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Andy Wittry | | August 22, 2017

The 10 best early season matchups

The men's soccer season kicks off on Friday, and fans from across the country will be able to follow matches on opening night between top-25 teams from coast (Washington) to coast (North Carolina) with stops in between (Colorado, Nebraska). We examined the schedules of many of the top teams in the country and identified intraconference games with major implications, border battles between schools that reside in neighboring states and rematches from the 2016 NCAA tournament.

Here are 10 must-see men's soccer matches to watch in the early weeks of the college season.

RELATED: Best goals from the opening night of the women's soccer season

No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 12 Providence – Friday, Aug. 25, 7:30 p.m. ET β€“ Elon, North Carolina

In a rematch of last year's NCAA tournament quarterfinal matchup, North Carolina and Providence open the 2017 men's soccer season with a neutral-site match at Elon University. The Friars upset previously unbeaten Maryland 5-4 in the second round of the NCAA tournament, followed by a 2-1 win over Creighton, setting up a showdown against the Tar Heels for a chance to go to the College Cup. It took 102 minutes to decide a winner as midfielder Drew Murphy's goal in double overtime advanced North Carolina to the next round, while ending Providence's season. It was the first goal of Murphy's Tar Heel career, after transferring from UC Santa Barbara, and he'll look to build on that performance as a redshirt senior after being limited to eight games last season.

North Carolina was picked to win the ACC by the conference's coaches, and sophomore midfielder Cam Lindley and freshman defender John Nelson were named to the 2017 Preseason Best XI teams by Top Drawer Soccer. Providence was picked to finish first in the Big East and redshirt senior forward Mac Steeves was selected as the conference's Preseason Offensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row.

No. 3 Denver vs. No. 23 Florida Gulf Coast – Friday, Aug. 25, 7:30 p.m. MT β€“ Denver, Colorado

This top-25 matchup takes place outside of the conference power structure, pitting the Summit League favorite, Denver, against the Atlantic Sun's preseason top team, Florida Gulf Coast. It will be the first time these schools have played in men's soccer. Denver returns six starters from last year's squad that became the first men's or women's team in Summit League history to advance to an NCAA Final Four. Two of the league's eight players to watch play the striker position for the Pioneers – redshirt senior Blake Elder, who became the first player in Denver's DI history to score a goal in four consecutive games, and junior Andre Shinyashiki, who scored a league-best five game-winners last season.

The Eagles have a trio of seniors who were named to the ASUN's Preseason All-Conference team. Senior defender Nicolas Samayoa, senior midfielder Miguel Jaime and senior forward Albert Ruiz give Florida Gulf Coast a talented veteran at each level of its formation. Ruiz, the only unanimous selection to the team, was the 2016 ASUN Player of the Year and one of three MAC Hermann Trophy finalists after scoring a program-record 22 goals last season.

No. 11 Washington vs. No. 20 New Mexico – Friday, Aug. 25, 8 p.m. PT – Seattle, Washington

Washington is directly responsible for ending New Mexico's 2016 season after an emphatic 4-1 win in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Lobos struck first with a goal from Patrick Khouri, who now plays professionally in Finland, in the 21st minute but the Huskies scored four unanswered goals, including three in the span of 18 minutes in the second half. That game was played in Seattle, where the teams will hold a rematch this week. New Mexico defeated Washington 1-0 in an exhibition to start the 2016 season, but the Huskies lead the all-time series 3-1-0.

Washington returns redshirt senior forward Scott Menzies, sophomore forward Elijah Rice and redshirt senior midfielder Beau Blanchard, who each scored in the second half of last fall's NCAA tournament matchup. The Huskies were picked to finish third in the Pac-12 preseason coaches poll and two players – junior forward Kyle Coffee and sophomore midfielder Handwalla Bwana – were selected to the preseason All-Pac 12 team. New Mexico was voted to finish second in the Conference USA preseason coaches poll.

No. 14 Creighton vs. No. 17 Virginia Tech – Friday, Aug. 25, 7 p.m. – Omaha, Nebraska

Friday will be the first-ever meeting between Creighton and Virginia Tech, and both schools will enter the match ranked in the top 25. The Bluejays and Hokies will try to use their respective 2016 NCAA tournament runs as a launching pad for this season. Creighton fell to Providence in the third round of the NCAA tournament, while Virginia Tech was knocked out in the quarterfinal round against eventual national runner-up Wake Forest.

The Bluejays were picked to finish second in the Big East and the Hokies were picked fourth in the ACC Coastal Division. Road wins are hard to come by for Creighton's opponents as the Bluejays are 34-5-3 in Omaha over the last three seasons.

No. 9 Louisville vs. No. 25 Butler – Saturday, Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m. ET – Louisville, Kentucky

In the history of the Louisville men's soccer program, there are few schools that have given the Cardinals as much trouble as the Bulldogs. Butler has the edge in the all-time series, 7-2-1. Louisville begins the season ranked inside the top 10, while Butler just made the cut at No. 25. The two schools played to a 0-0 draw in double overtime last season in Louisville and they'll meet there again this fall.

Butler was picked to finish third in the Big East preseason coaches poll and Louisville was pegged third in the ACC Atlantic Division. Both schools were shown love in preseason projections while being viewed as outsiders to win their respective conference championships. This is a chance for both sides to pick up a win over a ranked non-conference opponent and make some noise in August. History favors Butler but the home pitch and national rankings favor Louisville.

No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 14 Creighton – Friday, Sept. 1, 10 p.m. ET – Stanford, California

The defending national champions will have a tough test on the first night of September when Creighton travels to Stanford. The Bluejays return eight starters from a team that advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament last fall, when it fell to conference foe Providence. Led by MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List honoree Ricky Lopez-Espin, a senior forward who scored a team-high 10 goals last season, along with All-Big East defender Lucas Stauffer and defender/midfielder Mitch LaGro, Creighton enters the season picked to finish second in the Big East, according to the preseason coaches' poll. There's no tougher test than playing the No. 1 team on its home pitch and both teams should benefit from this non-conference matchup.

No. 14 Charlotte vs. No. 19 Coastal Carolina – Tuesday, Sept. 5, 7 p.m. ET – Conway, South Carolina

In a border battle between North Carolina and South Carolina, Charlotte travels south to Coastal Carolina for an enticing mid-week matchup. Coastal Carolina opens its fall slate with exhibitions on the road against North Carolina and Clemson, so the Chanticleers will be battled tested by the start of September. Hosting Charlotte provides them with the opportunity for a marquee win and other than a road date against Maryland, there may not be a bigger regular season game for Coastal Carolina this season.

No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 7 Indiana – Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m. ET – College Park, Maryland

The cream of the crop in the Big Ten will meet in College Park during the first full week of September. With eight national championships, Indiana has been the class of the conference historically, while Maryland has brought new life to Big Ten men's soccer. In their three years in the conference, the Terrapins have won the regular season title twice, including last year, when Maryland finished 18-1-2, only losing to Providence in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Maryland holds a 3-0-2 advantage against Indiana since joining the Big Ten.

The Terrapins were unanimously picked to win the conference by the coaches in the Big Ten and the Hoosiers were pegged to finish second.

No. 13 Virginia vs. No. 8 Syracuse – Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m. ET – Charlottesville, Virginia

The all-time series between Syracuse and Virginia only dates back to 2013, and the ACC schools have only played twice. The Cavaliers won 2-0 in 2013 and the Orange won 1-0 the next fall. After a two-year hiatus of playing each other, the conference foes will meet in Charlottesville in early September for a match between two preseason top-15 teams. In 2014, No. 18 Syracuse handed No. 2 Virginia its first conference loss of the season.

There has been significant roster turnover for both teams since that match – true freshmen who played in that match are now seniors – but this game could affect the ACC championship race. Syracuse must replace seven starters from last season but the Orange return sophomore midfielder Mo Adams, who was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List after starting 19 matches last fall. Virginia junior forward Edward Opoku also made the 31-player watch list after scoring six goals in 2016. The Cavaliers will try to extend their Division I-best streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances to 37 this fall.

No. 2 Wake Forest vs. No. 9 Louisville – Saturday, Sept. 9, 7:30 p.m. ET – Louisville, Kentucky

Wake Forest was picked to win the ACC Atlantic Division by the conference's coaches, with Louisville slated third. The Demon Deacons, last year's national runners-up, will open conference play on the road against the Cardinals in one of the more pivotal ACC matchups this fall. The conference schedule broke favorably for Louisville, which also hosts ACC favorite North Carolina this season, but the question is whether the Cardinals can capitalize on the opportunity to pick up a top-five win on their home pitch.

Wake Forest defeated Louisville 2-1 in both meetings last year, including an overtime victory in the ACC semifinals thanks to a game-winner from rising sophomore midfielder Ema Twumasi. The Demon Deacons have won the last five matchups overall, three of which were decided in overtime. Wake Forest leads the all-time series 6-2.

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