The men’s Division I season kicks off on Friday, as the march towards Philadelphia begins.
Below are the top five matches to watch, with all taking place on Friday, August 25 (all times EST).
The two teams tipped to win their respective conferences provide one of the marquee matchups of Friday night, as the Friars pay a visit to the Tar Heels before stopping by Wake Forest on Sunday. All eyes will be on Mac Steeves, as the hulking forward is healthy and raring to test North Carolina’s rebuilt backline. The Tar Heels bring back Alex Comsia, though lost a handful of important pieces at the back. Freshman John Nelson should step into the void, while Mauricio Pineda is another candidate to slot in after a strong season. Alex Comsia is a returning starter, and will look to lead the effort to down Steeves and the Friars down.
One of the surprise outfits of 2016 take to the road for an immense test in Omaha. The Hokies came within a game of the College Cup, and bring back enough pieces to have another quality season. Taking on Creighton to open the season is a good test, and the sort of preparation to start off the season at a high level. Ricky Lopez-Espin is the attacking piece that the Hokies will need to be aware of, though he has new players like Sven Koenig and Marios Loomis to work into the final third. Marcelo Acuna’s move to Virginia Tech paid off ahead of the 2016, and the Costa Rican talisman can start to build his case for the 2018 MLS Draft in this clash.
The Zips are on the road to open the season for a Top 20 clash against Utah Valley. Both teams have an opportunity for a statement result as they work through early season growing pains. Akron’s back line needs to be filled in, though they are well-stocked going forward with Nicholas Hinds, Sam Gainford and Stuart Holthusen all fit and ready to fire. German midfielder Paul Hoffmeister is the focal point for the Wolverines, who should be a formidable force in the WAC.
Early season games can be some of the most difficult for top programs, and that’s exactly what the Huskies will hope for when the Lobos arrive in Seattle. Both teams should look similar: tough to break down, favoring organized sides while looking to convert scoring opportunities when they come about. Friday’s clash will also be Blake Bodily’s introduction to college soccer, and the experienced Portland Timbers Academy/T2 midfielder could be one of the best freshman players this season.
Opening the season with five straight games at home, the Pilots are poised to continue building off the momentum of a strong 2016 campaign. There are big holes to fill, though goalkeeper Paul Christensen is back in goal for his senior season, while holdovers like Rey Ortiz, Gio Magana-Rivera, Malcolm Dixon, Benji Michel and Kris Reaves are a formidable foundation. The visiting Rebels bring one of the nation’s premier attackers in the form of Daniel Muskovski, and his ability in front of goal is something that the Portland defense needs to shackle in order to open up the season with a win.