NCAA men’s soccer has kicked off within the past several weeks, and there are a bunch of very talented teams vying for supremacy this season. Head coach Chris Grassie led the Marshall Thundering Herd to the 2020 NCAA Division I championship last year, and is looking to defend the school’s crown against the rest of the nation.
It won’t be easy for them to repeat if early season results are any indication. After a scorching start to their campaign where they throttled James Madison 6-1, Marshall was upset by Virginia Tech 3-2 in their second game. The Hokies scored three straight goals after being down by two in the first half, which could potentially have been linked to a lack of focus on Marshall’s part.
There’s a long way to go, but we’ll take a look at three teams who look like they can go the distance this season in men’s soccer.
It’s not too bold of a prognostication to slot the Hoosiers into the title contention conversation. They were within a whisker of winning it all last year, as they fell to Marshall 1-0 in overtime in the championship game. Two-thirds of Indiana’s roster from last season has returned to the pitch this year, and it’s a good bet that they’ll be strongly motivated by how close they came to glory in 2020. Indiana arguably has the best goalie in the nation in Roman Celentano, who has quite a few accolades to his name. The junior won 2020 NCAA Tournament Defensive Most Outstanding Player, and was also selected as Big Ten Goalkeeper of the year last season. Along with talented forward Victor Bezerra, expect Indiana to make a deep run.
Pittsburgh sports fans likely getting ready for another solid year of Steelers football, but they might want to take a gander at the University of Pittsburgh men’s soccer club when they have a spare moment. It’s absolutely loaded with talent at nearly every level of the field. Led by spectacular juniors Velijko Petkovic and Valentin Noel, the Panthers are going to be difficult to keep down. Petkovic might be the best player in the nation this year, as he looks to build on last season’s resume where he finished fifth in the nation in total points. Noel is right up there as well, finishing second in the nation in total points in 2020, and he holds the Panthers record in consecutive games played with a goal with six.
North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels would qualify as more of a darkhorse pick, but they could make some noise as the season wears on. Like Indiana did, North Carolina hung in well with the eventual national champion Marshall in their matchup in last year’s postseason. The Tar Heels fell 1-0, but had a shot hit the crossbar in the second half that could’ve evened things up. Goalie Alec Smir is going to be one of the main keys to their success, as he’s got the ability to record multiple clean sheets in a row against stout competition. On paper, North Carolina doesn’t have the offensive firepower that some other contenders do, so they’ll have to work together to get prime scoring opportunities.