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Zach Pekale | NCAA.com | September 26, 2019

3 men’s soccer teams that could make a College Cup run from outside a major conference

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Akron’s 2010 College Cup victory represented the Zips’ arrival to the national podium after two previous attempts came up short. The title also signifies the last time a team from outside the ACC, Big Ten or Pac-12 won a national championship in Division I men’s soccer.

In the eight years since Akron’s title, three ACC teams (North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia), two Big Ten teams (Indiana, Maryland) and Stanford (three separate times) have been crowned national champions.

With almost a month of matches in the books, we took a look at three teams that could break that cycle.

Saint Mary’s

Sure, the Gaels don’t have the most daunting schedule, but they also haven’t lost in the regular season since October 2017.

Saint Mary’s was a bit of surprise a year ago, winning 18 games en route to a top-16 seed and third round appearance at the NCAA tournament.

Sporting a target on its back, the team is off to a 7-0 start, outscoring opponents 19-5 in that stretch. With just one ranked team currently remaining on its schedule, the possibility of a second unbeaten regular season remains plausible.

BUILDING BLOCK: How does Saint Mary's improve from its 2018 season

Senior forward Anders Engebretsen has been the team’s offensive catalyst, tallying eight goals and 19 points — both marks the second-best in Division I. While the team’s scoring volume may decrease, its efficiency makes it dangerous in the final third. The Gaels have converted over 46 percent of their on-target shots.

Defensively, it would be a tall task for Saint Mary’s to match its 14 shutouts and eight goals allowed from 2018. However, a veteran back line complemented by senior goalkeeper Remi Prieur remains more than effective, posting four shutouts and four wins by multiple goals. 

Coach Adam Cooper started to rebuild Saint Mary’s in 2006, a process that nearly came full circle last season.

James Madison

The Dukes, after starting 0-2, dropped from the top 25 and appeared to be caught in the whirlwind of a promising 2018 finish. Six consecutive wins later, the narrative has changed again and James Madison is back in the rankings.

During the winning streak, JMU resembles the squad that was 20 minutes away from the College Cup semifinal and knocked out North Carolina and Virginia Tech to be in that position. 

With JMU midfielder Manuel Ferriol leading the way, a deeper postseason run isn’t out of the question. The Dukes’ senior already has nine goals in 2019, eight of which have come during the winning streak including the game-winner against top-ranked Wake Forest.

The rest of James Madison has kept pace with Ferriol, notching an additional eight tallies during its run, conceding just twice. Goalkeeper T.J. Bush has five shutouts after allowing four goals in the team’s first two games.

While the Dukes won’t be heavily opposed in the Colonial, non-conference matchups with Cal State Fullerton and Virginia await to provide tough competition and simulate a hostile postseason environment.

UCF

The Knights opened up the year with a 2-1 loss at Wake Forest. The only other blemish on its record since is a tie against Penn State.

Among the notable results for UCF are a 2-1 win at North Carolina. Two second-half goals rallied the visitors to an impressive road win. 

If the Knights are going to make a run, it could start with Cal Jennings. Defensively, UCF is not as stifling, putting more strain on the offense. The senior has eight goals in seven games, a pace that would come up short of the 20 he had a year ago. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jennings among 11 names to watch in 2019

Still, the first-team All-American striker requires additional attention when making sure that his teammates come across more optimal space to create as well as shooting lanes.

After winning the AAC regular season crown last season, UCF was stunned by Southern Methodist in the conference tournament final. With the Mustangs ranked higher as of Sept. 25, the Knights will first have to take back the conference before pursuing a deep postseason run. Strong performances against SMU will provide more clarity towards UCF's postseason hopes.

 

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