-two punch, while the crafty and creative Manuel Ferriol looks to keep the game ticking over.
Prediction: High Point 2-1 James Madison
After unfairly missing out on the 2017 tournament, the 49ers were essentially a lock prior to the Conference USA tournament final against Kentucky. And while that came didn’t go their way despite a strong start, Charlotte’s an under-the-radar team that could string together wins at this stage of the season. A lot of that is down to towering center back duo of Callum Montgomery and Patrick Hogan. The pair are a handful on set pieces as well. Making the trip to Charlotte is Georgia State, Sun Belt tournament winners. It’s been a streaky season, as they started off losing the first two games of 2018, before spinning off six straight. If the Sun Belt tournament is anything to learn from, it just might be the start of another streak for the Panthers.
Prediction: Charlotte 1-0 Georgia State
Can the NEC side go on the road and take down West Virginia? It’s a return to the NCAA tournament for the Mountaineers, which enjoyed a perfect run in the MAC regular season, finishing at 5-0 before bowing out to Akron in the tourney. A big part of West Virginia’s success this year is down to fifth year senior Joey Piatczyc, who leads the team in goals and assists. LIU Brooklyn’s a solid side and have dangerous players like Rasmus Hansen and Frederik Mathisen to call upon.
Prediction: West Virginia 2-0 LIU Brooklyn
At one point looking like bonafide national title challenges, the Spartans slowed down as the season progressed while the goals dried up. A four-game winless streak won’t exactly fill Michigan State with confidence, though if DeJuan Jones or Ryan Sierakowski wake up, anything can happen in the tournament. UIC, champions of the Horizon League, won’t hate its chances. They have plenty to offer going forward, whether it’s Conference Player of the Year Jesus Perez or forward Max Todd. If the Flames can get going, it could spell trouble for the Spartans.
Prediction: Michigan State 0-0 UIC (Spartans win on PKs)
The tastiest match of the first-round slate on Thursday, former UCLA assistant and current Pilot head coach Nick Carlin-Voigt has the chance to send his old program home. A two-game losing streak at season’s end put Portland’s at-large bid in jeopardy, while the same can be send for UCLA’s finish to the regular season, losing in four of five games. Part of that’s been Mohammed Kamara’s struggle to stay healthy and have an impact while he’s healthy; the same can be said for Benji Michel, who has gone five games without a goal after he scored four goals in four straight games.
Prediction: Portland 3-0 UCLA
A four-game winning streak to finish the Pac-12 slate certainly pushed the Huskies over the line and into the tournament, as they teetered on the brink with an 8-7 record at the time. Defensive resilience was a pillar of that success, going that stretch without conceding a goal. Goals are more or less by committee, although Scott Menzies leads the team with nine, while Dylan Teves and Kyle Coffee have chipped in five and four respectively. Logan Paynter is the dangerman for the Atlantic Sun champions, and the Huskies can go a long way by slowing him down.
Prediction: Washington 2-0 Lipscomb
An all-Carolina clash sees the surprising Big South champions pay a visit to Raleigh looking to upset NC State. Midfielder David Loera’s enjoyed a stellar season for the Wolfpack, earning First Team All-ACC honors and is the heartbeat of the team in midfield. NC State doesn’t score a lot of goals, as they sit on 21 tallies, with 21 conceded on the season. Even without Manny Perez (still on duty with the U.S. U20s), they have the firepower to give Campbell some problems. On the other side, if Campbell can get numbers forward they have quality to produce trouble for the hosts. JJ Donnelly, Josh Signey and Thibaut Jacquel are among those that have popped up to score goals, and they’ll set out to keep that going against the ACC side.
Prediction: NC State 3-0 Campbell
The Tigers are dancing for the third straight season and are a potent unseeded side that could cause some problems. They’ve got quality at both ends of the field, whether it’s Camden Riley in the final third (recently named as the WCC Player of the Year) complimented by Jonathan Jimenez, or senior center back Wouter Verstraaten leading the team. UC Riverside won the Big West tournament on penalties after a 0-0 draw against UC Irvine and finished the season under .500. They started the season without a win in the first eight games and are 7-2-2 down the final stretch. So perhaps that bodes well, and if Daniel Aguirre and Daniel Castaneda can get on track, another win might be on the cards.
Prediction: Pacific 2-0 UC Riverside
The Ivy League champs travel to Ann Arbor, facing a Michigan side that nabbed an at-large bid on Selection Monday. Despite losing 3-0 in the Big Ten tournament final, the Wolverines bring quality into the attack through Jack Hallahan and Umar Farouk Osman. If they’re on their game from the opening whistle, it’s hard to imagine Princeton having enough to keep up. A tough and organized team, the Tigers need to keep this low-scoring, sit deep and look for chances on the counter attack or set pieces. Senior Sean McSherry’s four goals and four assists leads the team, while all five of Jeremy Colvin’s goals have won games.
Prediction: Michigan 3-1 Princeton
Perhaps slightly under-the-radar, Furman’s trip to the Carolina coast has potential for a high-scoring, quality clash. The Paladins lean on Laurence Wyke and Emery May to dictate the attack and score goals, giving UNC Wilmington plenty to think about. Between Phillip Goodrum and Emil Elvertoh, UNCW has two double-digit goal scorers that can create chances for the home side.
Prediction: UNC Wilmington 3-2 Furman
The Missouri Valley Conference tournament champs hit the road for a tricky matchup against Air Force, as the Falcons didn’t lose a single game at home this season. Tucker Bone and Austin Dewing are a formidable one-two punch for the Air Force, combining for 23 of the team’s 48 goals. As high-scoring a team as there is in college soccer, shutting them down at home is a big ask for Central Arkansas. Niklas Brodacki hasn’t quite fire at the same heights as last season, though the striker is capable of scoring big goals in big games.
Prediction: Air Force 4-2 Central Arkansas
Two strong regional powers kick off the first round of the tournament with an early afternoon matchup. It’s yet another tantalizing one on paper, as UConn’s experienced team features dominant center back Jacob Hauser-Ramsey and Abdou Mbacke Thiam leading from the front. Rhode Island’s offense knows how to find the back of the net, and four players have hit at least six goals apiece. Freshman goalkeeper Roger Penske emerged as the starter in goal and could be in store for a busy night in Storrs. Neither side will have an easy time of it, and this is another matchup that should provide some entertainment.
Prediction: Connecticut 2-1 Rhode Island