Zach Pekale | NCAA.com | August 20, 2019 Essential things to know ahead of the 2019 NCAA men’s soccer season Men's soccer players to watch in 2019 Share Maryland went 9-1-1 down the stretch to win the 2018 Men's College Cup. But before a scorching second half, the Terps were 4-5-3 and possibly on the wrong side of the postseason cut. Now, UMD is ranked No. 1 in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll with eight contributors gone from a season ago. This is just one of many key points to note before the start of the 2019 campaign. Below are the top games to watch, championship information and an in-depth look at what you need to know before the men's college soccer season kicks off on Aug. 30. Poll reaction: Defending champ Maryland starts on top On Aug. 6, the preseason coaches poll was released. Maryland sits at the top followed by Indiana and Akron. LATEST POLL: Click here for the United Soccer Coaches preseason top 25 The defending champions lost seven players in the offseason and Paul Bin will miss the 2019 season to injury. Meanwhile, No. 2 Indiana’s Jack Maher is the Hoosiers’ lone returning player to start more than 10 matches last year. Akron brings back nine players who appeared in at least 15 matches after reaching the College Cup final last season. Across all conferences, the ACC had the most teams in the preseason poll with six. Nine teams represented the league in the 2018 NCAA tournament with Notre Dame advancing the furthest, reaching the national quarterfinals. Below is the representation of each conference in the preseason poll. Conference Ranked teams ACC 6 Big Ten 4 Mid-American 3 Pac-12 2 C-USA 2 WCC 2 Big East 1 American 1 Colonial 1 Summit 1 WAC 1 Big West 1 A new contender in the Big Ten? Michigan State is coming off of one of its most successful seasons as a program. The Spartans tied a single-season program record with 14 wins and reached the College Cup semifinals as an unseeded team. MSU reached the season's final weekend in 2018 following a quarterfinal appearance in 2017. After two strong showings in the NCAA tournament, the Spartans appear poised to contend for the Big Ten title this year. Of MSU’s 18 active contributors (minimum nine appearances), 11 return to East Lansing. Among the notable returners are first-team All-American selection Giuseppe Barone and first-team All-Big Ten defender Patrick Nielsen. The duo combined for 24 points in 2018. Not one but 2️⃣ Spartans named to the @HermannTrophy Watch List!! Patrick Nielsen also earns a spot! Who is ready for SPARTAN SOCCER!!! 👉 https://t.co/Ykx3W7a41C pic.twitter.com/LC9VCoQqlA — MSU Men's Soccer (@MSUmsoccer) August 1, 2019 Spartans coach Damon Rensing scheduled non-conference matchups with Notre Dame, Akron and Washington in addition to Big Ten showdowns with Indiana and Maryland to bolster his team's resume. While the Terps and Hoosiers reload, the Spartans could be on the cusp of their first conference title since 2012. Games to watch Wake Forest at James Madison – Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. ET James Madison went 2-0-1 against the ACC last season. The two wins came against No. 5 seed North Carolina and No. 12 seed Virginia Tech as part of the Dukes’ surprise run to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. With Wake Forest scheduled to come to Sentara Park, JMU will try to continue that success against the No. 4 Demon Deacons in a matchup featuring two top 20 programs. Notre Dame at Michigan State – Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. ET Michigan State’s matches against Indiana and Maryland make for a daunting schedule, but the Spartans have a non-conference meeting with Notre Dame as well. A top 10 showdown, the Irish come to East Lansing for a match that showcases two of eight quarterfinalists from a season ago. Akron at Maryland – Sept. 13 at 6:30 p.m. ET Maryland finishes a stretch of facing three consecutive NCAA tournament teams against Akron in a rematch of the 2018 College Cup final. The No. 3 ranked Zips come to College Park in the middle of a four-match road trip after playing five of their first six matches in Ohio. Revisit Maryland men's soccer winning its fourth title A look at the nation's top defenses Maryland and Stanford have claimed the past three College Cup titles, joining elite company in the process. In 2016, the Cardinal became the third program ever to run the gamut without conceding a goal, completing the feat in consecutive seasons. Last year, Maryland went 450 minutes without a goal allowed to win its fourth title. Though the mantra ‘defense wins championships’ is widely considered cliché, don’t tell that to Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski or Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn. While a top defense is not imperative to victory, having experience in the defensive third is beneficial come November. These are a few veteran defenses to watch that could be difference makers in the postseason. Saint Mary’s It’s hard to imagine the Gaels turning in a better defensive season than the one they produced in 2018, but it’s not out of the question. Saint Mary’s conceded eight goals in 20 games, leading Division I in goals allowed and average goals allowed. SMC returns four starters on the back line and third-team All-American Remi Prieur is back in goal for what appears to be the most experienced defense in the nation. PLAYERS TO WATCH: Prieur is among our 11 players to watch in 2019 Kentucky The Wildcats finished only behind Saint Mary’s in goals allowed average and gave up the third-fewest tallies in Division I with 11. Enrique Facusse and Aimé Mabika returning give Kentucky one of the stronger keeper-defender pairings after both received All-American honors from United Soccer Coaches last season. Additionally, Kentucky brings back two more starters and multiple depth defenders to make a run at back-to-back Conference-USA titles. Charlotte The 49ers reached the NCAA tournament last season for the fourth time in five years. Charlotte finished top 10 in both goals allowed and goals allowed average, conceding 13 times in 21 games. Replacing first-team All-American defender Callum Montgomery won’t be easy but Kevin Langan’s side returns five steady defensive contributors and redshirt senior Elliot Panicco in net. Championship information Here is the postseason schedule for the 2019 DI Men’s College Cup, including the semifinal and final in Cary, North Carolina. The 48-team field, as well as seeding and bracket, will be revealed on Nov. 18 during the selection show — a web stream right here on NCAA.com. Matches start with the first round on Thursday, Nov. 21, and continue through the College Cup semifinal on Dec. 13 and final on Dec. 15. Below is the full schedule. It will be updated with broadcast information and live streaming links when those are accessible. 2019 NCAA tournament schedule and locations: Date Round Location Nov. 18 Selection Show N/A Nov. 21 1st Round Highest seed hosts Nov. 24 2nd Round Highest seed hosts Nov. 30 - Dec. 1 3rd Round Highest seed hosts Dec. 6-7 Quarterfinals Highest seed hosts Dec. 13 & 15 College Cup WakeMed Soccer Park - Cary, N.C. The 2019 men's soccer season kicks off on Friday, Aug. 30. Here are the notable game times and matchups for the opening weekend.