Editorial (December 5, 2018) — This year’s edition of the NCAA Men’s College Cup is a showcase of one conference’s dominance of the sport in 2018: the Big Ten. Three of the four teams to make the semifinals hail from that conference in Indiana, Maryland, and Michigan State. The other school, Akron, hails from a region deeply associated with the league and has proven immensely competitive in recent years.
All four semifinalists can lay claim to at least one national title. In fact, they’ve accounted for 14 between them. Indiana is the most recent winner, having done so in 2012, and has a chance to win their ninth this weekend which would put them one behind Saint Louis for the most all-time. As the number two overall seed in this year’s tournament, the odds are certainly in their favor.
On Friday, the Hoosiers face the only other remaining seeded team in Maryland. As conference foes, the two sides played twice before this season with IU winning in the regular season and needing a penalty shootout to prevail in the semifinals of the conference tournament. This has turned into a hotly contested rivalry since the Terps joined the Big Ten.
The other semifinal features teams who played an extra game since they weren’t seeded. For Akron, their run to this point involved pulling off one of the shockers of the tournament, upsetting number one seed Wake Forest in the third round. They face a Michigan State side who beat two seeded teams before dispatching another tournament Cinderella, James Madison, to make it to this point.
Here’s a look at all four teams heading into Friday’s semifinal matchups.
2018 NCAA Men’s College Cup Preview
Indiana invariably comes to Santa Barbara as the favorite. The Hoosiers sport a 20-2-1 record with their defeats coming to Kentucky and Wake Forest whose respective tournaments came to an end in earlier rounds. They boast a dynamic attack as evidenced by their 47 total goals which rank fifth in DI. But what distinguishes IU is the broad-based nature of their goal-scoring. The team’s leading scorer, Andrew Gutman, has 11 on the year which is tied for 27th in the nation. And five players on the roster have registered five or more goals. Midfielder Trevor Swartz has proven among the more dynamic playmakers in college soccer with his 16 assists tops nationally.
But the Hoosiers are also getting elite play on the back end. Trey Muse leads the nation among goalkeepers with a minimum of 2,000 minutes played with a .478 goals against average. In concert with a shutdown defense, Muse and the Hoosiers pitched shutouts in 65.2 percent of their games. Only St. Mary’s finished with a higher mark among DI sides. A combination of a high-powered attack and reliable defensive play bodes well for the Cream and Crimson’s chances of winning national title number nine.
Maryland’s path to this year’s College Cup involved beating two of their former ACC foes, N.C. State and Duke. They also upset three-seed Kentucky in the quarterfinals to set up Friday’s showdown with Indiana. The alma mater of Zack Steffen, who’s set for a lucrative move to Manchester City, is getting reliable play from goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair. He’s one of just seven keepers in DI who’ve logged at least 2,000 minutes with a goals against average under .750. His quality in net is a big reason why, much like Indiana, the Terps have yet to concede a goal in this tournament.
This is an attack that must punch above its weight if it wants to advance to the championship game. The Terps’ leading scorer, Amar Sejdic, comes into Friday’s contest with just seven goals on the year. The team as a whole has just 27 which puts them in a tie for 67th nationally. But they do have five so far in the tourney, including two from Sejdic. Your top attacker getting hot at the right time is always a good thing. And if he can spearhead a title run, it’ll be Maryland’s fourth all-time, including one they shared with the next team in our discussion.
Michigan State Spartans
That’s right. Back in 1968, both Michigan State and Maryland shared the national title due to the championship game being declared a draw after two overtimes. It was the second-straight such occurrence for the Spartans after their 1967 title match against Saint Louis got called off due to bad weather. They remain the only two collegiate soccer titles the program has won to date.
50 years later, MSU is in the College Cup for the first time since that “draw” against a team who’s now a fellow Big Ten member. They have a chance to set a new school record for most wins in a season if they can eliminate Akron without needing a penalty shootout. It will also give them a modicum of revenge after the Zips beat them 2-1 on October 9 of this year. If the Spartans do triumph, it’s likely that senior forward Ryan Sierakowski played a part. He scored both goals in MSU’s win over James Madison that booked their ticket to Santa Barbara.
Akron is easily the dark horse of this quartet. The Zips crafted arguably the most impressive route to the College Cup. Not only did they knock off the top seed in Wake Forest. They also traveled to California and upset three-time defending national champion Stanford Cardinal 3-2 to wrap up another trip to the Golden State. The program, whose lone national title came in 2010, will be making its second-straight appearance in the semifinals and sixth overall.
This is a team that certainly specializes in putting the ball past opposing goalkeepers. Among this year’s semifinalists, only Indiana’s team haul of goals is higher than Akron’s 44. Having in-form attacking players certainly helps at this point in the season and that’s what the Zips have, particularly in Marcel Zajac. The junior, who has youth national team experience with Canada, scored twice in the upset of Stanford. It puts him at 10 on the year to go with David Egbo’s 12 tallies for the Zips. They’re one of just seven programs in DI with more than one double-digit goal-scorer.