Preview: Favorites, party crashers converge in Kansas City for shot at title
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The NCAA Division III men’s soccer tournament is about to determine a champion in Kansas City.
The field of 61 is down to four teams: Wheaton (Ill.), SUNY Oneonta, Ohio Wesleyan and Tufts.
Matches will start at noon ET Friday at Swope Park Soccer Village when Wheaton (Ill.) takes on SUNY Oneonta.
Both Oneonta and Wheaton received a bye in the first round of the Divison III tournament this year and made it into the semifinal almost unscathed. Both teams only gave up one goal in the three games leading up to the semifinals.
|2014 DIII MEN'S SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP|
|Tufts 4, Wheaton (Ill.) 2 | Box Highlights|
|Rolstad: Tufts captures first national championship|
|Wheaton (Ill.) 3, Oneonta 2 (2OT) | Box Highlights|
|Rolstad: Golz golden for Wheaton (Ill.) in overtime|
|Tufts 3, Ohio Wesleyan 0 | Box Highlights|
|Rolstad: Tufts stays hot to reach championship|
|Rolstad: Four converge on Kansas City for shot at title|
|Brackets: Interactive Printable|
Wheaton’s 5-0 win against Wartburg in the third round was the second highest-scoring game so far in the tournament. The team’s play has picked up since the regular season, which head coach Michael Giuliano is excited about.
“You want to peak at the right time. And the guys are playing great soccer in the playoffs, so I feel like we’re playing our best soccer of the year,” Giuliano said. “If that’s enough, great. If that’s not enough then we can live with that because we’re playing our best soccer of the year right now.”
Oneonta coach Iain Byrne spoke about what he expects from Wheaton in this semifinal.
“We are under no illusions of the task ahead. They are big, strong, fast and technical, with two All-Americans in midfield and a 6-4 center forward with twenty goals,” he said, via oneontaathletics.com. “I am expecting the game to be a spectacle worthy of the occasion.”
That center forward with twenty goals is Stephen Golz, a Wheaton sophomore who is currently the highest scorer left in the tournament. His brother, senior Jordan Golz, is Wheaton’s team captain.
Oneonta’s biggest threats are Cory Santangelo, who leads the team in goals with 14, and assists leader Dylan Williams.
The semifinal on the other half of the bracket features two teams that were hardly favorites to make it this far. Tufts will face Ohio Wesleyan at 2:30 p.m.
Tufts made the semifinals with a quarterfinal win against Division III powerhouse Messiah. Messiah has claimed the Divison III championship ten times since 2000 and was the undefeated, top-ranked team in the nation heading into the tournament.
Freshman Jason Kayne’s early goal in that match sent Tufts through to the semifinals.
“We've earned the right to be [at the semifinals]. We've gone on the road for four games in a row and got results against some very, very good teams and we're getting great collective performances from our guys,” Tufts head coach Josh Shapiro said, via the university athletics website. “Our team has every right to feel as good as anyone about our chances going into the final four."
Ohio Wesleyan is another opponent that is no stranger to success. The Bishops won the national championship in 2011.
With 640 wins and a .819 win percentage, Ohio Wesleyan head coach Jay Martin is the winningest coach in NCAA men's soccer.
Wesleyan progressed to the semifinals with penalty-shooutout wins in the second round and quarterfinal. The team hasn’t won a game in this year’s tournament by more than one goal.
“This is my ninth time in the Final Four and I’ve seen good luck, bad luck, all kinds of luck,” Martin said. “In the end, that’s an important factor. In the end, it should be a competitive weekend.”
Martin’s main focus, however, was on how his team performed on Friday.
“My philosophy in the NCAA tournament is that we’re not going to change very much. I haven’t even looked at the video of Tufts,” he said. “I’ve been concentrating on what we do. I think that the team that deserves to win will go through on Friday.”
Ohio Wesleyan is led by senior Colton Bloecher, who leads the team in goals with 18.