The First Round of the 2015 DI NCAA Men’s College Soccer Tournament kicks off on Thursday. Keeping up with the annual tradition, TopDrawerSoccer profiles all 16 games from the opening round and offers predictions for each game.
First Round Preview
(home team listed first, all games on Nov. 19)
How they got here: Charlotte was awarded an at-large berth and a home game after finishing in second in Conference USA during the regular season. Charlotte was bounced in the conference tournament in penalty kicks to Marshall. Radford was awarded an at-large berth after finishing first in the Big South regular season, but lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
Players to watch: Radford finished as the fifth best offense statistically in Division I. The Highlanders have only been shutout twice in 2015. A major reason for the prolific attack has been Norwegian freshman Sivert Daehlie, who leads the team in goals with 13 on the season. Daehlie is riding a bit of a hot streak over the last few weeks with a goal in his last three games leading up to Thursday’s showdown. Charlotte counters with the 13th best defense, statistically, as sophomore defender Matej Dekovic is one of four players on Charlotte to start every game this season. Dekovic was a key piece of the Charlotte squad last season that was upset in the second round. He will be looking to make up for last year’s shortcoming with Radford standing in the way on Thursday.
Previous meeting: Charlotte defeated Radford 2-1 in August of 2014.
What's next: The winner moves on to face No. 1 seed Wake Forest in the Second Round.
Prediction: Charlotte’s experience and home field advantage is enough to carry the 49ers into the next round. Charlotte wins 2-1.
How they got here: Connecticut was somewhat surprisingly awarded an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament after finishing third in the AAC regular season, and losing in the AAC Tournament final on penalty kicks. Boston was awarded an at-large berth after finishing second in the Patriot League and then losing in the semifinal of the conference tournament.
Players to watch: Junior goalkeeper Matt Gilbert has played every minute this season for the Terriers. He has a .816 save percentage on the season, which puts him in the top 25 in Division I for the season. Gilbert will be tested against a talented Connecticut attack. Freshman Abdou Thiam has been at the point of the Connecticut attack recently with 11 goals to his name in his debut season, and is a player to watch in the first round.
Previous meeting: Boston University and Connecticut last met in the NCAA Tournament in 1988. Boston University won 3-1.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to take on No. 16 seed Indiana in the Second Round.
Prediction: Boston has enjoyed the better season, but Connecticut is playing itself into form at the right time of the season. The Huskies getting the home field advantage makes all the difference. Connecticut wins 2-1.
How they got here: Dayton won the Atlantic 10 Tournament with a commanding 4-1 victory over VCU in the final. Oakland won the Horizon League after finishing as the second seed during the regular season. The Golden Grizzlies defeated Wright State in the final.
Players to watch: The breakout star of the season for Dayton is Amass Amankona. After recording 10 goals in his previous two seasons conbimed, Amankona erupted for 13 goals in 2015, and leads the Flyers with 31 points. The Flyers potent offense ranks as the best in Division I with an average of 2.62 goals per game. Oakland counters with the experience of a team that went to the NCAA Tournament last season. The Grizzlies shut down that Flyers attack earlier this season in a 2-0 win over the Atlantic 10 champions. Oakland will be counting on senior captain Matt Dudley to lead the team to a similar performance in the rematch. Dudley is the only player on the Oakland roster to start all 19 games this season. He shows up in the big moments so expect to see plenty of him on Thursday.
Previous meeting: Oakland defeated Dayton 2-0 on Sept. 12.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to take on No. 9 Ohio State in the Second Round.
Prediction: Dayton’s attack is dynamic and impressive, but Oakland has been here before and proven that they are not an easy out from a small conference. Head coach Eric Pogue knows how to game plan for these situations and he can rely on an experienced group. Oakland pulls out the upset with a 1-0 road win.
How they got here: Cal State Fullerton won the Big West Tournament again. The Titans usurped hosts UCSB in the final with a 1-0 victory and claimed a spot in the NCAA Tournament via the automatic berth. Santa Clara rode a mythical beast into the promised land via the WCC championship. The Broncos managed to erase a poor start in conference play, defeating league leaders San Diego in commanding fashion on the final day of play to grab the conference’s only berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Players to watch: Carlos Delgadillo is on fire right now and he might have the capability of turning a soccer ball into a fireball during this game. The forward returned to action recently and it was a stark realization about the quality that the Broncos were missing in the attacking third through parts of the season. Fullerton has options up top for scorers and they have not needed much service to get the job done this season. However, it will be up to goalkeeper David Rodriguez Elias to keep Santa Clara off the scoreboard in this clash. Elias has made 62 saves this season in 21 appearances for the Titans.
Previous meetings: Cal State Fullerton beat Santa Clara 2-1 on Sept. 6 at Santa Clara.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to take on No. 8 Stanford in the Second Round.
Prediction: While Cal State Fullerton coach George Kuntz has been a wizard in the Big West Tournament, his NCAA Tournament record is not quite as impressive with only two wins in five appearances. Santa Clara is playing quality soccer right now and has been in the playoff mode for the last month. Santa Clara wins 3-1.
How they got here: Coastal Carolina was awarded an at-large berth after losing to High Point in penalty kicks in the Big South Tournament. North Florida won the Atlantic Sun with an eye-popping 7-0 win over USC Upstate in the final.
Players to watch: The lopsided win in the tournament final for North Florida allowed a number of players to grow in confidence. Senior forward Helge Pietschmann became the first player to score a hat trick in the A-Sun Championship. While the streaky forward is the one in the headlines this week, forward Alex Morrell has been the more consistent threat for North Florida this season. Coastal Carolina defense Einar Einarsson will be one of the main options for the Chanticleers in slowing down the North Florida attack. Einarsson is second on the team in minutes played this season with 1,709 over the course of 18 games. While Einarsson’s defense will be on the microscope, it is the offense that needs to come alive on Thursday. Coastal Carolina has only scored one goal in its last four games.
Previous meetings: North Florida beat Coastal Carolina 3-0 in 2008, which is the last time these two programs met.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to take on No. 5 North Carolina in the Second Round.
Prediction: Despite Coastal Carolina’s recent offensive struggles, this is still a very talented team with a lot of potential to erupt in the attack with a home game on Thursday. Coastal Carolina wins 3-0.
How they got here: Kentucky was awarded an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament after losing in the semifinal of the Conference USA tournament. Drake won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament with a 1-0 win over SIUE in the final. Drake recorded shutouts in all three games of the conference tournament.
Players to watch: Drake goalkeeper Darrin MacLeod has played every minute this season in goal for the Bulldogs. He has seven shutouts in 19 appearances. The redshirt junior is a three-year starter for Drake and has grown into the role more and more each season. He will be called upon against Kentucky in a tough road game. The struggle for the Wildcats has been the consistent threat in the attack. Andrew McKelvey started as the lone forward in Kentucky’s last game and only managed one shot in 70 minutes of play. The Wildcats need someone who can step into that role and put a goal away in this matchup.
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these programs.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to take on No. 12 Creighton in the Second Round.
Prediction: Both goalkeepers come up big in this game and it comes down to penalty kicks. Kentucky advances 5-4 in PKs.
SMU (13-2-4) vs. Utah Valley University(m) (14-5-2), 7 p.m. (CT)
How they got here: SMU was awarded an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament after winning the AAC regular season title. The Mustangs lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Utah Valley qualified for its first NCAA Tournament via an at-large berth. The young program finished as runner-up in the WAC to Seattle.
Players to watch: SMU outside back Jared Rice is among the leaders in Division I with 10 assists this season. Rice, a local product from the Dallas Texans Academy, has potential for the next level. The sophomore has been a key piece for SMU the past two seasons. Rice’s contributions from his service in the channel is one of the main reasons why SMU has only been shutout once this season. Utah Valley’s defense has had some memorable performances this season, but it’s still a young squad. There is only one senior on the roster for 2015. Sophomore defender Chandler Baddley leads the team in minutes played. After only starting seven games in 2014, Baddley has taken over as one of the key pieces for the Wolverines this fall and is a player to watch on Thursday.
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these programs.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to play No. 13 Denver in the Second Round.
Prediction: This is a matchup of two of the most exciting programs in Division I right now. Both of the coaching staffs have done tremendous work recently, and deserve plenty of plaudits for their achievements in 2015. SMU has the slight edge with the home field advantage, as the Mustangs are 10-1-1 at home on the season. SMU wins 4-3.
Rutgers (12-6-1) vs. LIU Brooklyn (11-5-4), 7 p.m. (ET)
How they got here: Rutgers earned an at-large berth after finishing third in the Big Ten regular season. The Knights lost to Ohio State in the conference tournament. LIU Brooklyn won the Northeast Conference regular season and tournament titles. The Blackbirds are making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2004.
Players to watch: Rutgers forward Jason Wright is the obvious choice in this game. The talented Jamaican striker is a player to watch every time Rutgers takes the field. Wright was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year after recording 13 goals during his sophomore campaign. He is a difficult mark for any defense and especially challenging for a team that is not accustom to his quality. It might take a committee to stop Wright, but LIU Brooklyn senior defender Tanner Sica is likely going to be one of the players with that responsibility. Sica has started every game for the Blackbirds since his arrival on campus, and is the only player on this year’s team to start every game in 2015.
Previous meetings: Rutgers won the last meeting between these teams 2-0 in 2010.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to take on No. 4 Akron in the Second Round.
Prediction: Rutgers packs too much punch for LIU Brooklyn. Rutgers wins 2-0.
How they got here: Hofstra earned the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament with a win in the CAA championship game on Sunday. Hofstra defeated Delaware to claim the conference crown. Lehigh earned an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament after winning the Patriot League Tournament. Lehigh only gave up one goal on its way to the crown.
Players to watch: Hofstra midfielder Joseph Holland has captured a ton of individual honors this season. The junior from England is the key catalyst to the team. Of the 30 goals Hofstra has scored this year, Holland has had a direct hand in 17 of them. Lehigh’s attack has not been quite as predictable. Both Mark Forrest and Jamie Luchini have scored 10 goals this season for the Mountain Hawks. The attacking talent on both sides has this game shaping up to be an end-to-end contest.
Previous meetings: Hofstra won the last meeting between these teams 2-0 in 2012.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to take on No. 3 Georgetown in the Second Round.
Prediction: Hofstra is 8-1 at home this season, which includes wins over Elon and Syracuse. The home field is too big of an advantage in this one. Hofstra wins 3-1.
How they got here: Boston College was awarded an at-large berth and a home game after finishing 4-4 in the ACC. The Golden Eagles are one of six ACC teams that were given at-large berths to the NCAA Tournament. Vermont automatically qualified for the NCAA Tournament after winning the America East Tournament. Vermont knocked off 2014 College Cup squad UMBC in the semifinals of the America East Tournament.
Players to watch: Vermont forward Brian Wright is leading the way for the Catamounts this season. The junior from Canada has 10 goals and seven assists in 18 games. It’s been difficult for teams to slow down Wright recently as he has three goals and two assists in his last three games. The streaky forward seems to be hitting a hot streak now. Boston College’s main weapon this season has not been quite as prolific. Freshman forward Simon Enstrom has seven goals and three assists in 17 games this season. The attacker from Sweden has two goals and an assist in his last three games.
Previous meeting: This is the first meeting between these programs since 1988. Vermont won that clash 2-0.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to take on No. 14 South Florida in the Second Round.
Prediction: Boston College has been mighty shaky recently with only one win in its last five games. Vermont pulls off the upset here. Vermont wins 2-1.
How they got here: UCLA was awarded an at-large berth after taking on one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in Division I. The Bruins finished second in the Pac-12 with a 5-4-1 record. Cal Poly was awarded an at-large berth after finishing second in the North Division in the Big West.
Players to watch: Abu Danladi, arguably the best forward in college soccer, has turned into one of the top providers in Division I. Danladi has 10 assists on the campaign and is pulling the strings in the attack for Seyi Adekoya and Jose Hernandez. Cal Poly goalkeeper Wade Hamilton will be the one to watch on the other side. The Mustangs will be counting Hamilton to keep them close in this game. He is a goalkeeper capable of making the jaw-dropping save to frustrate the opposition and give his side that extra bit of confidence.
Previous meeting: UCLA defeated Cal Poly 4-1 on Sept. 18.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to take on No. 11 Seattle in the Second Round.
Prediction: Cal Poly has had a great season under new head coach Steve Sampson, but the Mustangs have struggled on the road this year. UCLA wins 4-2.
How they got here: Dartmouth won the Ivy League with a 6-1 record and claimed the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The Big Green dominated conference play and only let in two goals through seven games. Hartwick won the Sun Belt Conference with a 3-0 victory over Georgia State on Sunday in the championship game.
Players to watch: Hartwick junior Jamie O'Grady is the most likely option to break down the Dartmouth defense. O’Grady has 11 goals and three assists in 17 games this season. The Hawks standout has goals in his last three games. Dartmouth’s success has been on the whole squad. There has not been one breakout from the group as a number of players have contributed to wins in crucial moments. Midfielder Matt Danilack has been one of those who has shown up in some big moments for the Ivy League champions.
Previous meeting: Hartwick won the previous meeting between these programs 2-0 in 2009.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to take on No. 6 Syracuse in the Second Round.
Prediction: Dartmouth is a very good team at home with a 7-1 record in Hanover. The Big Green are built to excel in this situation. Dartmouth wins 1-0.
How they got here: Tulsa earned an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament after winning the American Tournament with penalty kick victories over Connecticut and SMU. Florida International won the Conference USA title with a 1-0 victory over Marshall in the final.
Players to watch: Jake McGuire is the player to watch for Tulsa. The former Chivas USA Academy goalkeeper is one of the top in that position in Division I and fully capable of carrying this team into the next round with a standout performance. FIU junior defender Marvin Hezel leads the team in minutes played this season with 1,689 minutes in 19 games. He has limited the other teams to only 23 goals during the season. He will be a key player in shutting down Tulsa on the road.
Previous meeting: Tulsa defeated FIU 2-0 in 2013. Tulsa owns the all-time series with a 10-0-1 record against FIU.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to take on No. 7 Notre Dame in the Second Round.
Prediction: The numbers stack up in Tulsa’s favor especially the series history. However, FIU has been the better team this season. FIU wins 1-0.
How they got here: Virginia was awarded an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament after finishing second in the ACC Coastal Division. Rider won the MAAC Championship with a 3-2 win over Monmouth in the title game.
Players to watch: Rider forward Jose Aguinaga has either a goal or assist in eight of the last 10 games. Aguinaga, a sophomore, leads the team in points with seven goals and nine assists in 20 appearances this season. Virginia is trying to defend its national championship, but there is a long road ahead for this group. Senior Todd Wharton will need to be at his best to get the Cavaliers back to College Cup.
Previous meeting: Virginia beat Rider 3-0 in the only previous meeting between these programs in 1998.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to take on No. 10 Maryland in the Second Round.
Prediction: Virginia has a chip on its shoulder with the lack of a seed for the defending champion. Rider packs a punch in the attack, but Virginia will control this game. Virginia wins 2-1.
How they got here: South Carolina was given an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament after finishing third in Conference USA. The Gamecocks were one of four C-USA programs to make the NCAA Tournament. Furman earned an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament with the SoCon Championship.
Players to watch: The record for Furman does not look good, but there is plenty of talent on the team. Goalkeeper Sven Lissek has consistently been the one to keep Furman in the game this season. Lissek was outstanding during Furman’s charge to the SoCon title. Danny Deakin will be the one trying to put the ball past Lissek for South Carolina. Deakin leads the team with 10 goals this season in 19 appearances.
Previous meeting: South Carolina won the previous meeting between these teams 3-2 in 2009.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to play No. 15 UC Santa Barbara in the Second Round.
Prediction: South Carolina is 8-1-1 at home this season. The Gamecocks have beat some good teams at home. South Carolina wins 1-0.
How they got here: Elon was awarded an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament after losing in the semifinals of the CAA Tournament. This is the first time the Phoenix have made the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. Winthrop won the Big South Conference Tournament in order to claim an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Players to watch: Elon’s attack draws a lot of the attention, but senior defender Sam McBride might be the real star of the team. McBride has consistently been one of the best players for Elon during his four years with the program. He does a bit of everything to make his teammates better. This season, McBride leads the team in minutes played. On the other side, Mx Hasenstab and Jordi Lluch will be the ones trying to break down McBride and the Elon defense. The attacking duo have combined for 24 of Winthrop’s 41 goals this season.
Previous meeting: Elon won the last meeting between these teams 1-0 in 2014.
What’s next: The winner of this game advances to face No. 2 Clemson in the Second Round.
Prediction: Elon is a talented team that has been tested with a challenging schedule this season. Winthrop is riding a good spell of play, but Elon’s 6-1 home record might be too much for the visitors. Elon wins 2-0.